Canada’s Election Season Gets Underway, and It’s Going to Be Close

Canadians called climate change their No. 2 concern in a recent poll, after the cost of living. Global warming is having major effects on the Yukon, shown here. (Duane Froese / University of Alberta)

(CN) — Canada’s six-week election season has begun, and both incumbent Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative challenger Andrew Scheer are facing some uncomfortable questions.

The race began last Wednesday, when the Queen’s representative, Governor General Julie Payette, dissolved Parliament so that lawmakers could launch their short campaigns ahead of election day, Oct. 21.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fighting for reelection by fending off Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party and Trudeau’s main challenger. Also up for grabs are the 338 seats in the House of Commons. Canada has a Parliamentary democracy, so voters won’t cast ballots directly for either Trudeau or Scheer. Instead, the party that wins the majority of electoral districts will be in power.

In addition to the liberal and conservative parties, candidates for the Green Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, the separatist Bloc Québécois and others will compete for spots in the House of Commons. But the conservative and liberal parties are likely to win the most seats, and with them, control of the government.

Winning a majority of seats would give either party a mandate to control the executive branch, the cabinet and the federal departments, and a clear path to pass legislation. But that’s not a guaranteed outcome. If the winning party wins only a minority of seats (169 or fewer), they will have to join with the another party or parties to form a governing coalition, or just work together to pass individual laws.

Regardless of whether the new government is led by a single party or a coalition, its first major test will be in November, when the new government’s members write a “throne speech,” laying out policy priorities. The governor general will read the speech to Parliament, and members will vote on the proposals. If the new government loses, opposition parties could unite to form a new government. Otherwise, there would be a new election.

Canadian voters agree that the cost of living is the most important issue today, according to a recent Politico/Abacus Data poll. But they disagree on which factors are most responsible for driving up the costs of daily life. And those differences could show which of the two leading candidates for prime minister have the edge.

The poll shows Canadians, which numbered 37 million in 2018 — a population comparable to that of California — are divided on whether the increase in cost of living stems primarily from health care, housing or taxes. Trudeau’s liberals say they will better fund social services such as health care, while Scheer says his party will reduce taxes.

After economic security, Canadians say climate change is the leading issue. Scheer’s Conservatives promise to help Canada’s oil and gas industry grow by building more pipelines, among other things.

Trudeau, however, rose to power four years ago in part based on his promise that Canada would lead the fight for the environment. And while his government passed a carbon pricing plan and signed the Paris Climate Agreement, the Liberal Party’s move to buy the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline has dented Trudeau’s environmental credentials.

The project, which would triple the amount of crude oil moving out of Alberta, is in limbo after a court blocked the project due to the government’s inadequate consultation with First Nations living along the pipeline route, and the flurry of lawsuits that resulted when the government tried to push ahead anyway.

And scandals have plagued both leaders.

Canada’s independent ethics commission found in April that Trudeau tried to derail a corruption trial against the construction company SNC-Lavalin Group. In August, Trudeau accepted the commission’s findings, but stopped short of apologizing, saying he was trying to protect jobs. Scheer has called for a criminal investigation.

Liberals say Scheer has not clearly stated his position on gay marriage and abortion, despite the country’s laws protecting both. A Liberal Party member released a video in August showing Scheer opposing gay marriage during a 2005 debate in Parliament. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada that year by a vote of 133 to 158.

Scheer drew further criticism when he waited more than a week to comment publicly on the video. Then, he held a press conference where he accused Liberals of “dredging up divisive issues” and said he considered gay marriage and abortion to be “settled law.” But he did not directly contradict an anti-abortion activist’s claim that Scheer promised to let members of his party vote according to their beliefs on the issues. And he refused to say how he would vote if a bill on the issues came up for a vote, calling the question “hypothetical.”

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