The final weekend: What will the 2019 federal election be remembered for?
TORONTO – It’s almost over.
As we enter the final weekend before all ballots are cast and take stock of what the last 38 days has offered, each of the three main federal parties is putting forward the messages they hope will resonate and inspire any undecided or unmotivated voters.
“The choice is clear. Do we move forward on making life more affordable for families on fighting climate change and getting guns off our streets, or do we go with Conservative cuts?” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Friday. Trudeau is faced with questions about why he thinks his party went from a decisive majority win in 2015 to now being locked in a tough fight to hold on to power.
“We know that you can't take any votes for granted in an election, and Canadians have an important choice to make about the kind of future they want for their kids, the kind of government they want to have come Tuesday morning,” said Trudeau.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer started his day Friday with a clear message about his main opponent: “Four years of higher taxes, endless scandals, massive deficits, bigger household bills and less money in your pockets.”
He spoke about spending the last few weeks outlining his plan for Canada, calling it “achievable,” and something he’d get to work on “right away.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meanwhile took aim at both of his opponents, as polls show he is gaining at the expense of both the Liberals and Conservatives. Singh implored voters to not vote out of fear.
“You can choose in this election to have someone that's going to fight for you, and someone who is going to stand up for you. In this election I want to be clear. I'm running to be your prime minister because I want to make a difference in the lives of Canadians,” Singh said. “But this election isn't about me. It's about all of you, so no matter what Canadians choose, I want to ensure that Canadians win on Oct. 21.”
Affordability has emerged as a main issue, with each of these three leaders putting forward the ways they think would be best to give Canadians a leg up. For the Liberals that’s through boosting the Canada Child Benefit, lowering home energy bills and cutting taxes on the first $15,000 of income earned. Conservatives think the best approach is a series of boutique tax credits, axing the carbon tax, and rolling out a universal tax cut. New Democrats think the best way is through measures such as alleviating student debt and implementing a national pharmacare program.
The big moments on the trail
There were several key moments in this campaign, but it may not be clear until after all the results are in whether any of them really were game-changers.
While every campaign had candidate vetting issues, the information that came out about the two leaders best positioned to be Canada’s next prime minister were likely the most damaging.
On Sept. 18, TIME Magazine published a photo of Trudeau in brownface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights”-themed gala at the West Point Grey Academy, where he was a teacher. Within hours, the shocking image prompted international media attention and forced Trudeau to apologize in a prime-time press conference from aboard his campaign plane. It wasn’t long before other images and a video emerged of similar instances and his campaign went into full-blown damage-control mode.
Then it was the Sept. 27 climate strikes that featured climate activist Greta Thunberg and saw turnouts in the hundreds of thousands demanding more action. Scheer, notably, did not participate.
Three days later, Scheer was forced to clarify details of his resume after allegations that he falsely claimed to have worked as an insurance broker in Saskatchewan prior to his political career. And then on Oct. 3 it was revealed that Scheer still holds—but is in the process of revoking—his American citizenship. Scheer had never spoken publicly about his dual citizenship before, and when asked why he said no one had asked him.
Throughout the campaign, candidates faced questions about their approach to Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law that bans public service workers from wearing or displaying religious symbols or clothing while at work, with all generally saying they will stay out of the court challenge that is already underway.
In the later days of this election a lot of talk has been focused on minority or coalition outcomes, spurred in part by a surging NDP. Here’s a full recap of each campaign, their message, and their promised measures.
The Liberal campaign
Trudeau immediately framed the election as a chance for forward progress, while his opponents quickly got to work positioning themselves as ready alternatives in what they hope is a referendum on his tenure as prime minister.
His “choose forward” message has continued to coalesce around the choice between the Conservatives and a return to Harper-era politicking, or pushing forward with the progress he says has been made under the Liberals on matters like climate change, employment, and help for the middle class.
The Liberal campaign has made a few big campaign commitments, including banning all military-style assault rifles, committing Canada to net zero emissions by 2050, and imposing new regulations for multinational tech giants.
The Liberal party rolled out its platform on Sept. 29. It was a mix of already-announced campaign promises and new ideas that they'd yet to announce, alongside a costing analysis done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. In sum, it includes promises of billions—$9.3 billion in the next fiscal year alone— in new spending, much of which is aimed at middle-class families and students, while targeting corporations and those who can afford private yachts, to help pay for these proposals.
The Liberals have been running Trudeau-centric ads over the campaign, but in one of the latest he proclaims that the election “isn’t about me.”
Going into election night, the Liberals held 177 seats in the House of Commons.
The Conservative campaign
Starting his bid to govern in Quebec, Scheer framed the 2019 election as a question about who Canadians can trust to help their families get ahead.
Since then, he’s crossed the county making promises meant to differentiate his approach from that of the Liberals, though both cover similar ground on issues such as home renovations. He’s also faced repeated questions on his position on same-sex marriage and abortion. On the latter he eventually said he remains pro-life and on the former he says his views have evolved though he has not said clearly he supports same sex marriage. He’s vowed not to touch either issue if elected.
Aware of the importance of the environment in this election, the Conservatives put forward a plan that they bill as the “best chance” to meet the Paris reduction targets that appears to have been enough to satisfy the mildly climate concerned and to allow Conservative candidates to state on their election signs that they are the party for “climate action.”
After the national leaders’ debates were over, Scheer released his costed platform on Oct. 11. Titled: “Andrew Scheer’s Plan For You To Get Ahead” it outlines how a Scheer-led government would get back to balanced budgets in five years, with more planned cuts than promised spending, starting with a deficit of $24 billion in 2020-21.
