Canadian Election Still a Three Way Race as Campaign Passes Midpoint

Barely a month remains until the next Canadian election, and the campaign has reached its halfway point. While early in the campaign it appeared as if the New Democratic Party would continue its slight lead in the polls, recent weeks have proved otherwise. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have clawed back from dipping below the thirty percent mark. The polls as they stand show very conflicting results, with the race between Harper, Trudeau, and Mulcair becoming increasingly tighter. Individual polls in the past week have shown all three parties in the lead, and the riding projections could very well result in a party winning the most seats but not winning a plurality of the popular vote.

The campaign started out with trouble looming for Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives. The onset of the election campaign was somewhat overshadowed by the ongoing trial of former Senator Mike Duffy as part of the Senate expenses scandal. The scandal cites Duffy as one of several Senators who claimed their primary residence outside of Ottawa in order to claim living expenses for working in the capital when they actually did live in Ottawa. Duffy has been further charged with bribery and fraud after he repaid the expenses he owed the Canadian government in 2013. Coincidentally, Duffy received an equal amount of money from Nigel Wright, then Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff, shortly before the repayment. .The trial was a spectre for the Harper campaign in the early weeks of the campaign as Harper’s involvement and knowledge relating to the scandal came into question. While nothing conclusive related to Harper was uncovered, it hurt the public’s trust in Harper and set a tone for the campaign.

The Conservatives have since been dogged by numerous scandals relating to candidates and poor economic news. On September 1, Statistics Canada released the numbers for the Canadian economy in the second quarter of 2015. Canada’s GDP shrank by 0.5% between April and June of this year. Compounding on a 0.8% decrease in the first quarter of 2015, the recent numbers signaled Canada’s official entry into recession for the first time since the 2008-2010 global financial crisis. While the recession is likely to be brief as Canada’s trade deficit shrank significantly in June, the public perception that the country is in a recession could hurt Harper on the economy. Both Mulcair and Trudeau hammered Harper on the issue of the recession during the first televised debate in early August.

Additionally, several individual Conservative candidates have already been dropped due to a number of embarrassing incidents involving them. Jerry Bance, who was running in the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, was dropped after video surfaced of the candidate urinating into a mug in a homeowner’s kitchen in 2012 while Bance was an appliance repairman. Tory candidates Tim Dutaud in Toronto-Danforth and Blair Dale in the Bonavista-Burin-Trinity riding in Newfoundland were dropped in the last week after controversy erupted over video and comments they made on Youtube. While the odd controversy of a candidate being dropped due to offensive statements is unavoidable, it will likely become increasingly common as more and more potential candidates have a history of making public statements on the Internet. Former Liberal candidate for Calgary Nose Hill, 21 year old Ala Burzeba, was dropped as a candidate and apologized after offensive tweets she made four years ago as a teenager were dug up. This could be a symptom of improper vetting of candidates, but it is more likely a symptom of greater use of the internet and social media among the public in general. As more candidates use social media and millennials begin to enter into political activism, more and more incidences like these can be expected to surface.

Despite the trouble for the Conservatives, they still have a strong committed support base that put the floor of their support at the highest of the major parties. With the race condensing into a struggle that could end up with any of the three parties on top, the Liberals and the New Democrats have increasingly begun attacking each other to try and swing the anti-Conservative support into their camp. Trudeau and Mulcair have attacked each other in campaign stops over the party leaders’ economic plans. Trudeau has criticized Mulcair for his promise to restore the budget surplus that languished under Harper, connecting Mulcair’s promise to Harper’s similar promise if he is reelected. Trudeau’s assertion carries some weight with the recession announcement, as Keynesian economic knowledge points to deficit spending during rough times to keep economic investment steady. However, Mulcair has claimed that Trudeau’s jump back into deficit spending is reckless and that a measured path is needed during the next years, with the possibility of a deficit only in the later years of a Mulcair administration.

In Trudeau’s criticism of Mulcair, there is also a hint of the Liberals and NDP attempting to connect each other with Stephen Harper’s policies and play off of Harper’s unpopularity among voters undecided between the Liberals and the NDP. Trudeau has criticized Mulcair for supporting Harper’s plan for a surplus and that a balanced budget will hurt the Canadian economy in the coming years. For its part, the New Democrats have hit back at Trudeau on the Liberal Party’s support for the passage of Bill C-51, a controversial anti-terrorism bill pushed hard by Harper. Bill C-51 expanded the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) mandate to take action against potential terrorists and made it much easier for many government departments to share information with each other including the Canadian Revenue Agency. Mulcair and the NDP opposed the bill during its passage including filibustering it in the House of Commons, but the bill was passed with support from the Conservatives and Liberals in June of this year. Mulcair still opposes the bill and has attacked Trudeau for his support for it several times. The NDP claims it is a major infringement on citizens’ privacy with how much information can be collected by the CSIS, especially tax and detailed travel information. Mulcair also claimed that Trudeau supported the bill for fear of being criticized by Harper, and reiterated his vow to repeal C-51 if he becomes Prime Minister.

With the issues of the economy, national security, and individual candidacies at stake, the 2015 election is quickly shaping up to be the first true three party federal election in recent Canadian history. The unhappiness in Canada over the Harper administration manifested itself in the polls recently as the Conservatives briefly dipped into third place, an unprecedented slide for Harper’s party. This was the first sign of the recovery of the Liberals in the last week as they and now the Conservatives have closed the gap with the New Democrats. As the polls sit now, the three parties are at the closest they have been in some time. Just 1.3% separates first and third place in the polls at the moment. The NDP leads with 31.2% while the Liberals are in the back at 29.9%. The Conservatives are slightly ahead of the Liberals at an even 30%. However, this does not translate to a similar outcome in the riding projections. The Conservatives have undoubtedly benefited from the redrawing of riding boundaries during the expansion of the House of Commons from 308 to 338 seats. While the Tories are almost third in the popular vote currently, they lead the riding projections with 122 seats to the NDP’s 113 and the Liberals’ 102 seats. Whichever party comes first in the number of seats after the October election, talks of a government formation will be very interesting. Canada has traditionally shunned coalition governments although many of its parliaments have been governed without majorities. The only formal coalition since Confederation in 1867 was during World War I. After the 2008 election, the Liberals and NDP came close to forming a coalition government, but in December 2008 Governor-General Michaelle Jean issued a prorogation of the current parliament until the new year, delaying a motion of non-confidence. By the time parliament reconvened, a change in Liberal Party leadership distanced them from the idea of a coalition. Instead, the Harper government’s 2009 budget met most of the issues brought up by the Liberals and they supplied the Tories with a mandate for the time being.

As such, the result of the 2015 election largely depends on who gets the most seats of any of the three major parties. With Canada’s preference for minority governments with ad hoc support from other parties over formal coalitions, it is likely that whichever party gets a plurality of seats will form the next government. Considering the Liberals and NDP are now attacking each other on various issues to sway the anti-Harper vote, the prospect of a Liberal-NDP coalition to oust Harper is growing increasingly slim. It is unlikely that the NDP would support another term for Harper, so if the Conservatives get any consistent support from another party it would most likely come from the Liberals. However, if the election outcome brings an unprecedented NDP plurality in the House of Commons, the Liberals may swallow their pride (or find a leader more willing than Trudeau to do so) and usher in an Orange-led government for the first time in Canadian history.

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