From the Editor: Is this an election that no party wins?

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

The October 28 issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin goes to press before the October 21 federal election – so I’m writing this column before we know the actual results.

However, if the latest polls are close to being accurate, the results of this election might well be as un-decisive as the results of Israel’s two 2019 elections. As I write, more than a month after Israelis voted on September 17, a governing coalition is still not in place there.

A poll analysis site I’ve followed throughout the campaign is and its latest projection suggests the Liberal and Conservative parties are virtually tied with both in the range of taking about 132 seats. The strength of both major parties has diminished during the campaign while the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Bloc Québécois (BQ) have each gained significant strength.

With the possibility of up to six parties electing MPs, and the further possibility of one or two independent members, we may see a situation like Israel’s in which neither of the major parties has enough potential support in a minority Parliament to effectively govern.

How did we get to this possible situation? Here are some of the contributing factors.

While Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s personal brand was already wounded before the start of the campaign from various broken promises, from mixed messages on environmental and Indigenous issues, and from the SNC-Lavalin scandal, it took a major hit a week after the writ dropped with the revelation that Trudeau, as an adult, had foolishly donned blackface and brownface makeup on at least three occasions. Any ordinary candidate for Parliament would surely have been dropped by their party if such a revelation had surfaced during the campaign.

Meanwhile it came to light that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer holds dual American and Canadian citizenship. That probably wouldn’t have been too significant an issue except for the fact that in 2005 Scheer himself raised the issue of then-governor general Michaëlle Jean’s dual citizenship, and because in past election campaigns the Conservatives attacked then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and then-NDP leader Tom Mulcair for their dual citizenships. While Scheer now says he’s begun the process of renouncing his American citizenship, he was a member of Parliament for 15 years – and served as speaker of the House of Commons for more than four of those years – without ever revealing his dual citizenship.

There is no doubt that the NDP’s growing strength outside Quebec can be attributed to frustrations with the Trudeau Liberals and to strong performances by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the debates and on the hustings, and to his grace under fire from racist attacks.

In Quebec, the rise of the BQ – which 338Canada predicts will win about 35 seats, up from 10 in 2015 – can be at least partially explained by support among francophone voters for Quebec’s Bill 21 banning certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols, including Jewish kippahs, Sikh turbans and Muslim hijabs. While the Liberals remain strong in multicultural Montreal, the BQ seems set to take most of the francophone ridings off the island of Montreal. The BQ has promised to protect Bill 21 from federal interference.

Speaking personally, the response to Bill 21 – which achieves its goals by use of the notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – by all of the federal leaders has been highly disappointing. While Trudeau, Scheer, Singh and Green Party leader Elizabeth May have all expressed opposition to Bill 21, only Trudeau will say that the federal government “might” intervene in a court case against it. Even Trudeau’s “might” is a weak response. As I noted in my August 19 column, the phrase “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” is merely an empty platitude when one province can get away with removing Charter rights from certain targeted minorities.

Of course, the polls might be wrong and we might see a strong minority or even a majority government emerge after October 21. A better bet, though, is another election sooner than later (with the possibility that one or more of the parties has a new leader).