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Thursday, 9 October 2014

The #RoadTo2015: What can we expect from the next federal election?

by Jared Wesley

Three things to know about the 2015 Federal Election

1.  This is a fixed date election, set for October 19, 2015.  While the fixed date election law has been in place since 2007, if held on that date, this would mark the first time that an election has been held at the prescribed time.  In 2008 and 2011, amid minority governments, Parliament was dissolved in advance of the fixed date.  The law does not prohibit the calling of such “snap” elections before the fixed date.  Indeed, the dates established by the Act are not legally binding, and do not disrupt the power of the Prime Minister to call on the Governor General to drop the writs for a new election, nor the power of the Governor General to grant such a request.  There is much debate as to whether the Prime Minister could or should call an early election, but at this stage, all signs point to October 19, 2015.

2.  There are new seats and new riding boundaries.  Given population growth in certain parts of the country, a total of thirty (30) new seats will be added to the House of Commons following the next election.  The House will grow by just under 10 percent, reaching 338 Members of Parliament (MPs).  At the same time, riding boundaries have been redrawn to ensure that all Canadians are represented relatively equitably and appropriately.  All told, these changes will mean new competitive dynamics in several regions of the country, and introduce a host of new MPs to Parliament.

3.  There are several new national party leaders.  2015 will mark the first time New Democratic Party leader, Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, will lead their respective parties into a national campaign, as will Bloc Quebecois leader Mario Beaulieu.  This compares with Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who has led a national party in four previous campaigns (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011), and Elizabeth May, who has campaigned as leader of the Green Party in the previous two elections.

Three myths about the 2015 Federal Election

Myth #1:   The campaign is likely feature a “great debate” about the future of Canada

Reality:  Canadians have seldom experienced grand clashes over public policy in the lead up to their general elections.  The 1988 “Free Trade Election” was arguably the most recent campaign to pit parties against one another in a great debate over the future direction of the country.  Rather than engaging in a full-throated defence of their position on each and every issue (from health care to foreign affairs), Canadian parties fight campaigns by competing to elevate “their issues” to the top of the agenda. In other words, rather than featuring a great debate, campaigns are more a competition to define the ‘ballot question’.  Right-leaning parties seek to make the campaign all about tax relief and other issues that they “own” (i.e., those that voters trust them to handle more than any other parties), while left-leaning parties try to elevate topics like social programs to the top of voters’ minds.    Because Canadian voters are more or less in consensus on the major issues of the day (most favor tax relief and enhanced social programs, as illogical as that may appear), parties are unlikely to venture a minority opinion on issues that their opponents own.  Like ships passing in the night, these parties tend not to engage each other on the others’ ‘owned issues’, but rather try to de-emphasize the others’ agendas and promote their own.

Myth #2:  Citizens are likely to experience a pan-Canadian contest.  

Reality:  Different parties have varying rates of popularity across the country.  In recent elections, the Conservatives have performed well in Ontario and the West; the Liberals, in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic region; and the New Democrats, in Ontario and Quebec.  Accordingly, Canadian parties have devoted different levels of campaign resources to different regions of the country, and different ridings, depending on where they are most competitive.  This means that voters in southern Ontario may experience a close three-way race between the Conservatives, New Democrats, and Liberals, while those in parts of Montreal may experience a two-way contest between the NDP and Liberals.  Voters in so-called “safe seats” (in rural parts of the Prairies where the Conservatives dominate, for instance) may not see a competitive campaign at all.  To call the 2015 campaign a single election neglects the fact that each region, indeed each riding, features its own unique dynamics.

Myth #3:  Understanding Canadian politics and elections is too difficult for the average would-be voter.  

Reality:  To help break down some of the complexity, and bring the top issues to the forefront and in greater focus, IPAC Edmonton is hosting a free, online event on October 20, 2014 (12:00pm MT / 2:00pm ET). The live panel features insights from three leading experts on Canadian politics:  Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star), Éric Grenier  (, and Peter Loewen (University of Toronto).  Tune in live on YouTube (, and Twitter (#RoadTo2015).  The event will be archived on YouTube for future viewing.

Jared Wesley earned his PhD in political science from the University of Calgary. He is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Alberta, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, and Pracademic Chair of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) (Edmonton Regional Group). Find him on LinkedIn, Twitter (@ipracademic), and Flipboard.

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