Canada election 2015: 11 things that changed since 2011's vote

If a week is a long time in politics, just imagine how much has happened since Canada's last federal election over four years ago. The turf, the rules and some of the players have changed. So has the electorate they're targeting.

Forget what you thought you knew about federal elections: it's different this time out

How will the 2015 be different?

7 years ago
Duration 2:32
Catherine Cullen explains what's new this time out and what to expect for the next 11 weeks.

If a week is a long time in politics, imagine how much changed since Canadians last voted on May 2, 2011.

It's a whole new ball game: The turf, the rules and some of the players have changed. And so has the electorate.

Here's some of what should make the 2015 campaign so shiny, new and unpredictable for the next 11 weeks.

New ridings, different boundaries

You may no longer live where you thought you did, voters.

Since 2011, Elections Canada embarked on a massive readjustment of riding boundaries and added 30 new seats, based on changes in Canada's population.

Ontario has 15 new seats. Alberta and British Columbia have six each, and Quebec has three. In other provinces, constituencies were redrawn.

The new boundaries in Saskatchewan, for example, create several urban seats where seats previously mixed urban and rural polls.

More debates, new formats

What does an election debate look like when it's not organized by a consortium of Canada's major broadcasters? What does a campaign look like when there are more than just two (one in English, one in French)?

How do strategists balance rehearsal time with campaign touring when debates are scattered over a long campaign?

In 2011, there were only two leaders debates, both run collaboratively by major broadcasters. In 2015, debate organizers include print media, social and online media and a policy debating forum. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

We'll soon find out, starting Thursday with a debate hosted by Maclean's magazine's political editor Paul Wells. That will feature Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Here are the others:

  • Sept. 17: Debate in Calgary on the economy, organized by The Globe and Mail and Google Canada. Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau confirmed.
  • Date to be determined: Debate on foreign policy hosted by the Munk Debates. Harper and Mulcair confirmed, Trudeau also invited. 
  • Oct. 2: Debate on Quebec's TVA network (in French) moderated by Pierre Bruneau. Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe confirmed.
  • Oct. 7: French debate organized by the consortium of broadcasters. Harper has not accepted the invitation, but Mulcair*, Trudeau, Duceppe and May expected.
  • Oct. 8: English debate organized by the consortium of broadcasters. Harper has declined, but Mulcair*, Trudeau and May expected.

*On Friday, the NDP threatened to pull out of the consortium debates if Harper didn't attend.

Fair Elections Act changes

Earlier this year, Parliament passed C-23, the Fair Elections Act: 242 pages packed with changes ranging from campaign financing to voting requirements to the investigation of election irregularities.

Stephen Harper celebrated four years ago as he won his "strong, stable majority Conservative government." Canadians now have 11 weeks to decide if he'll have another one. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

There's a new set of rules on what identification voters need to show at the polls. Critics tried but failed to stop these changes in court, arguing they could prevent some from voting.

In the aftermath of the robocalls affair, new rules were added for telephone campaigning. 

The 'Snapchat' election?

In the U.S., commentators suggest the 2016 presidential vote will be "the Snapchat election," nodding to emerging social media many politicians are trying out.

The killer app for campaigning in Canada in 2015 isn't clear. If 2008 was "the Twitter election," and if YouTube channels, Google hangouts and Facebook's massive reach have shaped campaigning since, what will emerge this time? 

Watch for campaign innovations unthinkable four years ago. Social media has changed the way politically-engaged Canadians talk to each other.

Wary of 15-second soundbites? Brace for the shareable, six-second, looping Vine video.

Post-TV campaigning

Conventional television audiences, on the other hand, have fallen off since 2011. 

Four years ago, Justin Trudeau said he was just happy to have increased the margin of victory in his Montreal riding despite the dramatic sweep of the NDP elsewhere in Quebec. His job as a rookie leader in 2015: front the first Liberal campaign since 2000 that increases the party's seat count. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

More opt to skip television ads. Fewer watch the over-the-air programming that used to guarantee a sizeable viewership and shared national experience for live, prime-time debates.

How will parties adjust? How will it affect the national conversation?

Will anyone watch an entire debate, or will voters just see clips promoted in their Facebook feed?

Post-landline campaigning

More Canadians unplugged their phones as well.

That makes it harder for pollsters to build traditional random samples for public opinion research.

Parties still use phone banks to identify and mobilize supporters, but tools and strategies have changed.

Hot for 2015? Online voter databases.

Most expensive ever?

It costs a lot to fight the fast-paced advertising air war that's shaping up. And the ground war touring a big country like Canada for twice as long takes serious money. 

Without per-vote subsidies, party fundraising is key.

Thirty new seats and the super-sized length ratchet up Elections Canada administration costs. Media will be stretched too.

'Strong, stable majority government'

In the campaigns Harper won, he could say he needed a mandate to fix things: first because Conservatives weren't in power, and later because his minority government lacked enough votes to pass exactly what it wanted.

No one blocked the Tories for the last four years. Now they run on their record. 

Prime Minister Mulcair?

During the 2011 campaign, Tom Mulcair helped engineer then-NDP Leader Jack Layton's extraordinary breakthrough in Quebec. Four years later, Mulcair's rise puts New Democrats in uncharted territory. (Shaun Best/Reuters)

When former leader Jack Layton said he was running for prime minister, people dismissed it. His successor, polls suggest, might lead Canada's first New Democratic government. 

How will that affect Mulcair's strategy? The NDP has no experience campaigning from the front.

Third party blues

Liberals, on the other hand, aren't used to campaigning as the third-place party.

Recent polls suggest they've slipped back in what still might be a three-way race.

The seat count going in gives Justin Trudeau a steep hill to climb to the prime minister's office. 

11 weeks

Will this longest-ever campaign be, as Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke suggested Thursday, healthy for democracy?

Or will Canadians be less than keen to put down their cold drinks and think about politics in August?

At least anyone undecided has plenty of time to think it over.


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