What's the ballot issue in 2019? The high cost of living

In this week’s Canada Votes newsletter: Could the high cost of living be the ballot issue in 2019? Also: is the Bloc seeing a resurgence in Quebec? And when exactly is the election?

The Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21.

Left to right, top row: Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Bottom row: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

What's the ballot issue in 2019? The high cost of living

 Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics

The countdown is on. Less than three months to go to e-day (or maybe not). 

I don't know about you, but I'm balancing out my obsession with politics and this election by attempting to pursue a personal life — something I've been rather lousy at in the past.

In that vein, I got married earlier this month. Now I'm looking for a house. 

I can hear you asking: What does this have to do with the election? Who cares if she got married? (Just my Greek father, really, whose look of elation on the big day was more about relief than happiness.)

Actually, it's the house thing that got me thinking about the election. I'm 38 and thinking about the big purchase for the first time. I have a lot of friends who also are just getting to this point too. I also have a lot of younger friends who have given up on the idea of owning a home altogether.

It's hard to break into the housing market right now — even to rent. This CCPA study from earlier this month on the cost of rent was a jaw-dropper. It came as no surprise to tenants, of course, but it's still shocking to see it laid out in black and white.

The study found that a third of all Canadian households rent their homes — and in only three per cent of Canadian neighbourhoods can "a full-time minimum wage worker … afford to rent an average two-bedroom apartment."

Now, contrast all that with the big numbers: 421,000 new jobs in the last year, employment up 2.3 per cent, unemployment and poverty rates at historical lows.

Something doesn't add up — and that something could become the biggest issue in this campaign. If the economy is doing so well, why do so many of us feel like we're not better off, or that we can't get ahead? 

Affordable housing is one of the issues voters can expect to hear about in the fall election. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Each of the parties will address that problem in different ways — but they'll all focus on it. The Liberals, who successfully targeted "the middle class and those who want to join it" in 2015, will trumpet their record and those big numbers — but they'll have to acknowledge the anxiety, too. According to one Liberal campaign official, they'll do that by stressing there's "much more to do" while arguing their policies put Canada on the right track.

Conservatives will lean heavily on the not-getting-ahead part. One Conservative campaigner tells me their central message for the campaign will be "we want people to get ahead, not just get by." Think back to the Conservative ads that played during the Raptors games, the language employed in their arguments against the carbon tax. It's all been framed around "affordability."

The NDP has been talking about affordability for a while now, and you'll notice leader Jagmeet Singh has been especially vocal about issues like the cost of housing during multiple pre-campaign stops in Toronto. According to a New Democrat working on the campaign, it will be the central message of their campaign. They see this as a prime opportunity to paint the Liberals — as they did during the SNC-Lavalin affair — as out of touch with working Canadians and more in touch with their "wealthy friends."

I have no idea if one party's approach will work better than the others, or if any of it will work. In other countries recently, politicians have successfully tapped into voters' feelings of anxiety — economic anxiety, in particular — but have they subsequently eased those anxieties? Are people there now "getting ahead" in droves?

Measuring such things takes time. My point is that anger doesn't fuel an economy. On the other hand, politicians (and journalists) who pretend such anxieties don't exist look out of touch — and if their policy proposals ignore voters' sense of economic dread, they can miss the mark.

Parties will have to find a middle ground — but politics these days isn't about the middle. So, bonne chance, everyone!

Vassy Kapelos is host of Power & Politics, weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

Power Lines

The Power & Politics Power Panelists on where the big parties will be focused this week

Amanda Alvaropresident and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance

The Liberals will continue to highlight their plan to invest in the middle class and contrast that with the Conservative plan of cuts to vital services. They'll also be looking to remind Canadians that while the Conservatives voted against it, middle class families now have $1,620 more in their pockets as a result of the Middle Class Tax Cut – another example of what's actually at stake.

Rachel Curransenior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting

Conservatives will be focused next week on an emergency meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called to examine the latest attempts by the Trudeau government to suppress and intimidate its critics, as detailed by former China envoy David Mulroney to the Globe and Mail.

