Canada Votes Early, 2021.

Nate Anderson

Yesterday, our neighbors to the north held a national election to determine who will be their next Prime Minister, and pretty much nothing changed.

The Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament, and each party nominates their leader through a process specific to that party. The leader must be either holding a seat in Parliament, or running for a seat in Parliament and winning the seat. In 2015 the Liberal Party won a majority of the seats, defeating 9-year incumbent Conservative Stephen Harper replacing him with Justin Trudeau. In 2019 Trudeau’s term came to an end and another election was called, where the Liberals continued to hold the most seats, but lost their majority forcing them to work with other parties to get legislation passed. Trudeau luckily has the ability to call early “snap” elections, where he can risk the rest of his term for more seats. Trudeau decided to do this, setting the stage for a 5-week campaign.

Trudeau has been very popular since the 2019 election, he has been praised for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and keeping Canadians informed about Government policy. It is no surprise that he called the election in these circumstances, as it is very common for Prime Ministers to call early elections when their poll numbers are highest. Jean Chrétien called two early elections when he had high poll numbers, never losing his majority. John Diefenbaker called an early election less than a year after the previous one and went from 111 seats to 208. Trudeau has mainly been wanting to keep this election focused on his pandemic response, but as the weeks rolled by that narrative has been changing to other things. The first week of the campaign showed the Liberals winning by a large margin, but the next two weeks showed the Conservatives up, and now they are in a dead-heat. 

The Conservatives (or Tories) elected Erin O’Toole as their leader and candidate for Prime Minister after Andrew Sheer failed to beat Trudeau two years ago. O’Toole comes from the more establishment left wing of the party, he proclaims himself as pro-choice, pro-LGBT, and supportive of climate change policies. But he’s from the Conservative party for a reason so he also supports oil industries, “anti-woke”, and proud of the history of Canada, something that is becoming increasingly controversial in the country for their mistreatment of the native Canadians. 

The New Democratic Party or NDP, is the party to Trudeau’s left and is generally considered a socialist party. The NDP’s leader is Jagmeet Singh, the first minority and non-Christian to be the head of a major political party. Singh, after losing over a third of his seats in the previous election, has been trying to really market his image to younger voters through liberal use of social media. Singh has been trying to take credit for a lot of Trudeau’s stimulus benefits during the pandemic, but what is going against the NDP is how similar the party is to Trudeau’s. They really don’t disagree on most issues; the NDP is just the more uncompromising party that might be a little more to the left. This has historically caused a lot of vote-splitting in the country, with strong NDP performances correlating with lackluster Liberal showings. In 2011, The NDP became the second largest party after the Tories, and the Liberals fell all the way down to 34 seats. Something similar might happen here, as Singh’s approval rating is higher than the other major party leaders, so Trudeau might face a major problem from them due to the left splitting the vote.

Those are the three major parties that have a chance at winning the Prime Ministership, but this is actually a party that has more seats than the NDP called the Bloc Québécois, but they can’t win the top job. They only run candidates in Quebec, which only comprises 78 of the 338 seats in Parliament.

The Bloc Québécois is a Catholic Quebec nationalist party, led by Yves-François Blanchet (YFB) that supports the province leaving the rest of Canada. Quebec is the only province in the country where French is the language of life- every other province overwhelmingly speaks English. This delicate power imbalance has caused a lot of tension between Quebec and the other provinces of Canada, and the Bloc has argued for separatism.

That is not the only reason Quebecers might want to leave; the Bloc is a strict anti-immigration party, especially towards immigrants from Muslim countries. The provincial government even passed a law banning turbans and other religious symbols, a move denounced by all other parties except for the Bloc. In fact, Quebec used to be very supportive of the NDP, but when Singh, who wears a turban, became leader they voted out all but one NDP MP (Member of Parliament). The Bloc has also been a pain in the neck for the Liberals, due to the Bloc being left-wing on almost all other issues, this means they have to deal with three parties splitting the left-wing vote, leading to the Tories to win some seats that they wouldn’t otherwise.

