After Stephen Harper was able to obtain a majority government in 2011, it would mean that Canada would get several years before another election was called. During that time, the major parties would go through some major changes in leadership.
While the Conservatives were still led by Harper, the New Democratic Party would be left reeling following its greatest triumph when Jack Layton passed away only months after the 2011 election. During the 2012 leadership election, Thomas Mulcair would be selected as the new leader of the party on the fourth ballot. Formerly a provincial member of the National Assembly of Quebec, the hope was that Mulcair would help the NDP retain its hold in Quebec after the Orange Crush of 2011.
The Bloc Quebecois would go through several leadership changes over the course of the four years from 2011 to 2015 after losing its official party status in the House of Commons after a collapse of support in Quebec. Following the election, Gilles Duceppe would resign as leader of the party. Duceppe was succeeded by Daniel Paille, who would then step down in 2013 due to health reasons. Paille was replaced by Mario Beaulieu in 2014, who served until 2015 when he relinquished party leadership after just one year but would remain as party president. He was replaced by Duceppe, who would become party leader but not party president. It would be Duceppe who would once again serve as leader of the party during the election, as he had done in 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011.
Possibly the biggest change was the resignation of Michael Ignatieff who was replaced by Justin Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau was seen as a fresh face for the party and expectations were that he would help the party recover from its worst election result in its history.
This election would see a major increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons thanks to the Fair Representation Act. The seats would increase to 338 from 308, making a majority government more difficult as well. Alberta and British Columbia would gain six seats, while Quebec gained three and Ontario gained 15.
The writ for the election was dropped on Aug. 4 and for the next 11 weeks, the longest election period in Canadian history, Canada would going through an election.
The extended election, which got underway a full month earlier than expected, Elections Canada was forced to plan and deploy its field operations quickly. Returning officers had to negotiate new leases for the election period, with 107 having to find new office locations. Despite this complication, 95 per cent of returning offices were open within eight days of the writ being dropped. The last one opened on Aug. 18.
This election would feature 1,792 candidates vying for the 338 seats in the House of Commons. Only the NDP, the Liberals and Conservatives would run a candidate in every riding. The Green Party would run candidates in 336 ridings across Canada.
Several issues would dominate the campaign including the economy and climate change, but the issue over the niqab became one that would heavily influence the election. Harper had insisted on a ban on the garment at citizenship ceremonies, which the Federal Court of Canada found was unlawful, as did the Federal Court of Appeal. In 2013, the proposed Quebec values charter would have prohibited Quebec’s public sector workers from wearing conspicuous religious items. The Conservatives attacked the Parti Quebecois over it, but by 2015, had appeared to adopt the same stance, of banning public servants from wearing the niqab.
The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision on the matter would come in the middle of the election campaign, which ignited the debate and brought it to the forefront to the campaign.
The Liberals, NDP and Greens would go against the Conservatives on the matter, while the Bloc would support the Conservatives. Initial polls also showed that most Canadians supported the ban on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies.
Thomas Mulcair would attack Harper over the issue during the election, stating quote:
“Mr. Harper, there are more anti-choice men in your cabinet than women who wear the niqab in Quebec. Mr. Harper, you are playing a dangerous game of the kind I’ve never seen in my life, and I never thought I’d see a Prime Minister play it.”
Due to his stance, Mulcair would see NDP support in Quebec nose dive in the second half of the campaign. Mulcair would also prove to be unpopular with NDP supporters, who only 42 per cent of which stated they would want to have a beer or coffee with him.
The anti-Muslim aspect of the Conservative campaign took many by surprise. Several candidates warned of Syrian refugees coming to Canada, while Conservative candidate Joe Daniel stated there were sinister forces exploiting the crisis of Syria to export Islam to and there thereby transform western society. MP Larry Miller stated that some Muslim women should, quote:
“Stay the hell where you came from.”
The Conservatives also pledged to create a “barbaric cultural practices” tip line, which many critics stated was the party engaging in identity politics and helping to fuel anti-Muslim attitudes in Quebec.
