Ottawa, Canada: On Monday, Canadians head to the polls in what is likely to be a closely contested vote following a six-week campaign that has turned into a virtual referendum on the leadership of Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau. The 47-year old has served as Prime Minister of Canada since his election victory in 2015.
Here’s a guide to the elections, the political parties, their leaders and their policies.
BY THE NUMBERS
36 million people
Although Canada is the second-largest country in the world in terms of size, its population is spread thinly, mostly in large urban cities close to the border with the Unites States.
27 million voters
Any Canadian citizen over the age of 18 is entitled to vote. Prior to 1970, the voting age was 21. Secret balloting was first introduced in the 1874 election.
The number of Canadians living overseas now entitled to vote is expected to quadruple following the passing of a 2018 law. In 2015, just 11,000 voted overseas.
68.5 per cent turnout
Voter turnout in 2015 general election was the highest level since 1993, with the highest ever being recorded during the 1958 general election, at 79.4 per cent.
To form a majority, the winner in Monday’s Canadian election will need 170 seats of the 338 in the House of Commons. The unelected Senate has 105 members, selected by the Governor-General on advice from the government.
When parliament dissolved
37 New Democrats
10 Bloc Quebecois
2 Green Party
1 People’s Party
1 Cooperative Commonwealth Federation
5 vacant seats
The riding of Toronto-Centre covers an area of six square kilometres – roughly the size of the Palm Jumeirah. About 106,000 people live there.
Nunavut covers an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – roughly the size of Saudi Arabia. About 33,000 people live there.
… and every vote counts
More than 300,000 election workers make every effort to reach all Canadians. Helicopters fly to remote lighthouse keepers, while others visit hospitals and long-term care institutions.
PARTIES, LEADERS AND POLICIES
The son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin swept to power in 2015 as a youthful and fresh leader capable of ending nine years of Conservative rule under Stephen Harper. Now, the father of three is fighting to keep that image, tarnished by a series of scandals and missteps that have undermined his progressive promises and potential. He still, however, delivers on a message that appeals to middle-class voters and immigrants, projecting Liberal values and now experience to voters.
Climate: Reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and exceed 2030 carbon emission goals.;
Oil: Complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion
Housing: Introduce a 1 per cent tax on non-resident foreign buyers. Give first-time purchasers up to 10 per cent off a house.
Healthcare: Create a national pharmacare system;
Affordability: Add after-school care spaces for children under 10 and increase the Canada Child Benefit and Old Age Security payments. Decrease cost of cellphone plans by 25 per cent over four years;
Economy: Provide up to 2,000 entrepreneurs with C$50,000 (Dh139,000) to launch a new businesses
Immigration: No major policy announcements yet. Immigration is at its level in decades;
Taxes: Cut small-business tax to 9 per cent from 11 per cent, lower middle-class taxes and make maternity and parental benefits tax-free
Education: Make government student loans interest-free for two years after graduation;
Guns: Ban assault rifles and allow provinces to restrict or ban handguns.
Following their defeat in the 2015 election and the resignation of Stephen Harper after nine years in power, the Conservatives elected Scheer, considered then to be a political lightweight whose beliefs were flexible. He has, however, proven to be an agile performer on the campaign trail, gaining traction from Liberal missteps. Some view his joint-American citizenship as an issue, while the father of four’s socially conservative views on gay rights and abortion are out of step with mainstream Canadian thinking.
Climate: Eliminate the carbon tax. Focus on incentives rather than punishment for exceeding carbon limits
Oil: Complete the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Repeal the new pipeline approval process brought in by the Liberals. Create a “national energy corridor” to transport oil and gas;
Housing:Increase the supply of homes by allowing new homes onto the market faster. Make it easier to qualify for mortgages;
Healthcare: Increase federal transfers to the provinces;
Affordability: Make maternity benefits tax-free. Create a tax credit for children’s fitness and arts programs. Increase government contributions to Registered Education Savings Plans;
Economy: No major policy announcements yet;
Immigration: No major policy announcements yet;
Taxes: Reduce tax on incomes below C$47,000 (Dh131,493) from 15 to 13.75 per cent. Lower tax on heating bills. Review spending on tax breaks for businesses. End C$1.5 billion in subsidies for businesses.
