We are inching closer to the two-week mark of the federal election campaign. It’s incredibly easy to assume that the day-to-day machinations of an election—platform announcements, accusations, counter-accusations, and Twitter feuds, to cite only some examples—can be equated with momentum or a related impact on Canadian voters.
Yet this isn’t the case. Most of it is mere political theatre.
Short of a true bombshell moment—and notwithstanding shifts in nightly tracking polls—the powerful factors that will decide the results on September 20 are seemingly slower to take shape. The search is always centered on the proverbial “ballot box” question, which rarely, if ever, materializes.
NATIONAL’s pan-Canadian public affairs team of experts has been assisting clients make sense of Election 2021 and where things stand. Are Canadian voters paying close attention? We doubt it. With the dead of summer timing, combined with ongoing COVID-19 angst and the back-to-school focus for many parents, the federal campaign is understandably nowhere near the top of the “must-follow” list for the majority of Canadians.
As we move into week 3 of the campaign, and with the election debates on the horizon (September 8 and 9), we offer a brief summary of key considerations that are starting to gel on the campaign trail:
Searching for policy traction
Housing affordability and healthcare are two issues where parties have already competed for hearts and minds. The Liberals, Conservatives, Bloc and NDP have all articulated where they would want to take the country on these and other fronts. They are all targeting their traditional voting bases, with an eye to growing their potential vote pull. But not one, single, defining issue is dominating the first two weeks of Election 2021, with the possible exception of an issue nobody assumed would drive headlines in a campaign: Afghanistan and the US withdrawal of troops. We expect this latter issue to gradually fade from the top of news feeds. Yet it remains highly unclear what will dominate the campaign narrative moving into September.
The Conservatives and NDP decided to push out their promises en masse out of the gate. By contrast, the Liberal platform has yet to be finished, with the party adopting a daily announcement approach. Will it matter in the end? Were the Liberals initially assuming their COVID-19 record and Budget 2021 would be the basis of their re-election request to Canadians? The jury is out. Yet for the Conservatives, at least, putting out a detailed plan right away served as a vehicle for highlighting that they are prepared to govern—and have already worked out the details. And it moved the party’s numbers up in national polls.
“Post Pandemic” Election 2.0?
The recent August 17 Nova Scotia provincial election might be a harbinger of things to come on the federal front. Newly-minted Premier Tim Houston—and his team’s majority win—will be a model all federal parties will be taking into consideration as the campaign unfolds. In NATIONAL’s view, the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives successfully proved that just because the governing party performed well during COVID-19 does not mean they have earned the right for another mandate. Nor does it inoculate a sitting government from criticism or the lack of clarity on the road ahead—despite public support for the role played. Voters, understandably, want to clearly understand what’s next: simply put, after an exhausting 20 months, what is your plan? The answer better be crystal clear. Merely pointing to past performance as an indicator of future competence won’t be enough for Mr. Trudeau and his party.
The silence of premiers
Meetings between the Prime Minister and the Premiers were normally rare occurrences. Until COVID-19 hit. The crisis led to weekly discussions between leaders, and collaboration between the various levels of government on developing and executing the needed responses on key fronts. Now? Deafening silence since the election was called, which provides stark contrast to the flurry of announcements, press conferences, and handshakes over major agreements between the Premiers and Prime Minister on issues such as childcare before the writ was dropped. Premiers are undoubtedly carefully watching Election 2021 unfold. There is no love lost between fellow Conservatives Alberta Premier Kenney and Erin O’Toole. Quebec Premier François Legault’s recommendations for an unconditional increase of the Canada Health Transfer and the prerogative to manage the family class subsection for immigration applications—made in the form of thinly-veiled threats to centralistic parties like the LPC and the NDP—gave us our first indication that, indeed, a campaign is underway. But will leaders from other critical federal battleground areas such as B.C. (Horgan) and Ontario (Ford) tip their respective hands and weigh in?
The Liberals have successfully courted the centre-left, progressive vote since 2015—including securing union member support—and have remained engaged with key labour organizations such as Unifor on the major NAFTA renegotiation. This has all been to the chagrin of the federal NDP. But as our team highlighted on August 25, the Conservatives have decided to truly contest this key voting demographic. And the party has designed specific platform planks to highlight their commitment to bringing voters under a bigger blue tent. Will it work? We shall see. But it’s undoubtedly bold.
We are still at the stage of Election 2021 where we have a disproportionate number of questions versus answers on what will precisely shape the end results. And we will be closely monitoring the daily cycle of news coverage to identify other emerging trends.
NATIONAL’s team of experts, with strategists in every major Canadian market, can help decipher how potential shifts in parliament will impact your issues.
——— Tiéoulé Traoré is a former Director, Government Relations at NATIONAL Public Relations