Trudeau would state, quote:
“To the prime minister directly. Stop this before someone truly gets hurt. We’ve had women attacked in the streets for wearing hijabs and niqabs. This is not Canada.”
Harper would state, quote:
“Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. We’re looking at that legislation. But as I say, we’re a society of openness and of equality and that is what we want to promote. It’s not by any means the biggest issue for the campaign. The biggest issue is the economy, but I think our position here is widely understood and supported.”
Some incidents would show why the issue was something the Conservatives were going behind, believing it would be a path to victory. Steve Shanahan, a Conservative candidate in Montreal, attempted to order campaign posters but a screw-up resulted in them arriving right before the election, so he asked the party to send him the most popular handout. He soon received, 10,000 flyers championing the government’s efforts to ban the niqab from citizenship ceremonies. He would say, quote:
“We as a group allowed the niqab issue to become a distraction. I think it was the right policy, but it wasn’t the policy. We had so much more that was interesting, but I think by the applause meter that we heard, we just kept talking about it.”
Following Harper’s campaign appearance with Rob and Doug Ford, a poll found that this did the party more harm than good. It was discovered that about 10 times as many potential Conservative voters were now less likely, 49 per cent, than more likely, 6.4 per cent, to vote Conservative because of the appearance. Grey Lyle, the owner of the poll company would state, quote:
“It’s hard to see a more self-destructive move by a campaign.”
Other issues for voters that turned them away from Conservatives according to polls was the trial of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy at 30 per cent, the negative ads by the party at 26 per cent and the anti-niqab stance at 23 per cent.
In past years, leadership debates during an election campaign consisted of one in English and one in French. This election, things would change a bit. In May 2015, the Conservatives stated they would not participate in the consortium debates and would instead take part in up to five independently staged debates. The NDP stated they would accept every debate where Harper was present, while Trudeau would attend the Maclean’s debate, Globe and Mail debate and the French debate. In all, there would be five televised debates.
In the general debate on Aug. 6, Harper, Elizabeth May, Mulcair and Trudeau attended, while the Economy Debate on Sept. 17 was only attended by Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau. The French debate on Sept. 24 was attended by Duceppe, Harper, May, Mulcair and Trudeau. This would be the only debate in which all five party leaders would attend.
The Foreign Language Debate on Sept. 28 was attended by Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau, and it was a bilingual debate. The final debate was held on Oct. 2, and was a general debate in which Duceppe, Harper and Mulcair attended.
At the start of the election, the NDP led in the opinion polls with 32 per cent, followed by the Conservatives at 31 per cent and the Liberals at 26 per cent.
This would be the second Canadian election in which social media played a major role. With that extra influence came more damaging revelations from past comments by candidates.
Several Conservative candidates were removed from the election due to things discovered on social media. Tim Dutaud, a candidate for the party in Toronto, was forced to resign when it was discovered he made YouTube videos of himself pretending to orgasm on the phone with female customer service representatives, and mocking people with mental disabilities. Blair Dale was removed from his candidacy when it was found that he made racist and sexist comments online, including stating that abortion should not be an option for irresponsible people.
Prime Minister Harper would be criticized for using the phrase Old Stock Canadians during a nationally televised debate with Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. Harper would later claim he was referring to families who had been in Canada for one or more generations after there was a great deal of negative coverage of the comment on Twitter.
For the NDP, Alex Johnstone was forced to apologize after comments on a Facebook photo from seven years previous were found in which she stated “Ahhh the infamous Polish, phallic, hydro posts” on a picture of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The Liberals would also have several candidates who had to resign from running following comments made on social media, including Maria Manna, who questioned the events of September 11, 2001, and Cheryl Thomas, who made social media posts calling mosques “brainwashing stations” and that “the oppressed of the Warsaw ghettos and the concentration camps have become the oppressors.”
One thing that surprised many voters was when hockey icon Wayne Gretzky appeared at a campaign event with Stephen Harper. Gretzky would later say that he did it as a favour, and he would do it for any prime minister. He would state, quote:
“In 1981, I did a luncheon for Prime Minister Trudeau at the time. In 1986, Mr. Mulroney and Mila asked me to host an event for a charity of their choice, which I did. When Mr. Harper reached out to me and asked me to do a Q&A with him its simple, I can’t vote in this country, but when the prime minister of Canada calls you, you say, Okay, I’ll do the favour for you.”
