Poised for majority or upset? Hopes and fears in 1st week of Canada’s election campaign

  • Aug. 23, 2021 2:40 p.m.

By Bruce Cameron, Black Press Columnist

B.C. will be an important battleground in the 2021 election. The province has four viable parties competing for 42 seats. The CPC holds 17 seats, the Liberals 11, NDP 11, the Greens 2, plus one independent. To examine the federal election from a BC perspective, Bruce Cameron will analyze polling and media trends each week of the campaign.

The first week of this short five-week federal election campaign kicked off with appearances in B.C. by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. Both men have a lot riding on what happens in this province.

The Liberal campaign team is confident that the single-digit lead the party currently holds nationally over the Conservative Party, combined with favourable splits in key battlegrounds like Quebec and B.C. (particularly the Lower Mainland), can lead to a majority government of 170 seats or more. That means the Liberals need a net gain of 15 seats over the 2019 result to achieve their goal, an increase that could hinge on how well Trudeau’s message resonates in B.C., given the party currently holds 11 seats here and thinks it can pick up an additional five or six.

On the other hand, the NDP have been energized by a recent increase in favourability ratings for Jagmeet Singh, whose TikTok and other social media presence underlines the appeal he has built among younger voters. The federal NDP have traditionally done well in B.C., but Singh’s current caucus is heavily dependent on the west coast and he knows it. Almost half of the NDP’s federal caucus comes from BC (11 of 24 MPs), and if the party has any chance of doubling its number of MPs in the House of Commons (perhaps up to 40-50 seats nationally), it will need to pick up seats in a number of close races here.

And what about Erin O’Toole and the Conservative chances for an electoral breakthrough?

The new CPC leader trails Trudeau in favourability in all national polling, except for a small lead the Conservatives hold on economic matters. But a deeper dive into the psyche of Canadians reveals a stark contrast in perceived strengths for each of the two potential Prime Ministers. According to an Angus Reid Institute poll released August 19, 2021, 42 per cent of Canadians feel hopeful about the economic recovery in the next year or two, compared to 58 per cent who feel anxious. Despite a majority of Canadians feeling anxious about our economic future, when asked which of the two leading parties (the CPC or the Liberals) they would choose to lead Canada, the Liberals top the Conservatives by 12 points, 56 to 44 per cent.

Even more interesting is the mood of each camp. Among anxious Canadians, 60 per cent would choose O’Toole and the CPC (versus 40 per cent Liberal). But optimists are almost entirely backing the Liberals, with 77 per cent choosing Trudeau versus only 23 per cent for O’Toole. In other words, hope wins out over fear, a familiar theme from the 2019 contest. If the 2021 Liberal campaign also focuses on hope and optimism, it may find a welcoming audience among British Columbians, who are more optimistic about the economy than many other Canadians.

So where did Singh and Trudeau appear in B.C. and what does that tell us about some of the key races to watch here? Singh visited Coquitlam and Burnaby on day three and four of the campaign, while Trudeau made announcements in Vancouver and Victoria. O’Toole remains focused on Ontario and Quebec at the at the outset of the campaign, speaking to his supporters’ anxiety about the economy.

Will anxiety or hope win out? Over the next four weeks there are a dozen seats in B.C. that will go a long way to answering that question.

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