Foreign policy: Cut foreign aid spending by 25 per cent
Veterans: Clear backlog of veterans’ benefits applications within two years. Create a Military Covenant between the government and veterans. Provide more service dogs to veterans;
Guns: Create a task force to address cross-border gun smuggling. Implement stricter mandatory minimum sentences for violent gang crimes.
NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The young Sikh politician was an outsider who used his personal charm to win a lacklustre leadership race for the NDP following its poor showing in the face of Trudeaumania in the 2015 election. Singh only became a federal Member of Parliament in February and is fighting an uphill battle. He has said, however, the party won’t back the Conservatives if NDP votes hold the balance of power. He party is pushing socially progressive policies that he says will mean real change for Canadians than under the Liberals, creating more jobs and bringing greater equality.
Climate: Invest $15 billion in climate-change measures;
Oil: End C$3.3 billion in government subsidies to the oil and gas industry;
Housing: Create 500,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. Implement a foreign buyer’s tax;
Healthcare: Create a national pharmacare system. Include mental health, eye and hearing care and fertility procedures in the Canada Health Act;
Affordability: Invest C$1 billion in childcare. Implement a price cap on cellphone plans. Eliminate post-secondary tuition fees.
Economy: Create 300,000 jobs building clean-energy utilities and retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient;
Immigration: Remove the cap on family reunification applications. Suspend the safe third country agreement with the United States;
Taxes:Increase corporate income tax rates to 2010 levels. Implement a 1 per cent wealth tax on incomes over C$20 million.
The leader of the Green party of Canada has been an MP since 2011. This year, with Canadians ranking climate change as the most important issue in the campaign, the party is running at roughly 10 per cent in opinion polls, and likely to increase its standing to 10 or more – a potential kingmaker if there’s no outright winners
Climate:Invest in a 100 per cent renewable electricity grid. Cut federal emission-level goals to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Ban the sale of non-electric cars by 2030;
Oil: End C$3.3 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry;
Housing:Implement a strategy targeting those experiencing chronic homelessness;
Healthcare:Include pharmacare and basic dental coverage in national health coverage;
Affordability:Implement a universal basic income. Eliminate post-secondary tuition fees;
Economy: Establish a Green Venture Capital Fund to support small green businesses;
Taxes: Hold taxation for small businesses at 9 per cent. Impose a financial transactions tax of 0.2 per cent. Apply corporate tax to transnational e-commerce companies.
Drugs: Decriminalise all drug possession. Lower the federally set price of legal cannabis. Simplify requirements for packaging.
There have been two referenda in Quebec on its future in federal Canada. The last, in October 1995 was narrowly won by the federalists. The Bloc Quebec once held 54 of 75 seats in Quebec but its fortunes have waned in recent years. Blanchet is the eighth party leader since 2011. The central tenet of the party is to fight for a free and independent Quebec, pushing for greater rights for French-language speakers.
PEOPLE’S PARTY OF CANADA
Established by the former Conservative minister in early 2018, the People’s Party of Canada seeks to tighten immigration. After losing the Conservative election race to Scheer, Bernier said it was too centrist. Polling around 3 per cent, he denies climate change and draws comparisons to US President Donald Trump.
During 2018, Canada’s population rose by more than half a million – immigrants welcomes by a government that promotes and welcomes new arrivals to bolster the economy and counter an aging workforce. Canada added 321,065 new arrivals in 2018 alone – mostly settling in the large cities of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. The Liberal power base is well cemented in those cities and surrounding regions. While the Conservatives remain in favour of immigration generally, they are vague over future target levels and criticise Trudeau’s government for lapses in security along its 8,900 kilometre undefended border.
Canada’s Green party head into the campaign with one seat but hopeful of winning at least eight as polls say 10 per cent of Canadians are willing to support their policies on fighting climate change. Trudeau’s government did introduce a carbon tax – a levy the conservatives say they’ll eliminate if elected.
