Election winner will choose new ambassador - and possibly a reset with Washington

In this week’s Canada Votes newsletter: What will the new NAFTA have to do with the election? Also: Which province swings the most? Polls analyst Eric Grenier takes a look - and we answer your question about online voting.

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

David MacNaughton is stepping away from the position of Canada's ambassador to the United States at the end of this month. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

New NAFTA a live issue for election campaign 

Katie Simpson, Senior reporter

Ever heard of dry January?

It's an attempt by those who practice new year's resolutions to swear off alcohol for the first month of the year.

Not that I want to fulfil stereotypes, but as a journalist, I've never been successful in doing a full dry month.

Just for fun, I often joke around with some of the producers at Power & Politics, that I'm going to do dry July, or dry August, which we have dubbed "draugust." 

Why is it a joke? Because the producer I always pledge to do it with doesn't drink.


Like the fabled draugust, the political news week has been a bit dry.

The campaign is not officially on yet, but party leaders are travelling the country, with war rooms plotting schedules for what will be a very busy few months.

Where they go, and why, will say a lot about what each party sees as the strengths and weaknesses that lie ahead.

One issue that did get a lot of attention this week, is the resignation of Canada's ambassador in Washington.

After three years in what is arguably considered Canada's most important diplomatic posting, David MacNaughton is calling it quits to return to the private sector.

MacNaughton's resignation serves as a reminder that NAFTA/CUSMA/USMCA is still very much a live issue for senior government officials, and will come up during the election here.

American lawmakers have not yet ratified the deal. Democrats want changes to the pact, and don't want to give Donald Trump a legislative win.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters from the roof of the Canadian Embassy in Washington after meetings with the White House and U.S. Congress in June. He's joined by, from left, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

The Liberals will campaign on the fact they were able to keep the deal alive, despite Donald Trump repeatedly threatening to kill the agreement.

If they are able to win re-election, expect the Liberals to continue quietly lobbying U.S. lawmakers to ratify the deal, so it can finally be put to bed. 

Though the Conservatives have criticized NAFTA 2.0, arguing that the new agreement is not as good for Canada as the original pact, the plan for Andrew Scheer and his team is to support the agreement as is.

The NDP is the outlier on this issue. 

"The new NAFTA is simply not good enough for Canadians in its current form," wrote NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey in a statement this past spring.

"The NDP believes we should wait and give the U.S. Congress the time they need to improve the deal. Working people should not pay the price for bad negotiations." she said.

Democrats in the U.S. are demanding changes, specifically to the length of patent protections, as a way to lower drug prices. It is something Canada agrees with, though the Trudeau government's official position is that it does not support re-opening the deal, since it could mean other aspects of the agreement are tinkered with.

This echoes a debate that emerged in the 2015 campaign — when then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced Canada would be a part of the new Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between pacific rim countries.

Shortly after the announcement, then NDP leader Tom Mulcair set off on an anti-TPP whistle-stop tour, visiting a half- dozen cities in southern Ontario. 

While trade did not dominate the last campaign, expect it to pop up this go around. 

Now, if you read all this on an August day, you deserve a drink. Cheers!

Power Lines

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

Amanda Alvaro  president and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance

The Liberals will continue to highlight a positive plan to keep investing in middle-class families. While Conservatives like Jason Kenney and Doug Ford have been amping up their negative rhetoric on Justin Trudeau, the Liberals will stay focused on Canadians at events all across the country.  

Rachel Curran senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will be in Regina, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, outlining his positive Conservative vision for the country. He will also be reminding Canadians that the Trudeau Liberals have spent the summer campaigning on the taxpayers' dime, while instituting new rules to prevent election-related advertising by third parties.

Kathleen Monk principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

New Democrats are working to cut through Conservative and Liberal pre-election posturing to engage Canadians facing sky-high housing, medicine and cellphone bills. Jagmeet Singh will be in B.C. talking about how only New Democrats can be trusted to replace empty talk with concrete actions needed to take on powerful telecoms and big drug companies.

Poll Tracker Takeaway 

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

Which province holds the record for being the swing-iest of them all?

The answer may surprise you.

Yes, voters in Quebec have developed a reputation for being fickle. After all, over the last three elections three different parties have won the most seats in the province.

But it's Newfoundland and Labrador that has suffered the most serious cases of whiplash over the last 15 years.

Since 2004, no province has had a bigger average shift in support per party between elections than Newfoundland and Labrador.

Major parties have seen their share of the popular vote fluctuate by an average of 12 percentage points between one election and the next in the province.

In 2008, Premier Danny Williams' 'Anything but Conservative' campaign contributed to a 26-point decline in support for that party compared to the 2006 election. The NDP picked up most of that slack, surging 20 points.

There was another big move in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015, when the Liberals jumped 27 points from their 2011 performance. The NDP dropped 12 points and the Conservatives fell 18 points as a result.

Double-digit wobbles for the Conservatives in 2006 and 2011 helped cement Newfoundland and Labrador as the province that has gone back and forth the most over the last few elections. But despite all that movement, there hasn't been a significant number of seats changing hands.

That's perhaps where Quebec has earned its reputation. The average fluctuation for each party between elections has been about 10 points since 2004, with enormous implications for party standings in the House of Commons.

The next two swing-iest on the list are New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

The province with the least swing? You could probably guess that one — it's Alberta, where parties have averaged a shift of less than five points between elections.

At this stage, at least, it looks like these provinces are going to hold true to form. The polls suggest big changes are in store in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, while the political map in Alberta might only see a few minor adjustments come October.

Perhaps some things never change — including where things change the most.

Clockwise from top left: Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau.

Tap here to go to the Canada Votes Poll Tracker

Ask us

Owenquann on Instagram asks: Will there be online voting?

The short answer is no. There won't be online voting in this election. 

Remember that committee of MPs studying whether to change Canada's voting system? Along with recommending a referendum on proportional representation (a recommendation the government ignored), they also studied the possibility of online voting. 

Their conclusion: Don't do it.  

Their report pointed to security concerns about online voting and unequal access to reliable internet across the country as just some of the reasons not to move to online voting. 

Although the federal election won't have online voting, other jurisdictions are moving in that direction. 

People in the Northwest Territories will elect 19 members to the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly in October — and it will be the first provincial or territorial election to use online voting in a general election. Voters can use a new website to vote online, as long as they've registered for an absentee ballot beforehand.

Security experts have sounded the alarm about that election, but the company behind the voting site says it is safe for an election the size of N.W.T.'s. 

If things go smoothly in that election, maybe the federal government might take another look at online voting, but for now you'll have to vote the old fashioned way. 

Of course, information on how to do that is available online

— Tyler Buist, Producer

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.

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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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