It ain't over 'til it's ugly: How Alberta's 'nasty' election foreshadowed the coming federal contest

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

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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.

Prepare for a 'nasty' election campaign

Vassy Kapelos, host of  Power & Politics.

"I just want it to be over."

"It was the worst."

"Please let it end."

"I'm so tired of it."

The streeters have spoken.

'Streeters' are those interviews you see reporters doing with passers-by (literally) on the street. I did a few the morning of last week's election in Alberta. And though everyone I spoke to disagreed on the issues, they agreed on one thing: the election was downright 'nasty'.

So, some bad news for those Albertans who were depressed by the tone of their provincial election: the federal election will be nasty too.

One person working on the Liberals' campaign told me the federal election will make Alberta's "look like a day at Disneyland." Hours after Jason Kenney's win, a federal Conservative — victory drink in hand — told me the federal "battle" will be "bloodier, much bloodier." I'm hoping that doesn't mean fistfights, but I assume that means the campaign is going to get pretty messy.

All elections are kind of messy, though, aren't they? Why might this one be messier? (I have never used the word 'messy' so many times in one article.)

There are a few indicators. First, both Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer have told us it's going to be brutal.

"We are now looking at perhaps what will be the most divisive and negative and nasty political campaign in Canada's history," Trudeau said back in October of last year.

That same month, the leader of the Conservative Party said the same thing.

"The Liberals are going to throw everything they have at us. It's going to get worse. It's going to get nasty," Scheer told a room full of supporters in Ottawa.

Both Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau have warned the federal election campaign is going to be negative and nasty. (Canadian Press)

Partly that's due to a political clash over the issues; two of them in particular, climate change and immigration, tend to incite highly divisive rhetoric.

The sad fact is, a particularly malicious tone might just be what it takes to get more people out to the polls.

Take Alberta's example. Yes, every single person I stopped on the street was appalled by the tone of the campaign. But every single one of them also voted. Turnout was massive. The final tally isn't in yet, but it'll be in the neighbourhood of 70 per cent.

Many factors likely went into that turnout. I tend to believe that many Albertans felt the outcome of the election would have a direct impact on their livelihoods. But they were also engaged (at least the people I spoke to were) by the divisive, inflammatory, overheated rhetoric. They felt like they had a stake in the fight.

My guess is Canadians will feel the same way in October. In what likely will be a hard-fought, disagreeable, unpleasant and, yes, messy election, they'll be ready — and willing — to get their hands dirty.

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.

Supriya Dwivedi, host of Global News Radio 640 Toronto's Morning Show

The Liberals have a decision to make as to what kind of role they're going to let Conservative premiers play in the next federal election. It's clear that Premiers Ford, Moe and now (Premier-designate) Kenney are willing to play hardball when it comes to the carbon tax, but should Liberals take the bait? On the one hand, it makes for an easy election narrative, but the Liberals came to power being for something, not simply against something, and that will take some tweaking with their messaging.

Rachel Curran, senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting

The Conservatives will be focused again next week on highlighting the costs to Canadians of Trudeau's new carbon tax, on the heels of Ontario's challenge to the tax before the province's Court of Appeal, and the pending challenge by the newly-elected United Conservative Party government in Alberta. Speaking of which, federal Conservatives will also be celebrating Jason Kenney's April 16 majority win, as he joins a coalition of centre-right premiers challenging Trudeau and the Liberals ahead of the fall federal election.

Kathleen Monk, principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

The New Democrats are wielding a well-used political tactic this week, as Leader Jagmeet Singh hits the tour circuit for the launch of his new biography Love & Courage. In the past, politicians like Barrack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Jean Chrétien have used the memoir publishing tactic to create some media buzz before a campaign. It can be an effective way for a politician to introduce themselves to voters and increase name recognition. New Democrats hope the high-profile book blitz will give the party a much-needed bump in the polls in advance of the election.

Poll Tracker Takeaway

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

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is optimistic for a big win in Prince Edward Island. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

There are only four seats in Prince Edward Island. Voters there have little chance of deciding the outcome of federal elections.

But the choice that Islanders make in Tuesday's provincial election could have an impact that goes far beyond their shores.

The P.E.I. Greens are leading in the polls. That's largely due to the popularity of their leader, Peter Bevan-Baker. But it's also part of a nationwide uptick in support for the Greens, who made new breakthroughs in last year's provincial elections in Ontario and New Brunswick.

At 8.6 per cent nationwide in the CBC's Canada Poll Tracker, the Greens are punching above their weight. After winning just one seat in 2015, they are now in contention in as many as seven seats across the country. They have seen significant growth in Atlantic Canada, where the federal Greens are polling at 11.2 per cent — just a point behind the New Democrats.

The Greens have actually tied or placed ahead of the NDP in a number of recent polls in the region. A provincial victory in P.E.I. could help give the party more credibility, just the kind of boost it would need to seriously challenge for some of the seats in which its provincial cousins have already set down roots, like Fredericton in New Brunswick, and Malpeque and Charlottetown in P.E.I.

The national polls suggest that a minority government would be the most likely outcome of a federal election held today. That means even a handful of seats in the Maritimes could help give Elizabeth May's Greens the balance of power.

Click here for the latest Poll Tracker numbers.

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If not for Alberta's first NDP premier, Justin Trudeau likely would have had an even harder time crafting a national climate plan. If not for Rachel Notley, Ottawa also might not own a pipeline right now. At the very least, the prime minister would have had a much harder time justifying his support for that pipeline's expansion, writes Aaron Wherry. 

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