2019 Transatlantic Dialogue Conference Summary: The Political Situation in Canada

Canadians will head to the polls on October 21, 2019 to vote in the 2019 Canadian federal election. André Albinati gave participants a primer on the current political situation in Canada by reviewing the major parties’ platforms and analyzing the latest poll figures ahead of the 2019 federal election, and assessing the US-Canada trade relationship.

The Political Situation in Canada

Speaker:
André Albinati, Partner, The Earnscliffe Strategy Group, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Moderator:
Dan Gurley, Transportation Policy Advisor, North Carolina House of Representatives, Office of the Speaker, Raleigh, North Carolina

During the first session of the Conference, André Albinati gave participants a primer on the current political situation in Canada by reviewing the major parties’ platforms and analyzing the latest poll figures ahead of the 2019 federal election, and assessing the US-Canada trade relationship.

Canadian Federal Election 2019

Canadians will head to the polls on October 21, 2019 to vote in the 2019 Canadian federal election.  In general terms, the major parties running will be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who’ll fight to retain their majority, the Conservatives, who’ll want to unseat the Liberals to form a government, and the New Democratic Party (NDP), who’ll want to grow their distant-third-place status into something a bit more competitive with the other two major parties.  The Green party will run, too, of course, and the Bloc Quebecois, in Quebec. The current vote share for each party after the last election in 2015 breaks down like this: Liberals – 39.5%, Conservatives – 31.9%, NDP – 19.7%, Bloc – 4.7%, and the Greens – 3.4%.

It’s important to note, that a strong Liberal polling advantage has been gradually eroding over time, setting up a competitive 2019 race, where the Liberals would still hold a real, but not massive advantage. A number of scandals and crises, including the SNC-Lavalin affair, which still continues to haunt Liberals, have had a measurable and sustained impact on Liberal polling numbers. The most recent polls from April-May 2019 show the Liberals trailing the opposition party by 10 points, on average. Furthermore, Trudeau’s approval rating has steadily declined for almost two years. As of April 2019, 67% of Canadians disapprove of him, and only 28% approve.

Scandals aside, the Liberal Party is expected to run on a “real change,” “positive politics” platform highlighting a strong economy, job gains, and the successful ratification of the USMCA. Their forward-looking social policy themes, which include national Pharmacare, affordable housing, and skills and training initiatives, communicate their devotion to the middle-class and defending progressive values. The environment, including climate change and carbon taxation (i.e. a price on pollution), is likely going to be their core policy cleavage issue.

The Conservatives, for their part, will hammer the Liberals on high spending, accountability and transparency, and the costs of the Liberals’ carbon-pricing plans, which are being bitterly resisted by right-wing provincial governments across the country. Their goal is to craft an image of contrast to the ‘elitist’ Liberals, seeking to offer Canadians a moderate party devoted to addressing pocketbook issues, such as student loans, pressing household budgets, and other daily financial pressures facing the everyday Canadian.  Bleeding members from Parliament and encountering many headwinds, the NDP hope to unlock their party’s potential in suburban ridings around Toronto and Vancouver. Their platform issues include “Pharmacare for all,” lower cellular fees, affordable housing, and the demand that the Liberal government declare a climate emergency.

Mr. Albinati stressed that the greatest foil to Trudeau, who will inevitably face a tough re-election battle, is the new alliance of Conservative leaders. Additionally, Trudeau’s aspirational playbook seems to be losing steam. His rhetoric, in particular on gender equality in government and indigenous reconciliation, has not always been on par with reality.

US-Canada Trade Relations

When it comes to US-Canada relations, there’s a clear charm offensive underway, and a real effort on Canada’s part to reach out to US politicians and business leaders. Of course, the challenge of dealing with US President Donald Trump’s “America first policy” remains a major hurdle to working with Americans, including those on both sides of the aisle in Congress. However, Canadians are tough negotiators, especially when it comes to trade deals. After all, according to the latest statistics, Canada is the United States’ second largest trade partner, with a total of $198.41 billion. After meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence last week, Trudeau threw his weight behind the USMCA trade deal, hoping to get the deal ratified in Canada before the next election.

Hanna Rudorf, Communications Officer North America, Friedrich Naumann Sitftung für die Freiheit