OTTAWA — The lines of attack have been traced for months, but now federal parties’ battle plans are poised to go into effect with an election campaign set to kick off Sunday.
The Liberals hope to tout their record of steering the country through a global pandemic that threatened Canadians’ health and economic stability, and can be expected to keep casting doubt on Conservatives’ commitment to green efforts and LGBTQ rights.
“Notwithstanding what Erin O’Toole may say, this is a party composed, in the Liberal view, of a lot of climate change deniers,” said Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley.
A bill to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy that the Liberals introduced late in the spring sitting faced pushback from some Tory legislators, providing another opening for the Grits to exploit.
The spectre of scrapped child care could make for a third bogeyman after Ottawa signed funding agreements on its marquee budget item with eight premiers since April. The sign-offs come 15 years after a newly sworn-in Stephen Harper walked away from the preceding Liberal government’s provincial daycare deals in favour of a $1,200 allowance to parents for each child under six.
Telford says the Tories will fire back by framing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an “elite, out-of-touch trust fund kid” while portraying leader Erin O’Toole as the “competent everyman … the guy next door, but very capable.”
Conservatives may also seek to seize on their reputation for fiscal restraint as anxieties grow over inflation and rising debt levels following a massive $354-billion deficit for 2020-21, which pushed Canada’s net debt past $1 trillion for the first time ever.
Criticism about the speed of the Liberal response to COVID-19 could also be in the offing, despite general satisfaction with federal vaccine procurement efforts.
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh, adopting a tax-the-rich populism and an upbeat tone, will test out whether his engaged delivery style and outsized social media presence will translate into votes as he accuses Trudeau of inaction on progressive goals.
“Jagmeet Singh has sort of repositioned himself as the new Jack Layton, the happy warrior,” Telford said.
Taxing the “ultra-wealthy” and big business in order to fund expanded social programs almost amounts to an NDP mantra, as it did in 2019. Singh can also point to a track record where, in his telling, he pried pandemic relief out of a reluctant minority government, including beefed-up wage subsidies, emergency benefits and sick-leave payments.
Meanwhile, the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet is targeting Conservative seats in and around Quebec City where he hopes his message of nationalism — though not outright sovereignty — will resonate.
“They’ll be defending territory. I don’t expect the Bloc to be expanding much, except for trying to perhaps pick off Conservative seats in the Beauce region and the surrounding area,” Telford said.
After losing five seats in Quebec last time around, the Liberals see a large part of the path to victory running through a province known for big swings from one election to another. To defend his new turf — the Bloc went from 10 to 32 seats in 2019 — Blanchet will paint Trudeau as “not really a Quebecer; if he is, he’s a Montrealer, not really a francophone,” Telford said.
Further west, Green Leader Annamie Paul is fighting an uphill battle to win a downtown Toronto riding and retain the party’s two remaining spots in the House of Commons. She’s banking on a core environmental pitch and renewed emphasis on progressive social concerns to elevate her above the internal strife that has engulfed the Greens in recent months.
Trudeau intends to visit Gov. Gen. Mary Simon on Sunday with a request to dissolve Parliament, triggering an election that would take place Sept. 20, according to a senior Liberal party source who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2021.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press