Canada's election: Vote for local candidates, not for party leaders

David Kilgour
David vs. David
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau talks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa April 21, 2015. (Reuters)

New and important issues can arise or change in the months before any election, but as of today, most Canadians appear from opinion surveys to be focussed primarily on the economy. There is also concern about national security in a period of Vladimir Putin, the Islamic State and other threats to regional and world peace. Features of this week’s budget, such as TFSA and RRIF benefits for seniors and universal child care benefits, will also be a factor in attracting or losing votes in October.

Based on almost 27 years in Parliament, I’d recommend that voters support the candidate in their constituency they identify with most closely regardless of party affiliation. Not all candidates are equally committed to representing every constituent without fear or favour in the House of Commons and with personal government problems.

This can be difficult to assess before an election since every candidate and party leader puts their best face forward during an election campaign. There is certainly truth in the quip, ‘Truth is the first victim of an election campaign’, but some candidates and party leaders do seek to speak the truth even during the severe pressure of a campaign or public debate. We should support such candidates.

Election campaigns often provide useful insights. For example, if a candidate misses all-candidate forums, voters should worry. If their statements or answers to questions are excessively partisan or ill-conceived, caution seems prudent.

[ Opposing view: Harper lacking full support, but still likely to triumph ]

In recent decades, party leadership has become one of the most important factors in favouring or reducing the election prospects of any candidate. Looking at the four national leaders today, my ranking from best to least preferred would be Elizabeth May, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau.

May is knowledgeable, principled, positive, smart, kind and passionate as Green Party leader. She is also capable of changing her mind in altered circumstances. That she could not attend university until her mid-thirties because she was needed in a struggling immigrant family restaurant in Nova Scotia is one of her big plusses in understanding how most families and individuals cope today and care about our natural environment.

Harper’s major positive quality is his leadership of the country as prime minister since 2006. In a national Ipsos/Global News opinion survey earlier this month, Harper led other leaders on qualities such as “someone who will get things done,” “someone who is best to manage during tough economic times,” and “someone whose values best represent my own.” The present national/world situations probably do not favour a change of leadership this year in Ottawa. He has made plenty of errors, but overall he is probably the safest candidate for prime minister this year.

Mulcair for the NDP is doing well in Question Period, but that rarely wins general elections, partly because most Canadians no longer pay attention to QP. Being raised in a family of ten children provides him a major advantage in identifying with the concerns of Canadian families. A major hurdle for his party is the lingering apprehension of many Canadians that NDP governments are poor economic managers.

Justin Trudeau for the Liberals is young, energetic, bilingual and bicultural. Unfortunately, he also lacks solid experience both nationally and internationally. He is still prone to serious verbal gaffes and errors. When first chosen as leader, he provided a major boost to his party; now its historic strength in some regions is helping to assist him as leader.

A problem for all parties except the Conservatives is that there are three centre-left or left parties competing in our outdated first-past-the- post and winner-take-all electoral system. This gives an advantage to Conservative candidates, especially in the uncertain times in which the election will in all likelihood take place.

The recent Ipsos/Global survey mentioned above also indicated that Harper is now the choice of 38 per cent of respondents as “best prime minister,” followed by Mulcair with 31 per cent and Trudeau with 30 per cent. It also indicated that 35 per cent of decided voters supported the Conservatives, 33 per cent the Liberals, and 25 per cent the NDP. Nearly half of the respondents said they approved of the performance of the Conservative government, and about the same number said Mr. Harper deserved to be re-elected. Public opinion is thus moving in Harper’s favour in the critical pre-campaign period.

Things can change quickly, but for now the election is for the Conservatives to win if they avoid serious errors.

David Kilgour is co-chair of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and a director of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD). He is a former MP for both the Conservative and Liberal Parties in the south-east region of Edmonton and has also served as the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific and Deputy Speaker of the House.