Liberals look for third successive election victory – and a majority

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Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has fired the starting gun on a snap federal election set for 20th September.

The election is the third time in six years that Canadians have gone to the polls to elect the government in Ottawa. Trudeau’s goal is obvious – to win a majority.

The timing is right for the Liberal government, as their response to the Covid pandemic has seen them surge ahead in the polls. At the 2019 federal election, Trudeau’s Liberals lost their majority, and governed from a position 13 seats short of the 170 needed for overall power. Over the summer, polls have consistently given the Liberals between a 50-70 seat advantage over the Conservatives – bordering on a majority.

Pressed on why Trudeau pulled the plug on the current parliament, he said that it was due to the ‘toxicity and obstructionism’ of the opposition parties during the pandemic. Trudeau also said that Canada needed a new direction as it comes out the other side of Covid, ‘Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against Covid-19’.

Who are the challengers to the Liberals at this election? The Conservatives, Canada’s main opposition are on the backfoot. Leader, Erin O’Toole is still finding his feet after a year at the helm of the party and will struggle to make enough connections with voters in time. On the flip side, left-leaning NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, has the charisma to garner support – especially among younger voters, but not the party infrastructure to seriously challenge at this election.

The main battlegrounds will be in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. The latter being between the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois – a separatist movement. As a province, Ontario has easily the most seats in the country – 121, which will mean that the Liberals and Conservatives will be fighting hard to pick-up seats here in many ridings that have majorities of only a few hundred. Enough to tip the election one-way or the other.

There are strong echoes of Trudeau’s father in this call for an election. In 1968, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority on a wave of ‘Trudeaumania’, before losing the majority four years later. Only then, two years after that, winning the election with a renewed majority. Trudeau the younger will be hoping for history to repeat itself for him.

With such a short campaign ahead of them, it’s hard to see opposition parties being able to make real ground on the Liberals. Although, by going to the polls early, this election can be seen as one for Trudeau’s to lose.

* Jonathan is a Lib Dem member in Bath. He studied European Politics at the University of Exeter and now works for a sustainability consultancy.

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16 Comments

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '21 - 11:34am

    Be careful how you define the Canadian Liberal Party in Liberal terms. Perhaps not as conservative as the Australian Liberal Party, the Canadian version is by no means as radical as the Liberal Democrats. That’s largely the rôle occupied by the New Democratic Party.

    There could be an element of political opportunism in Justin Trudeau’s move. In that respect he may be judged to be taking after his old man. However, given her track record, he may well have inherited some of his more reckless character traits from his mother, Margaret.

  • Michael Bukola 17th Aug '21 - 2:05pm

    Having been cleared by the ethics watchdog over the WE charity scandal, the coast is clear for Trudeau to try and gain support for a majority government. If Trudeau were serious about the Canadian Liberal Party gaining an overall majority government, he should have considered standing down as Leader and Prime Minister in order to make way for a new fresher Leader, without the baggage of the ‘blackface’ debacle which reduced his majority in the first place.

  • Peter Watson 17th Aug '21 - 2:20pm

    @John Marriott “the Canadian version is by no means as radical as the Liberal Democrats”
    Are you implying there’s a radical Liberal Democrats somewhere?

  • One early poll has the Conservatives 3% ahead!!!!

  • @ Peter Watson Once upon a time, a long time ago, there used to be.

  • Surely if the Lib Dem’s are going to learn from a Canadian party it would be the New Democrats? They may be ideologically different but they are the yellows who managed to break up the red-blue duopoly. In one election not long ago they finished second. It would be interesting to look at their tactics to see how they managed to do that.

    The Liberals are very much an establishment party that has tended to win more often than not and the party voters revert to when in doubt rather like the Conservatives here.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '21 - 6:19pm

    @Peter Martin
    What a snide remark! I do hope you were joking. Of course there are some radical members of the Lib Dems. There are also a lot of decent caring people as well, as well as the idealistically driven. Like your Labour Party, even the Lib Dems are a broad church. My guess is that the ‘radicals’ in both parties might be happier in the NDP were they living on the other side of the pond.

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '21 - 6:21pm

    @Peter Watson
    Sorry, I got my Watson’s mixed up with my Martin’s! Sorry, Peter Martin, for taking your name in vain!😀😀

  • Brad Barrows 17th Aug '21 - 6:22pm

    First Past the Post election results are even more unfair than in the UK, though the Liberals may well benefit from this. Last election saw the Liberals win just 13 seats less than needed for a majority with just a third of the vote – and with less votes than the Conservatives.

  • Peter Watson 17th Aug '21 - 7:13pm

    @John Marriott “Sorry, I got my Watson’s mixed up with my Martin’s!”
    No worries. I’ll take it as a compliment, but I can’t speak for Mr. Martin! 🙂
    I should probably clarify that while there are undoubtedly plenty of radical individual liberal democrats and Liberal Democrats, the Liberal Democrats as a party does appear to be depressingly comfortable as a small-c conservative one these days. Opposition to change appears to underpin every campaign from Scottish independence and Brexit through to Chesham and Amersham.

  • Peter Martin 18th Aug '21 - 7:15am

    @ John Marriott,

    Apology accepted!

    I wouldn’t have said that the Lib Dems don’t have any radical members. I might, at one time, have been tempted to say they were in the wrong party. But I’m not sure the Labour Party is much better these days. The party is full of non-radical types who think the key to winning elections is to tack ever more to the right.

  • John Marriott 18th Aug '21 - 7:50am

    @Peter Martin
    Thanks. I wonder whether it’s time yet again to sound out people about forming ANOTHER left of centre or even centre party? Some folks are never going to be that radical; but many do have a lot of common sense and really do want to see some permanent change.

  • Peter Watson 18th Aug '21 - 8:08am

    @Peter Martin “The [Labour] party is full of non-radical types who think the key to winning elections is to tack ever more to the right.”
    English politics does seem to be in a pretty depressing homogeneous state at the moment. With the Lib Dems targeting disaffected Conservatives and Labour being fearful of appearing in the least bit leftish, it looks like we’ve true blue Tories, light blue Lib Dems (though blue + orange is probably more of a mucky brown), and dull grey Labour expunging any glimmer of red. As well as a bit of radicalism, I think we also need an injection of colour.

  • I’m not as sure about the Canadian Liberal Party being that conservative (unlike the Australian version).
    Obviously being in power more that out of power does make it a party of establishment, but many comments over time from my wife’s family in Toronto lead me to think they are probably a little better than our performance in coalition (ok not the best LD marker!).
    The New Democrats come across to me as a bit like the Labour Party in the West Country, pushing themselves as more radical without prospect of winning.
    Whilst Canadian Tories are definitely on the right of our Tories (if only just these days). They’re current slogan is “a man with a plan”, which I have lost count of the number of Tories here using that slogan.
    The big weakness for the Liberal Party in government seems to be repeated allegations of improper financial actions with various companies.
    I have mixed feelings about the Canadian Liberal government, given the difficulties distance and negligible reporting in our media it’s difficult to judge their performance (although I do get regular CBC mailings). Plus international comparisons can be tricky. But then I’m not always happy about our performance here!

  • David Evans 20th Aug '21 - 5:35pm

    Interesting that no one has mentioned the virtues of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act yet.

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