ANTIGONISH, N.S. - It may be almost one year away, but a St. F.X. political science professor said the race is on for the next federal election.
“You can see already that the campaigning has begun,” Jim Bickerton said.
Whether it is the “main parties” – the governing Liberals or Conservatives – or the NDP and newly-formed People’s Party of Canada, under leader Maxime Bernier, he noted, they have started “to set the table,” when it comes to getting their messages out to Canadians.
As for the “biggest issue” – now and when any campaign launches officially – Bickerton talked about an energy-environment theme, one focussed on the federal carbon tax and future of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
He suggested the Conservatives will “hit very hard” on the Liberals’ handling of the pipeline issue.
“It will be the centrepiece for him,” Bickerton predicted for the Conservatives and leader Andrew Scheer, when it comes to the federal carbon tax.
He noted it will parallel the 2008 federal race, when Stephen Harper challenged Stéphane Dion on his proposed carbon tax.
“It is a proven strategy and we will see if it works again,” Bickerton said.
He added the Conservatives will argue the carbon tax “won’t be effective in achieving its environmental goals.”
Bickerton noted the Liberals will focus on the move as “the only effective approach,” when it comes to dealing with emissions and the environment, while touting Canadians’ pocketbooks will not be affected because of the accompanying tax rebates.
“I think it will be their major promise to help attract support,” he said of a national pharmacare program expected from the governing Grits.
Noting their “current difficulties,” under leader Jagmeet Singh, Bickerton said a weakened NDP, traditionally, benefits the Liberals at the polls.
“Those parties usually gather votes from the same pool,” he added.
Bickerton forecasted the NDP’s challenges will only deepen, if Singh does not secure a federal seat in an upcoming byelection in Burnaby.
“They are in a difficult situation and they have a steep hill to climb,” he said, noting the party also faces hurdles with fundraising, which makes running a federal election campaign even more difficult.
Bickerton said adding to the “good news” for the Liberals, at this point, is the formation of the aforementioned People’s Party of Canada.
He noted its “early days,” under Bernier, seem to have focussed on immigration issues, including lowering numbers, border security and what has been described as ‘extreme multiculturalism.’
“It can be a dangerous place to go,” Bickerton said of taking that stance, noting its attraction for people on the extreme right.
With that approach, one offering what the party might call a “real Conservative alternative,” he added, there could be fragmentation of support – much like in the 1990s with the emergence of the Reform Party of Canada – which crippled the former Progressive Conservative Party.
“They don’t have to pull a lot of support,” Bickerton said of the People’s Party of Canada and how its federal election performance could swing seats to the Liberals.
Although recent polls have the Liberals and Conservatives “fairly close,” Bickerton said elements, such as the weakened NDP and fragmented right, have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his party “well positioned” to win.
“The Liberals are also strong in Quebec, right now, and the B.C. battleground seems to be evenly divided,” he noted.
As for leader Elizabeth May and the Green Party, Bickerton said they “won’t be a huge factor,” estimating their vote percentage will remain the same, with their federal seats, once again, coming on Vancouver Island.
With all that said, Bickerton stressed, “there is a long way to go,” in political terms, until voters head to the polls.
“A month can be a long time and you can’t plan for everything,” he said.
The 43rd Canadian federal election is scheduled to take place on or before Oct. 21.