11 weeks and 14 moments
Remember Nigel Wright? Alan Kurdi? Zakaria Amara? The federal election campaign has been so long – at 78 days, the longest in modern Canadian history – that the hot-button issues of August and September can seem like distant memories now. On the trek to voting day, the major parties have picked up and abandoned a handful of preoccupations: ethics, refugees, fiscal policy, the niqab, free trade. Before Monday, when Canadians cast their ballots, the campaign may well lurch in yet another direction. But if the policy debates and controversies that have marked the past 11 weeks can feel transient, their impact has added up, gradually and sometimes imperceptibly shaping the electoral landscape, Eric Andrew-Gee reports
Week 1: Friday, Aug 07 Source: Weekly polls from Nanos Research
Aug. 6: Trudeau holds his own in first debate
Ahead of the first leaders' debate, hosted by Maclean's magazine, Conservative spokesperson Kory Teneycke set the bar low for Justin Trudeau. "I think that if he comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations," Mr. Teneycke said. It sounded like a savvy line, as the Tories sought to paint Mr. Trudeau as a dilettante. But Mr. Trudeau surprised many observers with his plausible performance. He may not have won the debate, but he established himself as a credible party leader with an aggressive – some thought manic – style. It soon began to appear as though the Conservatives, and Mr. Teneycke, had underestimated the Liberal standard-bearer.
Week 2: Friday, Aug 14
Aug. 12: Nigel Wright testifies at Duffy trial
In 2013, the Wright-Duffy affair looked ready to engulf Stephen Harper's government. Some expected Mr. Harper to step down so that a new Conservative leader could run in the federal election. Former chief of staff Nigel Wright's testimony in Senator Mike Duffy's fraud trial dominated headlines in the campaign's first weeks. The trial brought to light revelations that senior Prime Minister's Office staffers knew more about plans for Mr. Wright to repay Mr. Duffy's $90,000 expense tab than had previously been disclosed. Mr. Harper was dogged by questions about the testimony as he travelled the country unveiling policy pledges, though the issue has fizzled over the long campaign.
Week 3: Friday, Aug 21
Aug. 24: Chinese stock market rattles TSX
As Martin Wolf recently wrote in the Financial Times, updating an old adage: When China sneezes, the world economy catches a cold. And this summer, China let out a loud, sustained achoo, infecting markets across the globe. Canada was no exception. China's "Black Monday" caused a huge, if temporary, slide on the TSX, which fell 750 points before partly bouncing back. Mr. Harper has used global uncertainty to make the case that his is the only party with the steady hand to guide Canada's economy.
Week 4: Friday, Aug 28
Aug. 27: Liberals promise deficits
In what was widely seen as a bold strategic gamble, the Liberals announced their plan to run deficits until 2019-2020 if elected. That gave them the fiscal wiggle room to promise $125-billion in new infrastructure spending. It also allowed them to position themselves to the left of the NDP, an important move in a campaign defined by who would reap the "change" vote. The Conservatives and NDP attacked the deficit pledge as irresponsible.
Week 5: Sunday Sept 6
Sept. 3: Alan Kurdi photo prompts calls for refugee action
The photo, splashed on front pages around the world, was shocking: a lifeless toddler lying on a beach, the surf lapping at his hair. This was Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee who died on the dinghy ride from Turkey to Greece, along with his brother and mother. His parents, it soon emerged, were trying to get to Canada. Alan's uncle – though not his father, contrary to early reports – had applied for refugee status in Canada, but was rejected over an incomplete application. Still, the Kurdi family's story touched and disturbed Canadians, vaulting the Syrian refugee crisis to the campaign's forefront.
