Voters everywhere are in no mood for the same-old

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

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

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.

Reading this online? Sign-up for the newsletter and receive it every Sunday.

Voters open to something different

Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics

What does a byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith have in common with a Ukrainian comedian?

More than you might think. Or nothing. Bear with me for a few minutes.

The byelection tomorrow will be another window for something "different" to happen. And when I say "different," I mean something other than the typical outcome.

If you've been paying attention to the results of some recent provincial elections (and international ones, too), you'll notice small changes that have the potential to turn into something bigger.

In New Brunswick's provincial election back in September, voters showed they wanted change. OK, that's not unusual. What was unusual is where many of them chose to park their votes.

New Brunswickers voted in a minority Conservative government - with the Greens and the People's Alliance of New Brunswick winning three seats apiece and holding the balance of power.

Last month, P.E.I's election saw another vote for change. Despite the economy's positive performance, voters in that province turfed the governing Liberals and voted in a Conservative minority government, with the Greens forming the Official Opposition.

As two former premiers from those provinces told me, voters increasingly are looking beyond the usual binary choice between voting Liberal or Conservative.

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference at his campaign headquarters following a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko - RC1AD2057D20 (REUTERS)

And that brings me back to Ukraine, where a rejection of the status quo under Petro Poroshenko ended with a guy who played the president on TV being elected to the job without making a single campaign promise. It's President Volodymyr Zelensky now, thank you very much.

Is something going on here? If so, what?

It's hard to know, and I hesitate to use the term 'populism' because it conveys so many different things to different people right now. But what I do see is a clear appetite for change, anxiety about the status quo and a desire among a growing number of voters to see less-traditional options as vehicles for that change - a way to reject the status quo.

Former New Brunswick premier Brian Gallant, who was turfed in September's election, told me recently it would be a big mistake for federal parties to ignore this trend.

So what does that mean for Monday's byelection? I don't know. I gave up on predicting elections back in 2015, when I told a group of much more senior reporters that there was no way Albertans would ever vote for change. (Very smooth move on my part.)

But the Greens have a shot, and a decent one in Nanaimo, as my colleague Éric Grenier points out.

According to Éric's poll tracker, the Greens are just six points behind the NDP nationally. The Greens have struggled (as they did in P.E.I.) to convert that popular support into actual wins. But along with the newly-formed People's Party of Canada (helmed by ex-Tory Maxime Bernier), they certainly throw something different into the mix heading into October.

The electorate itself also appears to be different this time - less confined to traditional voting patterns, more willing to try something new.

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 likely continue to highlight that Andrew Scheer and his campaign director were recently caught holding behind-closed-doors strategy sessions with oil industry executives and shadowy third party groups. While the Conservatives strategized about "silencing environmental critics," the Liberals will continue to focus on the importance of a real plan to fight climate change

Rachel Curransenior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting

The Conservatives will be focused this week on issues designed to keep the government on the defensive: SNC-Lavalin; the trial of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and the recent revelation that retiring Liberal MP Andrew Leslie will be testifying for the defence; and ongoing provincial opposition to Trudeau's carbon tax, as articulated in clear terms by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in his testimony before the Senate on Bill C-69. The Conservatives will also be playing some defence of their own, as the Liberals press Scheer for his own climate change plan.

Kathleen Monkprincipal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh is trying to catch the eye of Canadians who are looking for a new progressive champion, now that 44 per cent of Liberal voters report they disapprove of Justin Trudeau's performance. Singh is starting to lay out his key policy offers for Canadians, such as affordable medicine, access to housing and a Canadian version of AOC's "Green New Deal." With just a few sitting weeks left in this Parliament, Singh has an important opportunity to hold Liberals accountable and will continue to put corporate influence over the Liberals under the spotlight.

Poll Tracker Takeaway

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

On the face of it, the polls have been all over the map this past week.

Surveys by the Angus Reid Institute and Léger have given the Conservatives a lead of 13 percentage points over the Liberals. Nanos Research put the edge at just three points, while Ipsos suggested it was four. Forum Research split the difference with a seven-point margin.

The natural reaction might be to throw up your hands. But this is actually how it should be.

The Canada Poll Tracker currently shows the Conservatives with a lead of just over seven points nationwide. If that's the current political environment, then we should expect to see polls giving the Conservatives a double-digit edge, with others showing a gap within the theoretical margin of error.

Assume that these polls have a margin of error of about three points. Online surveys cannot calculate a margin of error in the same way as random surveys, but they are designed to replicate the same kind of accuracy — and a seven-point Conservative lead easily turns into a gaping 13-point edge when you add three points to the Conservative tally and take three points away from the Liberals.

Similarly, that seven point gap turns into a tight one-point margin just as easily. Suddenly we go from majority territory to a toss-up.

So don't worry too much about the differences between individual polls. They can still paint the same overall portrait — and right now, it's one that doesn't look good for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Tap here to go to the full Poll Tracker

More from CBC Politics

Conservatives, Liberals in closer fundraising race in decisive election battlegrounds
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Budget watchdog to crunch numbers on political campaign promises for 1st time
For the first time, Canada's budget watchdog has a mandate to cost out election campaign promises, but the uptake from political parties isn't clear.

Trudeau appoints Chrystia Freeland's chief of staff to run Liberals' election campaign
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his party's national campaign director this week, elevating his former deputy principal secretary Jeremy Broadhurst to the top of his re-election team.

Ask Us 

We want to know what YOU want to know.

Jim Hilson from Medicine Hat, Alta., emailed to ask… "I understand the reluctance of political parties to disclose too much too early. That just sets them up as a target. They have to keep electors on board and without giving away too much to the enemy. When is the right time for disclosure from a political party as to what they want to make the backbone of their campaign?"

The short answer is that there is no "right" time to release major parts of your eventual campaign platform. Most parties try to stagger announcements of significant policy initiatives to win as much attention as possible, and to force their opponents to respond. And, as you note, some parties prefer to wait to avoid having another party steal, incorporate, or otherwise assume all of parts of their plans.

For example, voters already have a good idea of how most of the parties plan to address climate change, and that's put pressure on the Conservatives to release their own plan before the summer, long before the formal campaign will begin this fall.

Most parties still time their campaign announcements to lead up to the formal release of a final, costed platform at some point in the campaign. Again, there's no firm rule about when a platform should be released.

Take 2015 as an example. The Liberals released the final, costed version of their platform on Oct. 5 while both the NDP and Conservatives unveiled their versions a few days later on Oct. 9.

The Greens were first-past-the-post, so to speak, when party leader Elizabeth May released her party's full platform on Sept 9.

There's a new wrinkle in this election. The Liberals passed legislation to allow the Parliamentary Budget Officer to give political parties the option of providing "independent and non-partisan" analysis of how much their platforms will cost taxpayers. So far, only the Liberals and Greens have given clear commitments to use the PBO's costing service, so stay tuned.

— Chris Hall, CBC National Affairs Editor and host of CBC Radio's The House

Thanks for reading. If you've got questions, criticisms or story tips, please email us at politics@cbc.ca.

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