OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau has set in motion the 2019 federal election campaign, setting up his re-election bid as a choice for forward progress, while his opponents begin to position themselves as ready alternatives.

On Wednesday morning, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette accepted Trudeau’s request to dissolve the 42nd Parliament, setting in motion Canada's 43rd federal race, with campaigns in all 338 ridings.

It will be a 40-day race to the ballot box, with all party leaders crisscrossing the country in an effort to pitch themselves, their candidates, and their platforms to Canadians, before election day on Oct. 21.

Speaking to the media outside of Rideau Hall with a backdrop of Liberal supporters, Trudeau took the first opportunity to frame what the election will be about, followed by the other party leaders.

Responding to the election call from strategically-selected locations across the country, the other federal leaders are offering their first real campaign messages.

The latest Nanos Research numbers show that the Liberals have a slight lead heading into the campaign, sitting at 34.6 per cent in the polls. The Conservatives have 30.7, the NDP are at 16.6, Greens are at 11 per cent, the Bloc Quebecois have 4 per cent, and the People's Party are sitting at 1 per cent.

Canadians are also split on whether it's time for a change in government, with nearly a fifth of those surveyed by Nanos Research saying they are still undecided, leaving questions about what the voter turnout will be like this time around.

"We've got a tight race. There's no majority government in sight right now, and it's anyone's game," said pollster Nik Nanos.

Elections Canada estimates that the total cost for the 2019 campaign will clock in at approximately $500 million.   

Trudeau tells voters he’s got more to do

Justin trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau arrives with his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau arrive for a press conference after meeting Governor General Julie Payette at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Speaking to the media outside of Rideau Hall with a backdrop of Liberal supporters, Trudeau took the first opportunity to frame what the election will be about.

"This fall Canadians once again get to vote for the kind of Canada they want to live in. We've all got a choice to make, keep moving forward and build on the progress we've made, or go back to the politics of the Harper years," Trudeau said.

He spoke about what Liberals accomplished over the last four years, from a tax cut for the middle class and the Canada Child Benefit plan that has raised 900,000 Canadians out of poverty, to a renegotiated NAFTA deal that has yet to be ratified domestically and now will have to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. Over the last four years the Liberals passed 88 pieces of government legislation.

"At the end of the day, politics is about people. Maybe you're a recent grad, or a new Canadian. Maybe you're raising your kids, or living out your golden years in retirement. Whoever you are, you deserve a real plan for your future," Trudeau said speaking to several key voter blocks, all whose support the Liberal Party will need in order to win a second mandate.

"We've done a lot together these past four years, but the truth is, we're just getting started," Trudeau said.

He also faced questions about the SNC-Lavalin scandal that continues to dog him.

A new report in The Globe and Mail that published on the eve of the election call citing unnamed sources said the government has not lifted cabinet confidentiality for all witnesses, which has limited the RCMP’s examination of potential obstruction of justice in the handling of the Quebec construction and engineering firm’s prosecution.

Not moving from his message on the issue, he defended the scope of the waiver he did issue, and said he respects the decision of the Privy Council Clerk not to issue a broader waiver.

Trudeau had a deadline of Sept. 15 to launch the campaign under new time limit rules passed since the last election, which kicked off four years, one month, and nine days ago.

Before visiting Rideau Hall, Trudeau joined his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in walking their three children to school.

This afternoon, Trudeau is departing for Vancouver, the same city he was in for the 2015 kickoff that resulted in his historic majority victory.

Over the next 40 days he will be pushing the "choose forward" message and a new platform, while defending his record, which has included successes and broken promises.

Conservative campaign to kick off in Quebec

Andrew Scheer

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer responds to questions in Ottawa on Wednesday, September 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer kicked off his first federal election at the helm of his party from Trois-Rivieres, Que. Instead of flying directly in, however, fog forced his plane to fly into Quebec City first, and the campaign then went by bus to the rally location.

Before boarding his campaign plane in Ottawa ahead of the formal election call, Scheer took aim at Trudeau over the latest development in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

"Over the next five weeks or so, we're going to be outlining our vision for the country to put more money back in the pockets of Canadians. But what today shows is that you cannot trust Justin Trudeau, he will say anything to cover up the scandals, and he'll say anything to get re-elected," Scheer said.

Once he arrived in Quebec, the Conservative leader delivered his first official campaign comments and took media questions. Scheer framed the 2019 election as a question about who Canadians can trust to help their families get ahead.

"The answer is certainly not Justin Trudeau, who will only raise your taxes and take more money from your pockets," Scheer said. He said that should the Liberal leader be reelected, he will keep breaking promises and adding to Canada's deficit.

Scheer will travel to Vaughan, Ont. for another rally Wednesday evening. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will be, and usually is, a hotly-contested region of the country. In this campaign the Conservative path to victory runs through the 905-area code, the suburban seats won by former prime minister Stephen Harper but mostly lost to Liberals in 2015.

