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Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau: 2015 Election Showdown

Shortly after winning his first majority government in 2011 (he won two minority governments in 2006 and 2008), Conservative Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper passed legislation to set the next election date no later than October 19, 2015.  In a pre-holiday interview, Harper reiterated his commitment to holding the next general election on that date.

Unlike the United States, we in Canada have no tradition of a fixed-date national election.  This has led many in political and media circles to speculate about a spring election following the government’s 2015-2016 budget. The probability that the Harper government will present some new anti-terrorism legislation could result in a wedge issue, thereby prompting an earlier election call.   Clearly, the opposition partiesthe New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals—are planning accordingly. One thing is certain: 2015 is an election year in Canada.

Just a year ago, the Liberals were coasting in the polls, following the election of a new leader, Justin Trudeau. In the past year, Trudeau has continued to lead the polls, and his party has performed well in by-elections and in provincial elections.  It is fair to say that the Liberal brand, which was on a decline for nearly a decade, has rebounded.  However, in the weeks prior to the holidays, the gap between the Liberals and the governing Conservatives narrowed substantially in the polls.

While the Conservative government has had its share of difficulties in 2013 (referred to as “annus horribilis” because of a Senate scandal), the government seems to have gained a more solid footing in 2014.  The House of Commons debate in September on a resolution to support the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS (the radical Islamist terrorist group) in Iraq and Syria provided the Harper government with an opportunity to set the agenda.  The two lone-wolf terrorist acts on Canadian soil (both in Ottawa and St-Jean, Québec) also presented a backdrop for Harper to show aplomb and compassion.  The face-to-face confrontation with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, where Harper bluntly told the Russian leader to get out of the Ukraine, only added to the perception of the government’s surefootedness.

Fundraising results for 2014 also showed a successful year for Harper and his party.  Is it enough to win a second straight majority government?  It’s too early to say.

The NDP, the Official Opposition ably led by Tom Mulcair—has performed in a consistent and effective manner.  Tom Mulcair might well be the best opposition leader in the House of Commons in decades.  This, however, has not yet translated itself in electoral gains.  The poll results place the NDP consistently in third place (though first in Québec), and they have underperformed in by-elections and provincial election contests.  In addition, the NDP has no tradition of being the governing party at the national level.  However, they do have an effective caucus in the House and a solid progressive base to work from come election time.

Most political observers, media pundits and pollsters would be hesitant to predict a winner in the next election as things stand, as well as whether there will be a majority or a minority government.  In ordinary times, Canada generally follows a series of minority governments (2006, 2008) with a lengthy period of majority governments.  But these are not ordinary times.

Today’s headlines are centered around terrorism and its growing homegrown  threat, the politics surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S., and the sinking price of oil in a resource-rich country like Canada.  The booming economy of Alberta is now being severely challenged by delayed projects and cutbacks in production and employment.  All this has occurred within a mere four months.

The economic picture, normally a strong suit for the Conservative government, is becoming less predictable.  Granted, some provincial economies will benefit from the U.S. economic resurgence and the lower Canadian dollar, but other provincial economies, depending on oil and gas exports, will not do so well.

As we begin 2015, it is fair to say that the Tories are back in the game, that the Liberals have rebounded from the 2011 election setback where they were relegated to third party status, and that the NDP remains a serious and consistent  contender  in any electoral calculus.  All this bodes well for an exciting, but unpredictable, political year.

*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Canada Elections, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

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