The Trudeau government has added more than 1 million jobs over the last four years and its federal finances are in good order. There is a general feeling, however, that it’s an expensive place to live, and personal and property taxes are too high – even if the quality of life is excellent. The Conservatives hope to win support on a pledge of cutting taxes, with the carbon tax the first to go.
The Liberals remain committed to free trade both with the United States and the rest of the world. Trudeau won praise for his handling of the new North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration in Washington. The Conservatives are pushing for a harder line on dealing with China.
Ethics and scandals
The Liberal party has been hit by several ethics scandals involving a large cement and engineering firm. Trudeau’s handling of disgruntled ministers has not helped his cause. The Conservatives, however, still face an image problem in overcoming political damage caused to their reputation under the leadership of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
During his last administration, Trudeau introduced a child benefit programme that cost Canadians $24 billion (Dh66.8 billion) – a massive social policy initiative that provided a significant boost to the economy. The Conservatives would like to trim that back but there are now more than 270,000 fewer children living in poverty.
Afghan singer Abdul Salam Maftoon’s striking resemblance to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has turned him into an unlikely celebrity in the war-torn country since his debut on a talent show. The 28-year-old first caught the attention of fans when he travelled to the capital, Kabul, to appear on “Afghan Star”, a televised musical competition that draws contestants from around the South Asian nation. “People are calling me the Justin Trudeau of Afghanistan... Since I came to Kabul, I have become very popular and people are grabbing photos with me,” he told Reuters at the studio.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been hit hard by reaction to past images of the Liberal party scion in blackface and dark makeup. One was at a 2001 “Arabian Nights” party, when he was a 29-year-old teacher. Two other images and a video of him in blackface later emerged.
Trudeau is no stranger to the ups and downs of political life. He was born on Christmas Day in1971 in Ottawa, the eldest son of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau senior led Canada between 1968 and 1979 and again between 1980 and 1984 – an icon of public life still revered 15 years after his death. It was at his state funeral that Justin was largely introduced to the world, hugging his father’s casket and uttering the words: “Je t’aime Papa” – “I love you, Dad.”
His rise through the Liberal’s ranks was rapid with the party eager to embrace his youthful exuberance, charms, photogenic looks and political pedigree.
Now, that youthful exuberance has been blurred by bad political judgement, with the father of three embroiled in a series ofscandals and missteps since taking power in November 2015.
The office of the independent ethics commissioner–one of Canada’s top watchdogs–declared in August 2019 that the prime minister’s team had breached ethics rules a year earlier by trying to undermine prosecutors pursuing construction giant SNC-Lavalin Group Inc to face a corruption trial. Trudeau said he took full responsibility but declined toapologise, saying he had been trying to save jobs. Trudeau is the only Canadian prime minister formally found to have broken ethics rules.
The ethics watchdog first sanctioned Trudeau in December 2017, ruling that the prime minister broke some conflict of interest rules when heaccepted a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in 2016. At the time, the Aga Khan’s foundation was formally registered to lobby Trudeau and his officials. Trudeau said he accepted the report and would clear future vacations with the watchdog.
The Trudeau family repeatedly donned elaborate coloured costumes during an eight-day trip to India in February 2018, sparking widespread scorn on social media, especially since many of the Indian officials he met were wearing suits. During the trip the Canadian side faced awkward questions about how Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted in 1986 of the attempted murder of an Indian politician visiting Canada, had been invited to a reception for Trudeau in New Delhi.
Trudeau, who says one of his main priorities is helping Canada’s marginalised and impoverished aboriginal population, was forced to apologise in March 2019 for making a sarcastic remark to an indigenous woman who interrupted a Liberal Party fundraiser to protest about poor living conditions. He told her “Thank you for your donation” as she was escorted from the room.
And in a May 2016 incident an impatient Trudeau–frustrated by what he felt were the opposition’s stalling tactics–crossed the floor in the House of Commons to grab a legislator but accidentally elbowed a female parliamentarian in the breast. He apologised repeatedly for the incident, saying he was only human and in a high pressure job.He also promised there would be no repeat of his actions.
— With inputs from Reuters