Over the course of the campaign the party will be pushing a message to the middle class of affordability for Canadian families, with the slogan that: "It's time for you to get ahead." To be seen is how much the other parties draw on Scheer’s socially conservative personal views and past voting record over the course of this campaign. Also, with a slate of conservative premiers in several key provinces

NDP launch in Ontario with 'hopeful message'

Jagmeet Singh

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh answeres media questions as his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu looks on at his campaign launch in London, Ont., Wednesday, Sept.11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who is also embarking on his first campaign on the federal stage, delivered his response to the election writs being issued from London, Ont. where he has already disembarked his campaign bus and was greeted by supporters.

While polls may indicate his party is in for a hard-fought battle for third place, Singh and his team are optimistic about his campaigning ability.

As the first ever federal party leader of colour running to be prime minister, Singh spoke Wednesday about never imagining someone who looks like him could be running for the job he currently is vying for. Shaping himself as the leader for the underdog, his message during the campaign will be that it’s time for a government that makes decisions for everyday people and not the wealthy and well-connected.

"We have an exciting opportunity over the next 40 days. We're going to bring a hopeful message to Canadians that we can build a country of our dreams, a country where everyone has a place to call home, health care when they need it, clean water to drink, and clean air to breathe, good jobs and bright future," Singh said.

Singh has already got his campaign bus rolling, showing it off at a rally in Toronto over the weekend, and he’s issued television ads in both English and French in which he says he is different from the other leaders, because he is "in it for you."

Smaller parties make pitches

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May greeted a room of excited supporters—"earthlings," as she put it— in her home territory of Victoria, where she’s looking to make big electoral gains.

She is entering into this campaign with hope that her experience, the recent uptick in support for her party, and a renewed focus on climate change as a ballot box issue will result in getting more Green MPs elected. But with the prospect of holding more power, comes more scrutiny on her team.

"This election is about telling the truth to Canadians about how serious the climate emergency really is – and we do that in order not to create fear, we do that in order to give everyone hope. We have a plan," May said.

"To Canadians I ask you to consider how much happier you'll be with your vote when you know you're voting for a candidate, a party, and a leader, who has your back, who earns your trust to never let you down, to never make a promise we can't keep."

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet marked his party's official campaign kickoff for more seats in the province from Quebec City. After a tumultuous few years, during which the party cycled through leaders, Blanchet will be looking to gain from what has been forecast to be a loss of support in Quebec for the NDP.

The Bloc Quebecois' slogan "Le Quebec, c'est nous," translates to "Quebec is us."

On Wednesday he tied his case for separatism to the environment.

"We are very lucky to be Quebecers, we are very lucky to live here. We have this opportunity to create prosperity based on clean energy, natural resources, our expertise in engineering and in research and innovation… We have the duty to be an example and in order to achieve that we cannot remain in a country in which the most important resource being exported is still oil. This is going against the interests of Quebec, this is going against the interest of Canada," Blanchet said.

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier is beginning the first ever federal election for his team, from Toronto.

Bernier, who is banking on a message of "authenticity," made big political waves in August 2018 when he left the Conservative Party that he nearly led and was a past cabinet minister in.

He has framed the Liberals and Conservatives as being more of the same kind of politicians, while he has been accused of providing an attractive option for those with hateful anti-immigrant and extremist far-right values.

"There is no political correctness with us," Bernier said at his election kickoff event. "We are listening to the people."

Pre-campaign summer posturing

While the official campaign will last just over five weeks, the political positioning for votes has been underway all summer long. Parties have been ramping up their war rooms, testing out partisan attack lines, and unveiling campaign ads and slogans.

With the formal launch, expect the battling for votes to ramp up, more partisan mudslinging, contenders across the country knocking on doors and debating, as well as a daily offering of new platform proposals and policy ideas for Canadians to weigh when deciding who they'll cast their ballot for.

New elections law, spending rules

Since the 2015 campaign there have been changes to the federal elections law. From new limits on third-party and foreign participation, to new measures aimed at boosting accessibility and voter participation.

There are also new campaign spending limits. Over the election, each registered party can spend approximately $28.1 million, while individual candidates can spend on average $110,000, but it varies depending on the riding. That means -- should each party run a full slate of candidates -- they can spend a combined total of approximately $65 million. Third-party interest groups have a spending cap at just under $512,000.

First Leaders’ debate on Thursday

The writ drop, as its commonly become known, comes one day before the first English-language leaders’ debate, happening in Toronto. Maclean’s/Citytv is putting it on and it will feature the three main opposition leaders, as Trudeau will not take part.

The two official Commission-organized debates, which are produced by the Canadian Debate Production Partnership (CDPP) will take place at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. The English debate will be held on Oct. 7 and the French debate is on Oct. 10.

They will include Trudeau, Scheer, Singh, May, and Blanchet. The CDPP includes CTV News, CBC News, Radio-Canada, Global News, Toronto Star and the Torstar chain, La Presse, Le Devoir, L’Actualité, HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Québec.

Party standings as of dissolution

Heading into the campaign the Liberals hold 177 seats, the Conservatives have 95, the NDP hold 39, the Bloc Quebecois have 10, and the Green Party has two seats. The 42nd Parliament also had eight independents as of dissolution. A party needs to win 170 seats for a majority government.