Early release of party platforms a sign of the changing times

In this week’s Canada Votes newsletter: Why parties are pushing their platforms out early. Also: Which parties are losing supporters from 2015 - and how federal parties are responding (or not) to Quebec’s religious symbols law.

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

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrives to unveil his party's platform at the Ontario NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. (Tara Walton/The 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.

Platforms give them something to talk about

Chris Hall, national affairs editor and host of CBC Radio's The House

It's an established part of a modern political campaign. A day set aside, usually midway through the race, to launch the party's election platform with the goal of driving news coverage for a day (or even longer!) on what is essentially a big book of promises and how much they would cost taxpayers to deliver.

But, to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin'.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh unveiled his party's platform two weeks ago. Called "A New Deal for the People" it came with a glossy cover and 109 pages of commitments (although it doesn't include details of exactly how much it will cost, for example, to introduce a public, national pharmacare program.)

Party strategist Michael Balagus said releasing the platform months before the campaign formally begins was a deliberate strategy, intended to give candidates more than one issue to talk about during the lead up to the campaign.

"The pre-election period in particular is an opportunity to provide a clearer definition and a clearer articulation of difference among the parties," he said during a panel discussion on election strategy for this weekend's edition of CBC Radio's The House.

It's also a big change in campaign approach in this country.

Back in 1993, the Liberals under Jean Chretien made a huge splash with the release of the party's very first "Red Book." Journalists covering the campaign were briefed on the contents of the 100-plus pages, and the party used an independent economist to verify its costing.

The release not only generated extensive news coverage, but helped convince voters that the party was brimming with new ideas despite having been out of power for nearly a decade. It also represented a new level of accountability, giving the media and the public a way to measure the Chretien government's performance in delivering on those commitments.

Jean Chretien brandishes the Liberal Red Book from 1993.
Jean Chretien and his 1993 campaign Red Book. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Since then, the Red Book has become the catchy shorthand for every Liberal platform regardless of its actual title. (In 2015 it was Real Change: A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class, but I'm guessing not many people remember that if they knew it at all.)

Today's party strategists still see the value of platforms as a promotional tool - and as a benchmark by which voters can hold the winning party to account.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer used a series of speeches this spring to set out his party's positions on key issues heading into the campaign. The last one was perhaps the most anticipated, an outline of what a Scheer government would do to combat climate change.

Green deputy leader Jo-Ann Roberts agrees that candidates need to be ready well in advance with detailed answers on major campaign planks.

"I think this whole idea of having your platform ready is becoming critical."

Roberts says the full Green platform is now with the Parliamentary Budget Officer to ensure the costing is correct, and will be released before the election begins.

Only the Liberals appear to be set in the more traditional approach.

Olivier Duchesneau, the Liberals' deputy campaign director, says the focus in this pre-election period is on promoting the party's record for the past four years.

"So candidates, across the country this summer, obviously are going to talk about what the government has delivered."

So look for release of this year's edition of the Red Book later in the fall.

Chris Hall is CBC's National Affairs editor and host of The House, airing every Saturday right after the 9 o'clock news on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. Subscribe to the podcast to get it delivered automatically each week.

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

Liberals — after a successful G20 leaders' summit focussed on growing our economy — are gearing up to highlight the distinct choice Canadians face this fall. Campaign teams hitting doorsteps across the country will illustrate how Liberals will invest in middle class families, while the Conservatives would take us backward with damaging cuts to vital services.

Stockwell Day former Conservative cabinet minister

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will use Canada Day to be seen by as many Canadians as possible. He knows it's always a challenge for an Opposition Leader to shine through the hazy days, but pushing the PM on China's ban on Canadian BBQ meat will be one approach.

Kathleen Monk principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group

New Democrats will celebrate Canada Day and kick-off the political BBQ circuit by door knocking in the riding of Surrey-Newton. With Liberals mired in a diplomatic war with China, and Scheer hoping Doug Ford's unbridled cronyism doesn't hurt him too much, Jagmeet Singh starts off summer showing that New Democrats are on the side of everyday Canadians.

Poll Tracker Takeaway

This week Éric Grenier looks at some key numbers from a CBC News poll. Scroll down to see the usual poll tracker numbers.

Down in the polls, both the Liberals and New Democrats have lost a lot of the voters that supported them four years ago. Our CBC News poll gives us a clue as to why.

The survey found that 45 per cent of 2015 NDP voters and 42 per cent of 2015 Liberal voters do not intend to vote the same way in 2019. The other parties haven't shed nearly as much support (the Conservatives have lost just 13 per cent of their 2015 supporters).

