2021 Canadian Federal Election Overview

Today, Canadians will head to the polls in the 44th Federal Election, just less than two years after the previous general election. This post covers the electoral system in Canada, the political and policy issues leading up to the election, and the platforms of every major party.

Elections in Canada

Similar to other parliamentary democracies across the world, Canadians do not select the Prime Minister, their Head of Government; they only select the Member of Parliament that represents the riding, or electoral district, that they live in. The political party that has the most of Parliament’s 338 seats following an election will be able to form government, where its leader will become Prime Minister. Canadians also do not vote for a Head of State, since the Canadian state is a type of constitutional monarchy—a monarch is formally a country’s leader but their power and authority are almost completely ceremonial. Due to its colonial and commonwealth heritage, British Queen Elizabeth II is officially Canada’s Head of State, but she is represented by the Governor-General who is appointed by the Prime Minister.

Canadian federal elections typically happen once every four years. However, the Prime Minister has the ability to call a snap election, or an election ahead of schedule. Snap elections are not uncommon in Canada, and are usually called when the party in power senses opportunity to gain seats, especially when they lead a minority government. With the exception of the 14th Parliament that lasted from 1922 to 1925 (technically only a minority for two years), no federal minority government in Canada has lasted a full four-year term.

Background

Pundits have already began to speculate if Trudeau made the correct decision to call a snap election, as polls indicate another Liberal minority will be the most likely outcome from this election. However, Trudeau moving forward with another election might signal that whichever party leads the next government will be implementing tough policy decisions, such as higher interest rates and tax hikes to pay off costs of the pandemic.

Liberal Party of Canada (LPC)

Colour: Red
Leader: 
Justin Trudeau
Similar Internationally:
Australian Labor Party (progressive wing), Liberal Democrats (United Kingdom), Democratic Party (United States)
Current seats in Parliament: 155

The Incumbent Prime Minister’s Liberals will be seeking to win their third straight election. The Liberals’ top priorities for this election include a revamped child-care programme, further vaccine mandates, and policy action against speculators. Entering this election, Trudeau can tout a solid response at the beginning of the pandemic, plus a vaccine programme that has put Canada among the top countries in vaccination rates despite an initially slow start. But on the flip side, his past political scandals such as the SNC-Lavalin affair in 2019, which was repeatedly mentioned during the leaders’ debate, as well as the recent We Charity contract that ended in the resignation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, have served as easy talking points for his political opponents on the attack.

Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)

Colour: Blue
Leader: 
Erin O’Toole
Similar Internationally:
Liberal Party of Australia, The Republicans (France), Christian Democratic Union (Germany), Conservative Party (United Kingdom), Republican Party (United States; moderate wing)
Current seats in Parliament: 119

Currently Canada’s official opposition party, the Conservatives seek to form government for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper led Canada in 2015. The top policy positions for the Conservatives include job recovery from the pandemic, long-term expansion of health care, and a more moderate form of the Liberals’ carbon tax. On the campaign trail, O’Toole has built much higher support compared to his predecessor Andrew Scheer, who stepped down after his Conservatives failed to gain control of government last election. But in an effort to appeal to both big-tent and far-right voters, O’Toole has been accused of seesawing on policy positions to the point of confusion.

Bloc Québécois (BQ)

Colour: Blue/Teal
Leader: 
Yves-François Blanchet
Similar Internationally: 

Current seats in Parliament: 33

The Bloc Québécois is the only Canadian party with regional interests that holds seats in Parliament. Wedge issues in Québec make another return Bloc’s campaign this year, with the most prominent being further protections for the French language in Québec.

New Democratic Party (NDP)

Colour: Orange
Leader: 
Jagmeet Singh
Similar Internationally:
Social Democratic Party (Germany), Democratic Party (United States; progressive wing), Labour Party (United Kingdom)
Current seats in Parliament: 24

Even though the New Democrats have seen their seat count in Parliament drop in recent years, they still hold significant influence in federal politics. One of the NDP’s biggest successes in the current Trudeau government was their push for greater benefits and wage subsidies during the pandemic. In this election, the NDP’s priorities have focused on tax fairness, housing and health affordability, and climate action. The NDP will not be contending to form government in this election again, but current projections have put them on the correct path to eventually gain their opposition status in 2011.

Green Party (GRE)

Colour: Green
Leader:
Annamie Paul
Similar Internationally:
Australian Greens, Europe Ecology – The Greens (France), Alliance 90/The Greens (Germany), Green Party of England and Wales (United Kingdom)
Current seats in Parliament: 2

With green politics as the foundation of their platform, the Green Party’s priorities this election includes extensive climate action, racial justice, and reconciliation. The Greens will look to hold on two both of their current seats, but it will be a challenge for new leader Annamie Paul to win her seat in Toronto Centre.


Above Featured Image: Canadian flags in Ottawa. (Chelsey Faucher/Unsplash)

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