Week 6: Sept 13
Sept. 14: Conservatives trumpet $1.9-billion surplus
The Conservative claim to solid fiscal-stewardship – a centrepiece of the party's pitch for re-election – got a boost when the federal government announced a $1.9-billion surplus for 2014. Given the revenue hit from falling commodity prices, the news came as a surprise. But another factor outside of government control was partly responsible for the strong showing: lower public debt payments because of low interest rates. Still, the Conservatives did not hesitate to make hay from the windfall. "Look," Mr. Harper said, "in spite of all the problems of the world, this country has a balanced budget." The NDP agreed that this was good news; the Liberals did not, accusing the Conservatives of impeding growth with their parsimony.
Sept. 16: NDP promises balanced budgets
Attempting to shed its image as a party of spendthrift socialists, the NDP promised four straight balanced budgets if elected. The fiscal plan was presented by Andrew Thomson, a former Saskatchewan finance minister and the party's candidate in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence. Critics were quick to charge that the party's plans for raising revenue – a two-point corporate tax increase; closing the stock-option compensation loophole; ending income splitting – would fall short of their spending commitments. And politically, the tack toward fiscal conservatism may have hemmed in the New Democrats.
Sept. 16: Conservatives vow appeal of niqab ruling
Religious identity and accommodation flared into a major campaign issue in September, beginning with the Conservative vow to challenge a court ruling striking down the government's ban on niqabs at citizenship ceremonies. The party promised to appeal the case to the Supreme Court and reinstate the ban within 100 days of re-election. Critics accused the Tories of drumming up anti-Muslim sentiment. Some placed the blame on recently hired campaign consultant Lynton Crosby, an Australian election guru with a reputation for using wedge politics over racial and religious minorities.
Week 7: Sept 19
Sept. 24: Mulcair stands firm on niqab
The niqab issue has roiled political waters in Quebec like nowhere else. One poll showed 93 per cent of Quebeckers supporting Mr. Harper's position. That has meant trouble for the NDP, which opposes banning the face covering at citizenship ceremonies. The party's political base is in Quebec, and holding on to the province has been a prime objective of the NDP campaign. Leader Tom Mulcair won points from civil libertarians but probably hamstrung the party in la belle province when he held firm on the niqab question at a French-language leaders' debate. "It's not by depriving these women of their citizenship and their right that you're going to help them," Mr. Mulcair said.
Week 8: Sept 26
Sept. 26: Terrorist stripped of citizenship
The interlocking questions of national identity, security, and Islam came to dominate the middle part of this campaign, and rarely more knottily than in the case of Zakaria Amara. A convicted "Toronto 18" terrorist plotter, he received a letter from the federal government saying he was no longer a Canadian citizen. It was the first application of a law passed in May, but only came to light in late September. Mr. Zakaria remains a citizen of Jordan and could be deported there after serving his prison term. Defence Minister Jason Kenney tweeted the government's rationale: "This man hated Canada so much, he planned on murdering hundreds of Canadians. He forfeited his own citizenship." Justin Trudeau accused the government of creating "two-tiered citizenship."
Oct. 2: Tories announce "barbaric cultural practices" hotline
In what was seen by many critics as a cynical attempt to stir up fear of Muslim immigrants, the Tories promised to institute a tip line for reports of "barbaric cultural practices." Designed to strengthen enforcement of a law passed earlier this year, which set strict penalties for crimes such as polygamy and honour killings, the tip line and the law have been decried as superfluous and inflammatory. The episode accelerated the campaign's move toward identity politics.
Week 9: Oct 04
Oct. 5: TPP deal reached
The Trans-Pacific Partnership knits together 12 countries accounting for 40 per cent of the world's GDP, but it was almost blocked, at various points, by Canadian dairy farmers and auto parts makers. When the member countries finally overcame their local hurdles, the deal was hailed as a gold standard trade pact, bigger than NAFTA. Mr. Harper has trumpeted the agreement as a major economic achievement, while the NDP, perhaps hoping to shore up their left flank, came out against the deal. Though the electorate at large hasn't reacted strongly either way to the TPP, it could have a big impact in the battlegrounds of rural Quebec and southwestern Ontario, where the dairy and auto sectors are respectively dominant.
