Canada has 10 provinces and three (northern) territories. All of them are represented by MPs in Ottawa. There are 338 seats in Canada's Parliament. The powerhouse provinces are Ontario with 121 seats and Quebec with 78 seats.
Sitting over here, it's not easy to write a compelling article about Canada's October election to people who are riveted by the Chaos Theory governments in Brexit Britain or Donald Trump's America. As more than one observer has pointed out, Trump sucks the oxygen from the air all over North America. On the UK side of the Pond, Brexit has consumed Britain for years, much as a black hole exerts an irresistible gravitational pull on everything near it. However, as elections go, this Canadian one is interesting on several fronts. Especially since Canada is one of the last progressive-centre governments left standing in a world that seems to have been overtaken by the rise of right-wing, so-called, populism.
Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party are the target for five other parties who want to knock him off his Prime Minister's perch. The Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer are the Official Opposition, and are neck-and-neck with the Liberals in the polls. The NDP (socialist party), led by Jagmeet Singh, was the official Opposition under a different leader before the last election. Now the NDP is sitting a distant third in the polls – just into double digits. The Green Party, led by Elizabeth May, is in fourth spot. The Green's strategy is to try and hold the balance of power. May says she will work with any government that commits to a significant, radical attack on climate change.
The last two parties are interesting. Both of them have the ability to cause problems for the others. The Bloc Quebecois has held seats in Canada's Parliament for years. It currently has 10 MPs. It only runs candidates in Quebec, not in the other provinces or territories. The party's slogan is 'Le Québec, c'est nous' ('Quebec is us') and its aim is independence for Quebec. Its leader, Yves-François Blanchet, is charismatic and articulate. With a week or so to go, it looks as if the Bloc could add to its seat total in Quebec which, with just over 23% of the seats in parliament, is a vitally important province.
The lowest party in the polls is led by Maxime Bernier, a former Cabinet Minister in Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Bernier was a bit accident prone when he was in office; accused of having a girlfriend with links to the Hell's Angels, and leaving top secret papers in her apartment. But Bernier narrowly lost the 2017 Conservative Party leadership campaign to Scheer, resigned the party and set up his own—the People's Party of Canada.
On the day the election writ was dropped, the Prime Minister's campaign aircraft was damaged on the tarmac at Victoria International Airport when the local Trudeau campaign bus somehow managed to collide with it. The Prime Minister was not at the controls, nor was he even on the bus, which had been sent to pick up travelling members of the press. The reporters hopped smartly off the bus to take pictures of the damage. It was a front-page accident, with the name Trudeau plastered all over both damaged conveyances. The media had fun with the fact that the scrapes and dents were made to the left wing of the aircraft. A portent of things to come, or not. We would have to wait and see.
Justin Trudeau also has a somewhat tarnished image. The SNC-Lavalin affair has dogged him for months now, because of accusations that the Prime Minister's office tried to pressure the Attorney General (a female MP from one of British Columbia's First Nations) to drop a federal court proceeding that could have resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs in Ontario and Quebec. SNC-Lavalin is a massive company with contracts around the world in everything from infrastructure engineering and development, to softwear, transport and climate change. The political fallout after SNC-Lavalin was charged with bribery in Libya and Africa has been extensive, and persistent. The Attorney General resigned and has since been kicked out of the Liberal Caucus. She is standing as an independent in the 21 October election.
In week three of the six-week election campaign, a photograph turned up of Justin Trudeau wearing a turban, with his face blackened. Suddenly all the policy announcements, all the promises his government had kept (some estimates put them at 92% of his 2015 campaign vows), of tax cuts to the less financially fortunate, infrastructure investment, and initiatives on the climate crisis were superceded by an outpouring, in this multi-cultural country, of outrage. It mattered not that the photograph had been taken 20 years before at an Arabian Nights-themed fundraiser for the school where Trudeau was then a teacher.
Trudeau was excoriated as racist, as insensitive, as privileged. He was quick to make public apologies, and to reach out to the Sikh leader of the NDP. The most vocal condemnation came from the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer. A poll taken a week later showed that the most outraged people were Conservative voters who, as one commentator put it, 'are not really the demographic you'd think would be most offended'.
Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Progressive Conservative opposition is no 'populist', but he is not charismatic, and has some well-documented right-wing leanings. A big, aggressive, gilets jaunes-type protest, led by truckers and bikers in favour of more pipelines for the Alberta oil/tar sands, got his support. Scheer was also photographed with white supremacists earlier his year. Then it turned out that his résumé had been padded to show he had worked as an insurance broker before entering politics. He hadn't in fact had the qualifications and was an office clerk. Then it turned out that he has joint Canadian and US citizenship. The fact that he had questioned the right of a previous Liberal government appointee, Michaëlle Jean, to be Canada's Governor General smacked of hypocrisy.
There was talk that the 'abortion issue' would be raised during the campaign, and some Conservative candidates appear to want to reopen that debate. None of it seems to have caused a significant drop in Scheer's poll numbers – although Trudeau's school fundraising, black-faced, Aladdin appearance significantly lowered his.
The rise of the Greens looked as if it would have important implications, since the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been in some disarray. The NDP did not manage to select a full slate of candidates until two or three weeks into the five-week campaign – despite the fact that Canada has a fixed election cycle, and it's been known for years that there would be an October election. As well, the provincial government in Quebec recently passed Bill 21 into law, and Bill 21 legislates that no-one in government office is allowed to wear any visible symbol of faith. The new law seems to have considerable popular support in Quebec – but it means for example that the NDP's turbaned leader, Jagmeet Singh, would not be able to teach in Quebec, or to hold any public sector job, or even to run for any political office in the province. Notwithstanding any of that, Jagmeet Singh has turned out to be an intelligent, forthright and energetic campaigner, and his polling numbers elsewhere in Canada are rising slowly, but steadily.
There's plenty more, but that's your primer for the upcoming Canadian election. A lot of Canadians were glued to their television sets all night during the live coverage of Scotland's 2014 independence vote, but I don't expect many of you will stay up for Canada's results on 21 October. There will be no test for you on our election, although there may be for Canadians after it.
Unless Canada has a Conservative government, you can expect the first test to come with a Federal challenge to Quebec's Bill 21. It is, after all, in contravention of Canada's Bill of Rights and Freedoms. Right now though, the leaders of all the parties are keeping fairly quiet about it. None of them are keen to rock the Quebec boat before the election; there are too many important voters there.
Predictions? A Liberal minority government. The Liberals will win the most seats, but the popular vote across the country will be close.