By Kirk Winter

Likely by the time this article makes it to print, Canada will be in the throes of a heated federal election campaign where a combination of personality and platform will determine the next Prime Minister of Canada.

Since 1867, elections have been dominated by issues surrounding the expansion of Canada, the building of a national railway, trade policy with Great Britain and the United States, war, conscription and Canada’s place in the world of nations. Polling tells us that the election of 2019 will be no different with a number of important issues first and foremost of importance to Canadians.

Abacus Data polled 3,092 voting aged Canadians in the early summer of 2019 about what election issue was important to them, and which of the six federal parties they think would handle that issue the best. The data is accurate to plus or minus 1.8 percent nine times out of 10.

This is what Abacus learned about where Canadian voters are at:

  1. Cost of living – Out of the 17 issues presented, 35 percent listed this as their number one

  2. Health care – 34 percent

  3. Climate change – 29 percent

  4. Taxes – 27 percent

  5. Affordable housing – 26 percent

  6. Good jobs and good wages – 25 percent

  7. Deficit – 14 percent

  8. Immigration - 13 percent

  9. Standing up to Trump – 8 percent

  10. Government corruption – 6 percent

  11. Indigenous reconciliation – 5 percent

  12. Six other issues ranked lower than 5 percent

With their next set of questions, Abacus asked which of the federal parties were best able to deal with the issue they selected as first on their list. Here are a few examples of what voters told them:

  1. Cost of living – 38 percent vs 30 percent Conservatives over Liberals

  2. Health care – 34 percent vs 29 percent Liberals over Conservatives

  3. Climate change – 41 percent vs 13 percent Liberals over Conservatives

  4. Deficit – 39 percent vs 29 percentConservatives over Liberals

When one takes a closer look at how the two front-running parties are crafting their platforms and advertising messages, it is very clear that their in-house polling is telling them the same as what Abacus has discovered.

The governing Liberals want to campaign on climate change, affordable housing, health care featuring some kind of pharmacare expansion, and a Canada that is “fair, inclusive and open” to immigrants.

Conversely, the Conservatives would like to make this a “pocketbook” election where the issues of cost of living, taxes, the deficit and limiting immigration are featured prominently in their campaign.

The Liberals can take some solace that the SNC/Lavalin Affair is fading into obscurity as a primary election issue, and only 6 percent of Canadians view government corruption as an important election issue. Some Conservatives are cautioning their leader, Andrew Scheer, regarding his very tough stand on border security for two reasons. First, the issue of immigration has gained very little traction with most Canadian voters, and some suggest that the same issue hurt Stephen Harper in 2015 making the Conservatives appear to be intolerant. Abacus polling on the issue of which party is better able to reduce discrimination had the Liberals with 46 percent of support to the Conservatives 18 percent.

The most concerning thing that might have come out of this poll is the absolute marginalization of the four other parties in how they are seen by Canadians. The NDP, Green, Bloc Quebecois and People's Party were not chosen on any issue as the federal party with the ability to best deal with any of the problems facing Canadians. Even in areas like health care for the NDP or the environment for the Greens, their ideas are not registering on a national level and that is not good news for their chances on Election Day. The People’s Party has made a much more stringent immigration policy a cornerstone of their platform, yet Canadians gave barely taken notice, believing overwhelmingly that the Conservatives will do a better job of enforcing border security.

The smaller parties will also suffer come campaign season as their war chests are much smaller than the “Big Two”, and only a concerted advertising campaign by any of the remaining four federal parties might change the public perception of who they are and what they stand for. On a personal note, a good friend ran for one of the smaller parties in the last federal election and his $10,000 budget hamstrung him on a daily basis when it came to media buys, office staff and logistical support. He was badly outspent by his opponents and all the passion and commitment to cause could not overcome the unfettered spending of his opponents. That sorry story will likely be repeated in many a riding coast to coast in this election cycle.

Abacus concluded their report suggesting that the election of 2019 could very easily become a “referendum” on climate change and which party has a viable plan to deal with that issue and produce the next generation of “green jobs”. Political pundits will be watching closely to see if that really does happen, and how it impacts the final vote on Election Day.

PoliticsDeb Crossen