There is only one more party in Parliament currently, the Green Party. The Greens are the most left-wing of all the major parties in Canada, but they only have two seats and the most they have ever had is three. They are essentially the same as the NDP, but with more of an emphasis on climate change. Their leader is Annamie Paul, a very unknown figure in Canada and a large downgrade after the well-known Elizabeth May stepped down. Expectations for the Greens are very low this election as they always have, and predictions have them no higher than five seats.

The only other party with a large following is the People’s Party of Canada. The PPC was created by Maxime Bernier after losing his bid for leader of the Conservatives, and is considered to be the most right-wing major political party. The best thing to compare the party to is the populist movement, as they have been seeing a lot more success in polls compared to previously where they got 1% of the vote and Bernier lost his seat. Most polls had them in the 5-10% range, which is higher than what the Greens get and some even have them above the NDP. It is not inconceivable that they win a handful of seats.

Geographically, the Liberals tend to do well in the eastern and northern provinces, as well as being competitive in Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. The Conservatives do well in the western provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, and are the Liberals’ main rival in Ontario. The NDP did well in Nunavut, British Columbia, and as mentioned before, used to do good in Quebec, but that has faded recently. The Bloc holds almost half the seats in Quebec, and are the Liberals’ main opponent in the province. The Greens do well in the big cities, and the PPC does well in populist rural areas.

So why did the Liberals begin to fall back in the campaign? COVID-19 was thought to aid him here but it has been really hurting him recently. His government has begun imposing much more restrictions regarding the pandemic, which is likely why the PPC has begun to do well as they are the ones most opposed to the restrictions. In addition, his hosting of an early election among the many global crises going on, especially in Afghanistan, has been to his detriment. The Tories have also begun running an excellent campaign, O’Toole has moderated himself even more, trying to appeal to the most voters possible and it seems to be working.

The Liberals have begun to do better however, and they are essentially tied. Many people think that this election will be similar to the election of 2008, where Stephen Harper called an election with the intention of turning his minority into a majority. “There are so many parallels between this and what happened 13 years ago. Incumbent Prime Minister who is fairly popular, calls an election when he doesn’t need to, pretty much nothing changes after.” Band student Emily Shelton said. It does seem unlikely that Trudeau will gain a majority of seats after this election, with many expecting the Tories to either win a minority of seats or for the Liberals to hold on narrowly.

So after all of that, calling an election two years early, five weeks of campaigning, three Prime Ministerial debates, pretty much nothing changed. The Liberals net gained three seats, the Tories experienced no change at all, the Bloc gained two seats, the NDP one, and the Greens remained the same, not even Paul won her seat. The PPC did improve their vote share, but failed to win any seats.

Trudeau will remain Prime Minister, although he failed to win the majority he called the election for and will still have to work with the other parties to get legislation passed. What happens next for the leaders of the parties is unclear, with exception to Paul who is most definitely not going to be Green leader again. There is a general rule for leaders in opposition that you are allowed to lose one election, but not two, and the only one that could fit that criteria is Jagmeet Singh. Singh lost about a third of the NDP’s representation in 2019, and he only gained one seat here, so Singh could be on his way out, despite high popularity within the party. Before the Tories began doing well in polls many believed the Tories would leave O’Toole behind in favor of a new leader, and since Scheer did better than O’Toole and he left, it is fairly likely that O’Toole will also resign. The Bloc is usually very attached to their leaders when they find one they like. Gilles Duceppe was their leader for two decades, and since YFB didn’t lose the last two elections, it is likely he stays on.

Trudeau is the hardest one to call, it mainly relies on his approval rating. If his popularity plummets he will probably resign so the Liberals can find a better leader, but if he remains popular he might run for a fourth term, so we just haven’t wait and see on that.

Overall, this election was almost the exact same as the 2008 election but even less changed. An early election was called, the incumbent Prime Minister wants a majority, but failed to do so. The 2021 Canadian election will probably go down as one of the most inconsequential elections in the country’s history.