By the day of the election, the Liberals had seen their popularity surge to 39.5 per cent, while the NDP had experienced a crash in support to 19.7 per cent. The Conservatives polled at 31.9 per cent. In terms of who would make the best prime minister, Justin Trudeau polled at 74 per cent among Liberal voters, Stephen Harper polled at 86 per cent among Conservative voters, while Thomas Mulcair polled at 63 per cent among NDP voters.
In the Oct. 19, 2015 election, the Liberals and Justin Trudeau reclaimed the leadership of the country with a huge increase of seats. The party picked up 148 seats, the largest-ever numerical increase by a party in a Canadian election. This also made the Liberals the first federal party in Canadian history to win a majority of seats without having been the Official Opposition or the governing party after the previous election. The total of 184 seats was second highest in the history of the Liberal Party, behind only the 191 won in 1949.
Upon his victory, Trudeau would state, quote:
“This is what positive politics can do. I didn’t make history tonight, you did. We beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together.”
The Conservatives would lose 60 seats to fall to 99, becoming the Official Opposition after leading the country for the previous nine years. Hours after the election loss, Harper would announce that he was resigning as leader of the Conservative Party and would remain as a backbencher in Parliament.
Harper would state, quote:
“We put everything on the table. We gave everything we had to give and we have no regrets. The people of Canada have elected a Liberal government, which we accept without hesitation.”
One Conservative voter would say of the loss, quote:
“I believe his campaign was extremely ill run. He made no effort to tout his good policies and he made too much an issue about divisive things such as the niqab.”
In the election loss, the Conservatives would lose an astounding 13 cabinet ministers.
The NDP would lose 51 seats, ending the hopes of another Orange Wave. The party would finish with 44 seats to become the Third Party in the House of Commons.
Mulcair would state, quote:
“From the very outset this election has been about change. Tonight, Canadians have turned a page and reject the politics of fear and division.”
The Bloc would rebound slightly, picking up eight seats to finish with ten, while the Greens lost one seat to finish with one. Duceppe would lose his seat in the election, marking his final federal election after leading the Bloc Quebecois for 15 total years, longer than anyone else in the party’s history.
British Columbia would split seats between the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP. In Alberta, the Liberals were able to pick up four seats, while the Conservatives still had 29. The Conservatives would also win 10 of 14 in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, the Liberals won 80 seats, while the Conservatives had 33, and the NDP had eight. In Quebec, the Liberals were able to erode the support of the NDP, picking up 40 seats, while the NDP had 16, the Conservatives 12 and the Bloc Quebecois had 10. In the Maritimes, the Liberals would sweep the entire region, winning every seat in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
Voter turnout also surged to its highest level since 1993 when turnout reached 68.3 per cent. The number of Canadians voting rose 2.8 million to 17.6 million over 2011, but the Conservative share of those votes fell by 7.7 per cent or 231,000 votes. On that same note, the Liberals picked up 6.9 million votes in the election, up an astounding 4.1 million over 2011.
Student votes overwhelmingly went towards the Liberals at 37.6 per cent, compared to 26 per cent for the Conservatives and 19 per cent for the NDP. Voter turnout among Muslim voters was extremely high at 80 per cent, even reaching 88 per cent in urban Toronto ridings.
As for why Canadians decided to switch governments so overwhelmingly, Brad Trost, a Conservative who did re-election summed it up as, quote:
“Fundamentally, the problem was this. After basically 10 years in office, people were tired. Some of it was just ordinary, time for a change, and some of it was that people were unhappy and they directed that very personally at the prime minister. To a certain degree, we built that brand and that brand, in the end, swallowed us.”
By the time the 2019 election would come about, every major party except the Liberals and Greens would be led by new people, and the election would turn out to be one of the most interesting, and contentious ones, in Canadian history.
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