By JORDAN JOHNSTONE
The federal election is set for October of this year, however, Prime Minster Stephen Harper can call one at anytime and if you listen to radio or watch Hockey Night in Canada you can see the campaign ads are already being run. With the NDP and Liberals being on the wrong side of public opinion on issues such as dealing with ISIS or Bill C-51, Harper’s new anti-terror bill, it might be a good time for him to call an election.
Harper has been leading the charge, or at least, being the loudest critic of alleged Russian aggression in Ukraine. He has also turned some heads internationally with his staunch support of Israel and his opposition to a Palestine state.
Although Harper may flaunt his foreign policies achievements, that may not be where many Canadians’ concerns lie when it comes time to head to the ballot box.
“Foreign affairs and national security issues have historically never played much prominence when it comes to elections in Canada. That may change depending on what ISIS does or the situation in Ukraine, but it is not a big concern for most Canadians,” said Dr. Anna Esselment, assistant professor of political science at the University of Waterloo who specializes in Canadian politics, campaigns and elections.
Despite all the chaos going on in the world Canadians are more concerned with issues close to home.
“Only 18 per cent of Canadians have national security and foreign affairs as top issues when it comes to voting. Health care and the economy are issues that concern Canadians when it comes time to vote,” Dr. Esselment said.
With the provinces struggling with health care, which is the single biggest growing cost in their budgets, it will be a target issue for the opposition parties.
The economy is usually an area Conservatives do well in, however, with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), lead by Saudi Arabia, cutting the price of oil, Canada’s economic growth has been hampered. That unexpected twist has devastated the economies in Newfoundland and Harper’s home province of Alberta and threatens his promise to balance the budget. The Conservatives could be in a tight spot on that issue having plunged our economy into “Dutch disease” were the exportation of oil has lead to a sharp increase in countries investing in Canadian oil. Also, when the loonie was soaring, there was a sharp drop in manufacturing jobs and less exports to America from Canadian companies. These jobs have not come back.
Given the current state of the economy, Harper may do well to stay clear and focus on his foreign policies and security issues, especially to the core Conservative base.
“Eighteen per cent of Canadians have national security as a top issue, however, a recent Abacus poll found that 25 per cent of Conservatives consider it a top issue so it appeals to his voter base,” Esselment said.
With Conservatives usually getting an automatic 25 per cent of votes in federal elections, thanks to core Conservatives, and the remaining 35 per cent being split between them and the rest of the parties, (assuming only 60 per cent of Canadians vote), the Conservatives will win another majority.
Harper seems prime to also promote his foreign affairs achievements to certain groups of Canadians.
“He may try to promote his stance of Ukraine to the large population of Ukrainian descent in Canada and the same can be said for his support of Israel and promoting it to the Jewish community in Canada,” Esselment said.
The most interesting and game-changing issue for this election will be the Mike Duffy trial – how the situation with Nigel Wright unfolds and if or when Harper gets called to testify in the trial of the disgraced senator. If the media chooses to focus on this trial during the election it can really affect Harpers chances at re-election.
“The Duffy trial is a wild card for the Conservatives. Was it bribery, who said what and the whole thing really flies in the face of core Conservative values and could be very damaging to the Harper government in the coming election,” Esselment said.
Duffy’s trial could become the Achilles heel of the Conservative government; scandals are hard to overcome, just look at Watergate or the federal Liberals sponsorship scandal.