Climate Remains a Top Issue, Minority Government a Near-Certainty as Election Day Looms
Opinion & Analysis
After six weeks of campaigning, months of preparations, and years of advance political positioning, Canada is just three days away from a national vote in which climate change and climate action will be one of the top issues on many electors’ minds.
As the campaign draws to a close, the Liberal and Conservative parties are in a statistical tie. The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois are surging. And the latest projected seat count from 338Canada.com—albeit with wide margins for seats that are too close to call—shows no combination of federalist parties forming a majority in the House of Commons without at least the tacit support of the independentist Bloc.
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Throughout, the climate crisis has been a central issue, with months of opinion polls placing the issue at or near the top of voters’ concerns, three of the major federal parties vying to put forward convincing climate plans, and a fourth apparently trying but largely failing to turn carbon pricing into an effective wedge issue. On CBC, Calgary-based environmental economist Andrew Leach calls the campaign Canada’s “national reckoning” on climate, and goes into detail on the technical and substantive issues he would have wanted to see the national party leaders address.
For Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, a minority government—or no second-term government at all—would be largely the result of a policy package that sought a middle ground between climate action and fossil fuel development and ended up satisfying no one, says Globe and Mail chief political writer Campbell Clark.
“The Liberals thought they had a Goldilocks policy—a middle ground,” he writes. “But when it came to a climate plan in a country with a major oil and gas sector, the centre did not hold. That has been a big part of Mr. Trudeau’s trouble in this election campaign.”
That was partly because Conservative leader Andrew Scheer could tap into frustration in the Alberta oilpatch, along with pockets of opinion that Canada can’t have a meaningful impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. But it was also a matter of policies that analysts considered feasible but critics wrote off as half-measures, in a political atmosphere where the urgency of the climate crisis has finally come home to roost.
Trudeau’s “political opponents have essentially argued that when it comes to reducing emissions, not doing enough is the same as doing nothing at all,” Clark writes. So while Liberal strategists once dreamed of a grand bargain that would even bring them a political breakthrough in Alberta, Trudeau is now coming to the end of a campaign where “it appears the middle ground has shrunk”.
With that dynamic delivering the near-certainty of a minority government, the U.S.-based Bloomberg news agency is pointing to the “many voters” who want to leave tar sands/oil sands bitumen in the ground, while Star Vancouver asks whether a split parliament that brought the New Democrats and the Green Party to greater prominence would mean the end of the overwhelmingly contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion—either because backing the project meant the defeat of a ruling party, or because a coalition government killed it off.
“I’m optimistic that a minority scenario would force the parties to get real about their priorities and listen to Canadians about the direction that we want our government to go,” said Dogwood BC Communications Director Kai Nagata.
Star Vancouver notes that Green Party leader Elizabeth May has ruled out working with any government that tries to build Trans Mountain, while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has committed to fighting the project, though he “didn’t reveal if he would demand the pipeline be scrapped as part of a condition for support in a minority government situation”.
University of British Columbia political scientist Kathryn Harrison said the smaller parties wouldn’t likely lay down an ultimatum on the pipeline that would prevent gains on other issues—and it would be “humiliating” for the Liberals to change course on Trans Mountain to retain their grip on power. But Nagata said B.C. MPs who’ve made commitments on climate policy and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be in hot water with voters if they broke those promises.
“If there were members of Parliament who betrayed that position, they would be facing voters again very soon in a minority scenario and they would have to factor that in,” he said. “We will push the MPs in our province very hard to hold to their commitment not to continue pumping billions of public dollars into this project.”
The closing days of the campaign saw plenty of last-minute facts and arguments from climate advocates, with Booker Prize co-winner Margaret Atwood urging voters to only consider parties that recognize the climate crisis, while veteran fundraiser and author Harvey McKinnon called on Canadians to “vote as if it’s an emergency” and vote strategically. Calgary emergency physician Joe Vipond of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment argued that “telling the truth about climate change isn’t alarmist—it’s good behaviour”. And on Wednesday, Our Time published a fictional breaking news piece datelined April 22, 2020, celebrating adoption of a Green New Deal that would move Canada forward on climate change, racism, and inequality.
The other piece of poignant, what-if reporting came from 338Canada founder Philippe J. Fournier, who imagined how the election results would be shaping up if Canada had moved to proportional representation in the last four years.
With all the provinces receiving their current allocation of House of Commons seats, winning seats assigned to parties based on their popular vote in each region, a minimum popular vote threshold of 5% for any party to receive any seats in a region, and the three northern territories still using a first-past-the-post system, Fournier said the front-running Liberals and Conservatives would still be essentially tied—but with fewer seats each. “Neither party would stand even close to the 170-seat threshold for a majority,” he writes. “The NDP would win on average 61 seats—more or less double where its current projection stands.”
And “without question, the most dramatic change would be the Green Party representation: Under this proportional representation scenario, the Greens would win on average 32 seats—a near tenfold increase compared to their current projection of three or four seats.”