In 2015, Trudeaumania hit Atlantic Canada and left no seat behind. Since then, support for the federal Liberals has been waning. And provincial governments in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have gone blue. Further, the Atlantic provinces have faced a number of challenges, from serious fiscal challenges in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador, to healthcare challenges across the region. Perhaps key to Trudeau’s fortunes: there is a desire to see more attention given to the region that showed up in droves to support him at the polls last election.
Here are some of the questions we will be following as the campaign gets into gear.
Will the federal Liberals take Atlantic Canada for granted?
After the 2015 federal election, Atlantic Canada was a clear Liberal stronghold, with all 32 of the region’s seats turning red.
At the time, Liberal governments led all four provinces in the region. However, a lot has changed in four years. Two provincial governments have shifted from red to blue, and a number of prominent Liberals have decided not to run again this fall—including Scott Brison (Kings—Hants), Roger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso), and Mark Eyking (Sydney—Victoria).
But signature political “wins” in the province—including infrastructure projects—have been lacking after almost four years in power.
We have seen a steady decline in the high levels of support for the federal Liberals across the region, particularly in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. We can expect a robust leader’s tour this summer, but it will be interesting to see how many times the prime minister visits the Atlantic provinces and which ridings he focuses on. We’ve seen recent examples of how valuable the ground game still is across the region and Atlantic Canadians will be waiting to see who knocks on their doors.
How will environmental matters influence the vote?
From a regional perspective, one of the hottest issues is climate change, as its effects will impact coastal communities differently than the rest of the country. For Atlantic Canadians who rely heavily on traditional and emerging ocean industries, climate change is creating never-before-experienced vulnerabilities.
It will be interesting to see if the recent support for the provincial Green Party on Prince Edward Island translates federally. During the recent provincial election, the Progressive Conservatives won a minority government with the Greens forming the official opposition for the first time in Canadian history.
Related to climate change, Atlantic Canadians are also paying close attention to federal carbon pricing. Despite being closely linked, the four Atlantic provinces vary in terms of how they have chosen to approach carbon pricing from a policy perspective. While Nova Scotia has opted for a cap-and-trade program, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have implemented carbon tax systems.
In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs and his Progressive Conservatives have come out strongly against the carbon tax system, aligning with other high-profile Conservatives and going as far as to send stickers to local gas stations to ensure New Brunswickers know it is a federally mandated measure. With the premier’s support, Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party could pick up a number of seats and the province may return to pre-2015 election patterns.
With an economy heavily dependent on natural resources, notably offshore oil, Bill C-69 could also decide how Newfoundland and Labrador decides to vote in October. The Liberal government has positioned the changes in Bill C-69 as a means of eliminating regulatory uncertainty, providing clarity, avoiding legal action, and increasing Indigenous and stakeholder engagement for energy projects. There is, however, a growing concern among oil and gas industry groups and business leaders, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, that the bill falls short of its intended objectives.
Who will offer the best solutions to the region’s healthcare challenges?
Healthcare is also one of the most talked about issues in Atlantic Canada. While each province varies in terms of their specific needs, doctor and healthcare professional shortages, particularly in rural communities, have created a sense of vulnerability. With each Atlantic province experiencing an aging population, healthcare needs will only continue to intensify. Atlantic Canadians will be looking for the next federal government to provide additional support for seniors and to implement measures to breathe life into the system, notably via national pharmacare.
Finally, it will be interesting to see if the NDP is a factor at all in the region. The party has failed to define itself in Atlantic Canada—will this election be any different? Or will the party only trigger vote splitting throughout the region? In Nova Scotia, we have seen some support in Halifax, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, and Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook. However, support has been waning and we could see it shift to the Greens or towards a strategic voting movement to stop the Conservatives from gaining power.
——— Written by Kristan Hines, Vice-President, Public Affairs, Sarah McLean, Senior Director, Stephanie Bell, Senior Consultant, and Bridget Burgess, former Consultant, NATIONAL Public Relations