Kathleen Monk principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

New Democrats constantly hear folks are frustrated with Liberal and Conservative policies that favour Bay St. over Main St. New Democrats focus on what matters to everyday Canadians, like you, who are working hard just to get by. This week, Jagmeet Singh will be in Northern Ontario to talk about manufacturing jobs and to announce a great candidate in Thunder Bay.

Poll Tracker Takeaway 

Éric Grenier's weekly look at key numbers in the political public opinion polls. 

There's been a lot of talk about the "resurgence" of the Bloc Québécois lately. 

It shows just how low the bar has been set for a party that once dominated federal politics in Quebec for the better part of two decades.

The Bloc is certainly back from the brink of extinction. Under Martine Ouellet's brief and tumultuous leadership, the party lost most of its dwindling caucus. Last summer, the party was polling at about 11 per cent in Quebec and was on track to lose all of its seats.

Leader Yves-François Blanchet has given the Bloc new life. The former PQ cabinet minister has helped boost support for the party to 18.7 per cent in the Poll Tracker and put it in a good position to win at least the 12 seats needed for recognized-party status in the House of Commons.

But the Bloc has no more support than it did in 2015, when it took 19.3 per cent of the vote. It's the divided electorate that gives the Bloc the potential to win more than the 10 seats it captured four years ago — and in a minority Parliament, that could give the Bloc renewed relevance.

That's where the party's resurgence lies, because Quebecers don't seem to be any more likely to vote for the Bloc than in the last election.

Even the fundraising numbers give a false impression of the health of the party.

The Bloc raised $514,000 in the second quarter of 2019 — its best fundraising quarter on record. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Bloc is raising more money.

As reported by The Hill Times, the Bloc has deregistered most of its electoral district associations (EDAs). Money raised at the riding level is now sent directly to the central office, rather than local coffers.

But unlike other parties, the Bloc used to raise most of its money at the grassroots level. In 2010, the Bloc's national headquarters reported $643,000 in fundraising. Its EDAs, however, reported a combined $741,000 in fundraising.

In 2018, the Bloc reported $542,000 in fundraising by the central party apparatus — but just $73,000 raised at the riding level.

The Bloc certainly could play an important role in October's vote and increase the size of its caucus. The party seems to have most of its act together again, having launched a regionally-specific billboard marketing campaign.

But quantitatively, to look for the Bloc's resurgence, you really need to squint.


Tap here to go to the full poll tracker

Ask us

One reader asked on Instagram:  How much longer until the election? Is it tomorrow?     

Are we there yet? 

We are not there yet. 

As set out in the Canada Election Act, the federal election is set to occur on Oct. 21. The official campaign period will begin sometime in September, running for a maximum of 50 days and a minimum of 36 days.

There is one possible wrinkle. An Orthodox Jewish Conservative candidate is challenging the election date on the grounds that it coincides with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Chani Aryeh-Bain has argued that during the holiday, observant Orthodox Jews such as herself must refrain from voting and campaigning, and cannot ask other people to work for them.

The chief electoral officer, Stéphane Perreault, is empowered to recommend to the government that the date of the election be changed, particularly if the date is "in conflict with a day of cultural or religious significance." Perreault previously declined to recommend a new date, but in a ruling delivered this week, a federal judge ordered Perreault to revisit Aryeh-Bain's request.

UPDATE: In a statement released Monday, Perreault came to the same conclusion and declined to recommend changing the date of the election. So, barring further court challenges, the plan for an election on Oct. 21 seems on track.

– Aaron Wherry, Senior Writer 

Have a question about the October election? About where the federal parties stand on a particular issue? Or about the facts of a key controversy on the federal scene? Email us your questions and we'll answer one in the next Canada Votes newsletter.

More from CBC Politics 

Liberals lead in Facebook ad spending - but Conservatives close behind
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SNC-Lavalin affair could turn Indigenous votes away from the Liberals, national chief warns
The SNC-Lavalin affair and Jody Wilson-Raybould's exit from the federal Liberal caucus will factor into the choices Indigenous voters make in the fall election, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Friday. Read the full story

How the parties' paths to majority government have changed
The Liberals and Conservatives have one target in October: 170. That's the number of seats needed to form a majority government. But the paths of least resistance leading each party to that number look very different today than they did six months ago. Read Éric Grenier's analysis here

The 2019 election campaign is already underway — the CBC News Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21.

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