There's no clear pattern to where these voters are heading. But there is a difference between the Liberals and New Democrats when it comes to why these voters are leaving.

The CBC News poll found that 31 per cent of lapsed 2015 Liberals said they would not be voting for the party in 2019 because the Liberals "didn't do what they said they would do," while another 21 per cent said they were moving on because the Liberals "no longer stand for what I care about."

In other words, these former Liberal voters are saying the party didn't meet their expectations after it got into office. So the Conservative attack-ad slogan saying Justin Trudeau is "not as advertised" might have some resonance, though just 18 per cent of ex-Liberal voters laid the blame directly at the prime minister's feet.

It's a different story with the NDP. At 30 per cent, the top reason listed by departed New Democrats for their decision to support another party this year was that they "don't like the leader." For them, the problem is Jagmeet Singh.

Another 26 per cent said they've merely changed their minds over the past four years about what they want from a party — something that would seem to be outside the NDP's control.

There weren't enough disappointed Conservatives, Greens or Bloc voters to draw anything meaningful from their responses.

Perhaps it isn't surprising that a governing party is being dogged by its record. As the incumbent, the Liberals have no choice but to run on that record. Apparently, that's going to be a challenge even in some formerly friendly quarters.

But there's little the New Democrats can do if a chunk of their former supporters don't like their leader. There might be no way to get those voters back - but as it struggles to hold off the Greens for third place, the NDP can't really afford to lose them.

Commissioned by CBC News, the Public Square Research and Maru/Blue survey was conducted between May 31 and June 10, 2019, interviewing 4,500 eligible voters. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in the Maru Voice panel. The data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated.

Federal polling averages as of June 26, 2019. (CBC)

Ask us

We want to know what YOU want to know

Marc Gagne asked: Will the Canadian government intervene in Québec's Law 21 fiasco? Or will they treat Québec as a hot potato and do-nothing until well after the federal election? And is there recourse for the federal government? Is there something in the Canadian Constitution for the provinces? We are involved in a Québexit of minorities.

Never mind intervene, how about simply address it?

There were several days of radio silence from the prime minister after Quebec's National Assembly forced its secularism bill into law on a Sunday in June, making the province the only jurisdiction in North America with a religion-based dress code.

There wasn't even a passing around of the hot potato in Ottawa. Nary a word was said in the House of Commons question period - for a reason. While all the federal parties have stated they don't like the bill, nobody really wants to talk about it.

Why would they? It's toxic…from a political point of view.

Forget that there's a federal election around the corner in which Quebec will once again be a battleground - one where the Liberals hope to gain seats. Even mid-mandate, a bill that bans teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs and turbans combines two things Ottawa politicians are loathe to wade into: Quebec's affairs and religious accommodations.

Plus, a majority of Quebecers support the law, even if the debate over it has been divisive. Again.

Even Quebec's premier doesn't think Ottawa will get involved with a challenge to the secularism bill. François Legault told a French radio station he expects federal politicians to be "careful" because they know "the vast majority of Quebecers agree with [his party]."

And careful, they were.

At the tail end of a news conference in Washington, D.C., four days after Bill 21 was passed, Justin Trudeau couldn't avoid the issue any longer, saying he has always been clear where he stands.

"We do not feel that it is a government's responsibility or in a government's interest to legislate on what people should be wearing," Trudeau said. "And we will certainly ensure that our views are well-known and continue to defend Canadians rights."

What he didn't say was whether his government would intervene or not.

While the Constitution technically gives the federal government the power to disallow a provincial law, that power that hasn't been used since World War II, and some experts say it's no longer valid.

David Lametti, the federal justice minister, would only offer that the Liberals are reviewing Quebec's law, along with a vague promise to defend the charter - without specifying how.

Don't expect details anytime soon.

Salimah Shivji, CBC Parliamentary bureau senior reporter

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

Who's got the election message Canadians want to hear?

As party leaders hone their platforms and messaging ahead of this fall's election, it isn't enough to identify the issues voters care about. The challenge is convincing voters their parties are the best choice in dealing with those same priorities, as a new poll commissioned by CBC News suggests.

Read the full story here.

New rules for pre-election spending kick in Sunday

This October will be a road test for new rules set out by the federal government that change the way money is spent before the start of the federal election campaign. The rules kick in on Sunday. Here's what you need to know. 

Read the full story here.

Conflicted and worried: CBC News poll takes snapshot of Canadians ahead of fall election

The survey finds high levels of anxiety caused by both personal and global factors — with the costs of basics like food and gas and the impact of climate change ranking highly on a list of what keeps Canadians up at night.

Read the full story here.

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

Canada Votes is delivered to your inbox every Sunday.