June 8, 2021 – 9:30am Associate Professor Gerard Bayer, Topic: The Next Federal Election – When can we expect it? ZOOM

  Gerard Bayer
Associate Professor
UBC Political Science Dept

Associate Professor Gerald Baier (Ph.D, Dalhousie) joined the UBC Political Science department in 2003. He is Faculty Associate with the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Acting Director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI).>His teaching and research interests are in Canadian politics with a focus on the Constitution, federalism and public law. He is a regular commentator on federal politics in national and local media. His past research has explored the role of judicial decision-making in the shaping of federalism in Canada, Australia and the United States. He is presently conducting a comprehensive study of the Supreme Court of Canada’s institutional character and processes.
Minority governments don’t tend to last long in Canada and there have been rumours of a snap election for months now. With some seriously major changes in the world since the 2019 election, including an ongoing global pandemic, a federal election would be particularly interesting right now. Dr. Gerry Baier of the UBC Political Science department joined the Probus Club to talk about some of the clues that are hinting at an early election this year, the strategic considerations at play, and which issues will be at the forefront of a 2021 election.


Professor Gerald Baier was introduced by Rick Brenner

There are a handful of signs suggesting that an election may happen soon.

Candidate Recruitment: The CBC and other outlets recently reported that both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have taken internal measures to invoke emergency clauses in their constitution spreadsheet. These are essentially electoral readiness clauses that help the Executive suspend some of the formal nomination processes that are used to select candidates for upcoming elections. Normally, there is an effort to have more open nominations within parties, but this can get kind of tricky when there are incumbents in place or the party already has a star candidate in mind. Furthermore, many of theses regular procedures can take quite a long time. Given that at least half of every party’s candidates would not be an incumbent, most parties would not be prepared for a summer or fall election without these emergency clauses in place.

Farewell Speeches: A few weeks ago, all of the parties agreed to a take-note debate on June 21st, right before the 12-week summer break. Essentially this is an opportunity for members who are not running in the next election to make speeches without much consequence. Basically, this is a farewell speech to the House, indicating that they don’t anticipate returning to the House after the summer break.

Absence of a Governor General: With Julie Payette’s resignation, there is currently no Governor General. While the Chief Justice in his present role could technically allow the dissolution of the government, given that we are in a minority parliament, with no indication in the polls that majority is overwhelmingly likely, somebody should be officially in that role before another election takes place. However, there have been reports that we are in the final stages in the process of choosing a new Governor General, and should have someone officially in place by the end of June.

Incomplete pieces of legislation: There are a couple of pieces of legislation including the ones that deal with some pretty big spending related to COVID relief, that are still in their second and third readings. If those get cleaned up in the next two weeks, that would be a good sign of an election as since the Liberals will want to ensure that they can report on those numbers when campaigning for re-election.

Strategically, the Liberals see themselves as well-positioned to take on a majority. Vaccine rollouts have gone quite well under their leadership and the Prime Minister has managed to emerge relatively unscathed from scandals such as photos in blackface and attempted political interference with the SNC Lavalin case. One risk that they would be taking by calling a snap election in the next few months is that voters may question the necessity for an election during the third wave of the pandemic. However, the Liberals have had the advantage of seeing how several provincial elections have played out over the last 15 to 18 months and know that this doesn’t really stick as a criticism. There have been no less than three minority Parliament’s that turned into majorities during this pandemic.

While the Liberals lost their majority last election, they did not see a huge decline in their seats. Regional elements like the Bloc Quebecois’ rise in popularity were definitely at play. However, now many of Quebec’s key issues are being well taken care of through their provincial government, and the Bloc’s complacency on many of these issues is losing them support. With the Liberals having  been the runner-up’s in many of the Quebec ridings, they are feeling quite confident in their ability to pick up some of those seats. Furthermore, the Conservative Party continues to battle with an identity crisis with policies that are at odds with some of their base. The Conservative leader has lacked the opportunity to build familiarity with Canadians and is still somewhat untested and DougFord’s low approval ratings in tandem with his strong ties to the Federal Conservatives also bode well for the Liberals in the key battleground province of Ontario.

Financially, the Conservatives have a real advantage, outpacing the Liberals on fundraising by 25%. However, the NDP is just now emerging from the debt they accumulated from the 2019 election  and without a war chest they are at a major disadvantage going into an election.