Week 10: Oct 10
Oct. 13: Harper appears with Fords
With Conservative support flagging and the Liberals ascendant, Mr. Harper has trotted out a campaign gimmick wherein supporters count out the cost of Liberal tax hikes with real dollars, accompanied by the sound of a ringing cash register. And Rob and Doug Ford, members of the controversial Toronto political family, attended a Harper rally in the city. Given the Conservatives' tough-on-crime image, and Rob Ford's admitted use of crack cocaine, the former mayor's presence was thought by some to be jarring, if not hypocritical.
Week 11: Oct 14
Oct. 14: Liberal co-chair resigns
With wind in their sails from a string of strong polling results, the Liberals appeared poised to win a minority government. It was bad timing for the party, then, when campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier resigned over a leaked e-mail showing that he sent a memo to TransCanada Corp. about how to lobby a future government over oil pipelines. Mr. Harper used the affair to argue that the Liberal Party's culture hadn't changed since the days of the sponsorship scandal – a remarkable pivot for a Conservative Party that was itself embroiled in an ethics scandal when the campaign began.
Polling results over the past few weeks have shown the top three federal parties separating after a tight race. Paul Fairie dives into the numbers and explains what this might mean on election night
The national polls over the last week have shown a small but consistent Liberal lead, with every pollster showing the party four to eight percentage points ahead of the Conservatives. However, popular support doesn't translate exactly into how many seats a party will control in the next parliament. The big question is how big of a lead is enough to win the most seats? And is that lead big enough for a majority?
One way to get some insight into what might happen is to look at the regional breakdowns of the national numbers.
In Atlantic Canada's polling has been consistent since the beginning of September, with the Liberals polling half of the regions support, while the Conservatives and New Democrats battle for a distant second place. If they win this proportion of the vote on election night, an improvement over their performance in 2011, they could win more than 20 of the region's 32 seats.
Quebec has been the setting for one of the more dramatic regional stories of the campaign. Until mid-September, it looked like the wave of NDP voters who swept many New Democrats into office would remain steadfast. Since then, the NDP vote share has declined considerably, with the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois all picking up support. If the NDP actually wins a vote share near their polling number of 30 per cent, this would be calamitous for the their seat count.
Ontario, too, has been going through some recent changes. Currently, its pool of potential Liberal voters has increased since mid-September, gaining just as both the Conservative and New Democratic pools have been disappearing. Most recent polls have given the party a more than 10 point lead over the Conservatives. If this holds up, this would be bad news for the governing party. In fact the current situation in Ontario looks very similar to the 2004 election, where the Liberals ultimately won three-quarters of the province's seats. Repeating this on Monday will be critical if the Liberals are to win the most seats nationally.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are harder to read individually, because they are sometimes polled together, at other times separately. Alberta polling suggests that the Conservatives will again perform very well in the province, though a handful of seats could be in play in both Edmonton and Calgary. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the Conservatives are polling well and should return most, though probably not all, of the party's current members.
In British Columbia, polls have been consistently showing a three-way race over the last few weeks. A real three-way race here would be good news for the Liberals, the only party significantly improved from last time. Even if it's a three-way race, the Liberals could end up with more than 10 of province's 43 seats.
Putting these regional pictures together, it seems like the Conservatives should lose seats, particularly in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and British Columbia. If they are finish with the most MPs, they will have to outperform the polls, particularly in Ontario. Significant changes in public opinion will be needed to return them to majority status in the House of Commons.
The New Democrats look like they will struggle to return as the official opposition, particularly in light of weaker poll numbers in Quebec.
The Liberal Party's situation seems definitely improved over the last election. Winning the most seats will require them to maintain their significant poll lead in Ontario on election day. If they do, they will be the favourites to win the most seats nationally, but if pollsters are overestimating their popularity in the province, the race for most seats will be up in the air.