Throughout the campaign, the Conservatives have been running a mix of ads introducing Scheer—who took over as official party leader in 2017—and others attacking Trudeau as being “not as advertised.”
Central to that message have been reminders that both Scheer and Singh have been making, alleging that Trudeau is not who he says he is, citing his ethics violations and the SNC-Lavalin scandal as prime examples.
Going into election night, the Conservatives held 95 seats in the House of Commons.
The NDP campaign
Singh launched his first-ever federal election campaign in Ontario, one of the major battlegrounds that have emerged in this election. Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are where the majority of seats are up for grabs and where the leaders have spent most of their time.
Shaping himself as the leader for the underdog, his message during the campaign has been that it’s time for a government that makes decisions for everyday people and not the wealthy and well-connected.
Over the campaign, Singh’s efforts were boosted by what many saw as strong performances in the leaders’ debates, his reaction to Trudeau’s brownface and blackface controversy, and his ability to respond with poise when one voter in Montreal suggested he “cut off” his turban to look more “Canadian.”
With the slogan “in it for you,” Singh has sought to inspire voters to believe that they don’t need to choose between “Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny,” as he called Trudeau and Scheer when the English-language leaders’ debate turned to the subject of pipelines.
In his costed platform, which came out on the same day as the Conservatives’, Singh put forward how the NDP would draw new revenue for major expenses such as head-to-toe health coverage, child care and affordable housing. The NDP would run a nearly $33-billion deficit in their first year if elected and raise the capital gains rate to 2000 levels to help curb the increase, with no path back to balanced budgets.
With a smaller campaign war chest to spend on things such as campaign ads on television, the NDP have focused their messaging on social media, which has proven to be effective, especially with younger demographics. One prominent late-campaign example was his much-ballyhooed Oct. 17 TikTok video.
Going into election night, the NDP hold 39 seats in the House of Commons.
The Green campaign
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May started the campaign with high hopes, buoyed by momentum from electing a second MP to the House of Commons months prior. Her campaign looked to bank on climate change becoming the deciding issue and disaffected Liberal voters wanting to park their support elsewhere.
Both of those things have come to fruition, but not in a compelling enough way to ultimately see the Greens put up a strong enough showing to fight the NDP for third place. For a while, it seemed a real possibility, as Nanos polling data showed the party in a statistical tie for third with the NDP in late September. As the campaign waged on, though, Singh has appeared to have eaten the Greens’ lunch, so to speak.
May’s platform included a lot of big ideas and big price tags. The Greens also released a batch of video ads featuring young children making pitches to save the planet and govern with civility.
Not all hope is lost for May, though. There could still be more Green MPs heading to Ottawa than ever before, and the lack of a majority government means her caucus may nonetheless be courted by larger parties.
The wildcard campaigns
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has surprised many in this campaign, emerging as a real contender in Quebec, destabilizing the gains the other parties were looking to make there.
He 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 had a few strong moments at the debates and was given the opportunity to introduce himself to the rest of Canada without stepping outside of his home province.
Meanwhile, People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier started the campaign with high hopes for electing MPs under his new party banner, with a message of "authenticity." A decision to include him in the pair of commission-organized debates was seen as a win as that decision was made in part because he was seen to have a “reasonable chance” to elect more than one candidate.
Since the debates, though, Bernier has been spending a lot of time in his own riding, where he may be facing a tough race. Given this, and the party maintaining between one and two per cent support in the polls, it remains to be seen how much of a factor Bernier will be after election day..
And eyes will be on two specific ridings to see if constituents there are keen to re-elect their MPs who are running as independents: Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver-Granville, and Jane Philpott in Markham-Stouffville. Both exceeded their fundraising goals about midway through the campaign.
Domestic disinformation aplenty
A lot of time and energy went into shoring up the election from foreign interference and disinformation, prompted by caution from Canadian security agencies that the federal election will "very likely" be the target of foreign cyber interference.
Federally, early in the year the government unveiled a series of new measures aimed at further shoring up Canada's electoral system and enhancing Canada's readiness to defend the democratic process from cyber threats.
Elections Canada was given new powers and has been monitoring online activity including misinformation around the electoral process.
Political parties received security threat briefings and took steps to shore up their servers and campaign databases, despite there still being no privacy rules compelling them to be transparent about it.
What has ended up happening has been, as our Truth Tracker team has consistently covered, domestic instances of misleading or false information spreading online. A lot of was coming from or amplified by the major parties themselves. From messages meant to mislead about an opponent’s policies to more seedy rumours and lies that spread without any basis in facts, voters have had to sift through a lot of information and think critically, but based on what is publicly known, two days out and there have been no serious interference attempts from foreign entities detected.
The campaign has also opened up questions about the ease of mass voter contact, potential loopholes in the third-party transparency requirements, and social media companies’ responsibilities and aptness for recognizing and removing false content.
From Elections Canada’s perspective, there has been “some evidence of inaccurate information on the election process, but no indication of any large-scale impacts on voting.”
Too close to call; questions about outcome
On day one of this campaign, Nanos Research showed the Liberals with a slight lead in the polls, and the NDP a distant third. Today, the Conservatives and Liberals are deadlocked in a statistical tie with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois rising, and it is looking likely that whoever wins will be looking at a minority government scenario.
A key factor in deciding who wins and by how much will be voter turnout on Monday.
Already, a record 4.7 million Canadians are estimated to have cast their ballots at advance polls. Polling places will be open for 12 hours, with the time varying by province.