By DAVID JOHNSON
PEOPLE ARE WONDERING about a potential federal election call, that could come sooner than the Oct. 16, 2023 preordained date. Any chance they can get, Canadian media twist every opportunity into including a discussion on this subject, and the pundits on all sides have weighed in.
Trudeau, Freeland and other politicians asked, in the most Canadian political way easily navigate around it and return to talking points they feel matter: COVID-19, vaccine needles in arms, jobs, families … etc.
This isn’t anything new, it has been the style regardless of the person or party in power for many decades to just not answer direct questions, until a firm decision has been made on the subject and talking points around that have been laid out. We shouldn’t be surprised.
We also know that the early calling of elections is not a new idea either. The reasons for a snap call pretty much run the gambit, but there is a basic game plan involved and are usually based on high polling numbers. When to drop a writ to gain political points based on timing, is a concept inherent and deeply rooted in the system.
In 1958, nine months after Diefenbaker secured a minority government, he called for a snap election, based on three factors; an ill-advised Lester Pearson demand in the house that Dief should resign over poor economic performance, even though the forecast reality was an expected downturn, and the government curated negative press over the comment, the collapse of the federal Social Credit Party and add to that a Conservative turnaround towards Quebec support, resulted in winning 2/3rds of Quebec’s seats.
Hay was good for the making and Diefenbaker won the largest majority to that date.
In 1984 John Turner called an election a year early on the mandate, but only seven months after he took over from Trudeau Sr., based on polls at the time that suggested they had the lead and that there was a risk of a no confidence in the House due to potentially losing seats in upcoming by-elections.
The TV debate was a nightmare for Turner, leaving history with the Mulroney quote, “You had an option, sir. You could have done better.” The Conservatives crushed the Turner Liberals heartily.
In 1997 Chretien called for an election a year and a half early. This at the time represented the earliest election call for a sitting majority since the 1911 election. At the time polls suggested a Liberal landslide with an increase in seats and a potential fragmentation of the opposition parties.
Chretien maintained the majority but a lesser one over Preston Manning’s Reform. The Bloc, Jean Charest’s Tories and Alexa McDonough’s NDP regained official party status in the House of Commons. For snap elections, this was a close call that almost bit Chretien.
An interesting tidbit — this was the first time that five political parties held official party status in a single session of Canada’s Parliament.
In 2000, Chretien did it again, partly due to polls as well, trying to beat the newly formed Alliance to the popular vote outside of western Canada. The Liberals secured a slightly larger majority. This was the last federal election to date that was defined as a ‘snap election’.
There are many, many provincial elections that fall into this snap election category, the volume of hasty elections in Quebec alone going back to the ’60s, suggests that it seems to be the preferred choice in La belle Province.
I will just remind us here of just one provincial example: B.C. in 2020.
Horgan called the election, based solely on polls that strongly suggested that B.C.ers definitely did not want to put a different party in the job during the critical months of COVID-19. The very idea of trying to transition between governments at that moment was actually scary.
Add to that, any issue that voters and opposition parties may have had against Horgan or the NDP before COVID-19 simply took a back seat and were suddenly unimportant, and there were no glaring controversies or scandals to point at. B.C. voters also reacted poorly to Liberal leader Wilkinson’s overtly negative style.
In addition, the NDP minority was operating under a confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party that was due to expire in June 2021. Add all those together and it’s a majority shoe-in, and that’s exactly what happened. Eleven Liberals lost their seats to the NDP and five more Liberal retiring incumbent seats were lost to the NDP.
This made John Horgan the first NDP leader in the history of the party to win a second consecutive term as premier.
An interesting angle was that an Ipsos poll found that 46 percent of people disapproved of the snap election call, while 32 percent approved. That means we didn’t like it, but we did it anyway. A big part of it was the reliance on mail-in ballots, which were seen as a big success.
Federal Liberals are wondering, can Trudeau pull this off nationally?
Trudeau and team are probably looking at both the B.C. example as well as the 2000 Chretien example of jumping on positive polls and taking advantage of extenuating circumstances. They may be thinking that there are seats to pick up … possibly … maybe … a majority.
At the time of writing … and that does matter as these numbers change almost daily, aggregated polls show the Liberals holding a 48 per cent chance of winning a majority with 171 seats and a 42 per cent probability of maintaining a minority. The Conservative’s probability of winning the most seats sits at nine per cent.
I highly doubt O’Toole will manage to have enough time to get both his face and policy directions into the mainstream consciousness … and that may be the key. People don’t know him, and don’t know if they can trust him.
After Harper and Scheer, being a federal Conservative leader is a tough gig, and there is a mountain to climb over their noxious bones. Add to that the NDP with Singh are literally broke, so there are seats up for grabs.
To say the least it’s a tenuous decision. There are a lot of reasons that it could go either way: the initial COVID-19 response is a variable topic, vaccine availability, getting shots in arms quickly and efficiently, getting people back to work, maintaining EI for those who can not, and of course avoiding controversy like the Governor General scandal, which may have set an election call timetable back a bit.
If they wait too long, the economy including the true financial costs of the pandemic will be better known and the opposition will have had time to be better prepared. You can bet that O’Toole and Kenney are prepping the Keystone cancellation as a main arrow in their quiver. The only way that the Trudeau government will survive the inevitable no confidence votes in the House, will be to jump the gun and call it soon.
It has been noticed by many that the anti-Trudeau public warriors known as the neocons, that were so prevalent online during the last election, trying to somehow sway votes by way of online personal attacks and rude bumper-stickers … although noticeably absent during the early days of the pandemic, are back at their keyboards again and trying to over ride conversations again. Obviously, there is concern in this camp regarding not being ready.
As was clear after the last election, that they hold little sway with real voters. Canadian voters are different to American voters in this sense. We decide on our own who to vote for, and do not easily fall prey to attempts of crowd sourced brainwashing.
So the question is out — election drop asap … or wait it out till shots are in arms?
Its a tough call.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.