The Current

'Campaigns are all about leaders': Three former MPs on what to expect on the road to the federal election

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visited Gov. Gen. Julie Payette Wednesday, asking her to dissolve Parliament. Canadians will go to the polls on Oct. 21. We speak to a panel of former MPs about what to expect from the campaign ahead.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked governor general to dissolve Parliament on Wednesday

Former NDP MP Libby Davies; former Conservative MP Gerry Ritz; and former Liberal MP Allan Rock. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
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The federal election campaign will be fought by countless foot soldiers on doorsteps across Canada, but one former MP says it could ultimately come down to the people at the top.

"These campaigns are all about leaders," said Allan Rock, who was a Liberal MP from 1993 to 2004.

"People across the country come to a conclusion about the person that they want to have leading their country."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau arrived at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday morning to ask Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to dissolve Parliament. Canadians will go to the polls on Oct. 21.

Rock was a former justice minister and health minister under Jean Chretien's Liberal government. He told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch that he remembers being on the campaign trail with Chretien, when the former prime minister was seeking re-election.

"I can't describe the amount of pressure that's on a party leader during that period: the expectations, the demands, the long days and of course the leaders' debates, on which so much rests," he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau arrive at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday. Trudeau met with Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to ask her to dissolve Parliament, which will trigger a federal election. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

He thinks that Trudeau's experience on the federal campaign trail could give him an advantage of being "able to pace yourself, being able to keep things in perspective."

"[Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer's a very capable politician and he'll pick it up quickly, but I think for Justin Trudeau it's a real advantage to have lived it once before," he said.

"It might just make a difference in the long run." 

Successful campaign aren't solo efforts: former MP

Former Conservative MP Gerry Ritz argued that campaigns can't run — or be won — by one person alone.

"Leaders are important. They're the face and the voice that people see on an hour-by-hour, newscast-by-newscast basis," said Ritz, former minister of agriculture under Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

But, he said, "it's all about the strength of the team that you have behind you, and having the resources and the money."

For each of us who have been MPs, we know what we do locally really counts.- Former NDP MP Libby Davies

He told Lynch that campaigns are expensive, and "tend to take on a life of their own." 

"You're constantly making changes on the fly, and it's how those people adapt to them that actually scores the goal at the end of the day."

Former NDP MP Libby Davies agreed that while there's "a lot of focus on the leaders," the work on the ground shouldn't be ignored.

"For each of us who have been MPs, we know what we do locally really counts — those local campaigns really count," said Davies, the party's former deputy leader.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the SNC-Lavalin affairs shows Canadians "just cannot trust Justin Trudeau," while answering questions before the Trudeau called the federal election Wednesday. 0:41

Campaign will be 'visceral' appeal to voters: journalist

The campaign won't come down to a dominant issue like the economy or the environment, but rather a more "visceral" appeal to voters, according to one political commentator.

"This is a culture war, where people are going to be saying: 'We're on your side; you think like us,'" said Campbell Clark, chief political writer for the Globe and Mail. 

This is already evident in party slogans, such as the Liberals' "Choose Forward," or the NDP's "In it for you," he says.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are campaigning under the slogan "It's time for you to get ahead," and the Greens are going with "Not left. Not right. Forward together." 

"I think we're in for a sort of amorphous, visceral, less issue-oriented campaign — at least for the first couple of weeks," Clark said.

Canadians will go to the polls on October 21, and our national affairs panel is here to discuss what voters can expect over the next five-and-a-half weeks of campaigning. This segment was recorded before the official announcement of the election. 19:50

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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