John Duffy studies #1: Justin Trudeau and Canadian federal elections

Post-war elections in Canada and the UK

  • What’s the criteria for a significant election? Great fight, a big national policy question and evolution in the structure of how politics works
  • What is the 2021 44th election about? Trudeau compared it to the 1945 election.
  • King presented Canada with the foundations of a social welfare state pre-WW2 and then post-war asked “are we really going to do this stuff now?” This followed on from the social impacts of the Great Depression.
  • King’s Liberal govt. was returned and they implemented the social agenda (King and Louis St. Laurent).
  • In Britain Winston Churchill lost at the polls to Clement Atlee because voters didn’t believe Churchill would deliver social programs despite his claiming otherwise.
  • Britons had come to believe they were fighting for these social supports.

Election 44

  • Trudeau is claiming the policy subject of this election is social programs like childcare within a wider package responding to inequality.
  • The Conservative platform platform asserts that they don’t want to have institutions deliver childcare but rather give families cash and let them shop.
  • It is a significant election.
  • The Liberals are framing a “stay the course” ballot question and have been good at cementing this perception.
  • Liberals went from 3rd to 1st saying “Canada’s changed and the Conservatives have not changed with it.” (ie. Canada is socially liberal, progressive, values equity, action on climate change etc.) In response Canadians said “yeah that’s my Canada”.
  • Liberals have been running “choose your Canada” campaigns in recent years implying the modern Conservative party is alien to Canada (it’s more American).
  • In this election the Liberals are going to add vaccination as something “Canadians do” the (Liberals will do this fairly aggressively).
  • The Conservatives want to frame the election as an economic choice ie. the Liberals are incompetent and profligate and don’t really care for the sources of prosperity.
  • The NDP will be asking “Is Trudeau actually sincere, can you trust him?”

Federal elections in Canada

  • Geography is so key to Canada: historically the most typical governing coalition (by region) is Quebec and the Prairies with bits and pieces of elsewhere (extra context: Quebec and the Prairies vote more cohesively).
  • This coalition is defeated when it doesn’t vote cohesively and an alternative is put together with a more solid B.C., Ontario and Maritime vote.
  • The emergence of the Bloc since 1992 has taken Quebec mostly out the equation.
  • The second thing is urban growth. Canada used to be rural but now has very large cities and that’s where people are (“very large urban blobs”).
  • Urban places have voting patterns that are more like each other than traditional divides like language and region (downtown Calgary is more like downtown MTL than rural Alberta).
  • The battleground now is the suburbs (esp. far/new suburbs like Abbotsford, Milton and east of MTL).
  • Strong indicator: are Liberals winning urban seats in unfavourable regions? Calgary, Edmonton.
  • For Liberals it’s no longer a matter of regional pieces but playing the politics of urban denisty, “bringing together a national majority of urban and suburban dwellers”.
  • For the Conservatives in this election the effort is to hold back the Liberals in Ontario and B.C.
  • In 2006 Harper beat Martin on childcare. But Trudeau can say “did anything actually come of Harper’s childcare?” In this case Trudeau has deals with the provinces.
  • The vaccine wedge is very effective for Trudeau as Conservative insiders themselves say.


  • Vaccination and Covid-19 stupidity played into Trump’s defeat.
  • Canadian elections are decided on what happens domestically but you can get caught flat footed.
  • A big risk is appearing to be tone deaf, anyone can say “you’re being inappropriate”.
  • Debates can still be critical even given the social media equalizer.
  • Trudeau gave a bravura performance in the Munk debate. He won over the immediate and television audience (put Mulcair in the background and made Harper try a father knows best routine).
  • Horwath mailed in second 2018 debate performance and the NDP upward trajectory went flat (interviewer: Ford was able to say Horwath and Wynne are the same).
  • Strategists think about turnout more and more as the years go by because as the boomers retire and elder members die the notable propensity of older voters to vote Conservative gets leavened.
  • In 2015 boomers got balanced out as youth and First Nations actually turned out and voted in big numbers.
  • In this country everyone makes it easy to vote unlike the USA (voting is above politics, a matter of technocratic and bureaucratic management).
  • This election may well go down at policy-pivotal.
  • Climate change is an all-encompassing challenge and issue.

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