Candidates are at the halfway mark of the longest federal election campaign in recent history, but a keen observer of the spectacle says it’s too early to make any predictions on winners and losers, because the electorate is just starting to tune in.
“It’s like the NHL pre-season…hockey fans know hockey is happening, but they haven’t been watching,” said Hamish Telford, an author and political science instructor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Campaign messages have also been lost, he said, as politicians have had to react to a deluge of news stories with wide ranging impact.
For the party in power, the weight of headline news appears to be pushing them down the polls, said Telford, noting the Conservative Party is currently pegged at third behind the NDP and the Liberals, according to the poll aggregator site ThreeHundredEight.com.
In numbers it released this week, the NDP was in the lead with 32.1 per cent support, the LPC was close behind with 31.4 per cent, the CPC had 27.4 per cent and the GPC had 5 per cent. The BQ was at 3.5 per cent.
“The Conservatives were more seriously derailed by the (Mike) Duffy trial than they anticipated,” Telford said, of the trial that centres around senator spending.
The damage, he said, came from the tight-lipped approach the party takes to media. Instead of holding a press conference and dealing with all questions regarding the Duffy trial in one swoop, the Conservatives opted to take four to five questions a day, ensuring the trial was kept in the news loop day after day—it didn’t reflect well on the governing party.
“Their own management style hurt them,” said Telford.
“The prime minister didn’t look trustworthy…frequently I think the Conservatives are their own worst enemy.”
Also hurting the party are questions about why Canada hasn’t done more to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.
The picture of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, has heightened attention to Canada’s own contribution to accepting refugees from that war-torn area.
“Very rarely do Canadian elections turn on foreign policy issues…however, there are two things that might be different this time,” said Telford.
“The Syrian refugee story is not a one-time story and won’t end before the election.
The second reason it may not augur well for the Conservatives is that it ruffles deeply held perceptions.
“Canadians have an image of Canada as a do-gooding country, but the reality of that is we haven’t been that country for a long time,” he said.
“This may wake us up. Canada’s role in world affairs has changed away from the old peacekeeping days.”
Then there was the news of the recession.
The Tories say there has been employment growth and an export rebound and have pointed out that they aren’t responsible for a collapse in oil prices.
The NDP and Liberals have beaten their drums about weak economic growth and point to the jump in the jobless rate to an elevated seven per cent despite employment gains.
“We were in a big recession, then we were out and now we’ve gone back into it,” said Telford.
“Then the prime minster says, ‘Hold the course.’ Hold the course? It’s downward.”
As the Conservatives struggled, Telford says the Liberals have made up ground.
“They have been running a good campaign,” said Telford, adding that he thinks the party leader seems to be overcoming the “he’s not ready” label the Conservatives affixed to him in their advertising campaign.
Mulcair, who is in the lead, has also run a solid campaign, said Telford.
That said, it’s unlikely that the efforts at the top end of the party structure will have much impact on what happens in the Okanagan, or other conservative strongholds.
“There is no safer place for Conservatives than the Okanagan or the Fraser Valley, but (last) Wednesday night, Stephen Harper came here,” said Telford.
“It’s curious that he would come to one of the most conservative ridings in the country…the (Abbotsford’s Conservative MP) will get elected here no matter what happens in the national election.
“But Harper coming here means they are campaigning defensively, trying to hold on to what they’ve got.”
Conservative voters are also pretty party-faithful, always offering up 30 per cent.
Another 10 per cent tend to migrate to other parties, but Telford doesn’t know whether it will be to the NDP or the Liberals.
And there’s always a question of how the Green Party will impact B.C. ridings.
“A month in, the attention has been split between NDP and Liberals and the two parties are inching closer to each other.”
There’s no telling what will happen in the last half of the campaign, he said.