On the issues, it is certain that the Liberals will emphasize their spending on Covid response and economic recovery which will likely be the major i issue for an election right now. The Liberals also appear to have done enough on the climate front to regain some of the soft Green voters they lost in the last election and will likely continue to focus on their work in the area. The big issues in BC like housing affordability and the opioid crisis likely won’t get the same level of attention on the national level this election. The Liberals’ response to recent news like increased hate crimes and the recovery of mass graves at residential schools has likely appeased average voters. International issues will also likely play a big role in an election this summer and may be a weak spot for the Liberals with a lot of attention on relationships with China, the US-Canada border reopening, and the price of softwood lumber.

Overall, a snap election in 2021 seems very likely. Gerald suspects that the Liberals will wait until September to call the election in the early fall while waiting for the third wave to pass in every province.

Our speaker was thanked by Don MacFarlane 

Transcription of the Questions & Answers session

Question from Kenneth Yule: Is the Fixed Elections Act meaningless?

Answer: I think it can be, and that’s what we saw here in BC as well. What we sometimes see now is not a kind of absolute attention to it in the way it was designed. And I think that’s not as much of a problem as the question suggests, which is that without fixed elections, minority Parliaments always mean that it’s a little bit harder to expect it to continue. There are always going to be the incentives to seek a majority. Again, this is the thing I wanted to mention, we have seen a lot of minority governments that act like majority governments. They don’t act like they owe a lot to Parliament in terms of their maintenance. That they will act as though they have that majority, and they’re playing chicken with the opposition essentially in ways that haven’t caused them too much trouble. And so, again, seeing those three at the provincial level, where most provinces now do have fixed elections acts as we do, and just kind of ignoring that and going ahead. It is an issue in the first ten days of the campaign, but I could almost put it in my calendar when I stopped hearing questions about “why are we having this election” in the BC election. At some point, the parties are talking about enough issues that people turn over and start to talk about what’s actually in front of them.

Question from Jack Zaleski: So, who do you think will win the next election?

Answer: I think there are signs in the very reason why Trudeau would go is because he thinks he could win. And I think that’s a sign that they might be able to do the magic that happened in three provinces already – to turn that minority into a majority – and I think that’s why they would go for it. I think it takes advantage of O’Toole’s position right now, it takes advantage of where the NDP are right now, and it takes advantage of where the Greens are right now. Remember, the Greens chose a new leader who couldn’t get her seat when she ran in Toronto Centre after Bill Morneau left that seat. So, the Greens are not a threat to win a lot of seats, but they do bleed off votes from the middle to some degree, based on the carbon issue.

Question from John Dawson: With the concentration of power in the PMO, what does that say about democracy in this country?

Answer: Yes, that’s kind of my earlier point about the leadership of the party really wanting to be the ones to pick who the candidates are, and that’s very much in that PMO management model. They want to be able to do that.

Question from Hugh Robinson: How can O’Toole better control his more radical Right-wing conservative members and move the party to the centre?

Answer: I think that is the challenge of Conservative politics in Canada since I’ve been aware of what’s going on in politics. In my high school, during the 1988 election, there was a candidate debate, and there was a new party that showed up for that debate to take on the local Progressive Conservative from the Reform Party. So that has been going on now for 30+ years. In terms of the Conservatives’ challenge, Harper was able to manage that, in part because he had some of that credibility. In fact, no one on the centre-left thought that Harper was ever a centrist, and so because he came out of that Reform Party, he was able to appeal there. I think the challenge for conservativism has been defined as how to continue that. The fact that there is a more right-wing alternative available in the People’s Party and that that hasn’t gone away, I think always challenges them to try to appease that more right-wing of the Party to keep them in the fold, and again that just continues to play into the Liberals’ advantage.

Question from Hugh Robinson: How can we persuade Justin Trudeau to have some more substance and less showboating?

Answer: There is something of the drama teacher in our Prime Minister, for sure. At the same time, he’s had a little bit of a formula to be able to manage that appearance for the Liberals and keep the sort of average voter who sends their kid to school in an orange t-shirt to show solidarity with residential school survivors but isn’t really ready to do much more to eliminate systemic racism. That is a little bit in the pocket of how Canadians are about these issues, right? So, I think intelligent observers will look at the Prime Minister and feel a little bit flabbergasted by some of the shallowness of it, but at the same time, it works in an Instagram and Tik Tok age to do these kinds of things. His competitors are trying similar things. Erin O’Toole is constantly making “viral videos” of him doing one thing or another to try to get that free airtime that is available in the social media world.



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