What have we Learned from Canadian Voters from the 2015 Election? How Important was Energy Policy and the Environment During this Election Campaign?

VIEWS FROM OUR POLITICAL COMMENTATORS: NDP, CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL

BY KATHLEEN MONK

BY KATHLEEN MONK

Academics, pundits and political campaigners will continue to reflect on the lessons learned from 2015 federal election campaign for some time, but what’s clear is that Canadian voters wanted change. The ‘Time for Change’ zeitgeist dominated the election, and policy matters around energy and the environment were relegated to the back burner.

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“Political campaigners will continue to reflect on the lessons learned from 2015 federal election campaign.”

That probably won’t surprise many political watchers, former prime minister Kim Campbell famously remarked in the 1993 federal election “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” How this new Liberal government approaches policy matters around energy and the environment, however, will likely be informed by how many Canadians were irked by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government’s approach on environmental issues, climate change and science. And millions of Canadians voiced their displeasure by casting their ballot against Harper. This is why Prime Minister Trudeau’s approach to energy and the environment will need to be carefully managed going forward.

Early signals are encouraging. It’s true the environment and energy policy didn’t grab many headlines during the federal election campaign, but it dominated Prime Minister Trudeau’s first month in office. Within 48 hours of being sworn-in as Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was forced to react to President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline and just weeks after forming his cabinet, Mr. Trudeau and his newly minted Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, led the Canadian delegation to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.

Significant questions lie ahead for Mr. Trudeau, starting with Canada’s energy relationship with the United States. Mr. Trudeau and President Obama held opposing positions on KXL, but what was made very clear from the United States President’s comments was that Canada needs to do a better job of improving our environmental record and in so doing our reputation. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley reacted to the news of the rejection of KXL by rightly saying we need to improve Canada’s reputation on the environment so that we can, finally, have drama-free conversations about how to build our energy infrastructure.

“How do we move forward and build energy infrastructure that allows Canadians to benefit from our tremendous resources.”

So, how do we move forward and build energy infrastructure that allows Canadians to benefit from our tremendous resources, while still respecting the environment? Liberals committed to overhaul and fix environmental assessments, including subjecting ongoing reviews for Kinder Morgan and Energy East to a new revised review process. The question now is whether Mr. Trudeau will follow through. Will the Liberal government halt ongoing proceedings until a new process is in place? How will they negotiate new emission targets? What happens if some of the provinces won’t play ball?

“Environment and energy policy dominated Prime Minister Trudeau’s first month in office.”

These are the questions government, industry and Canadians will wrestle with in months and years ahead.

Kathleen Monk is a senior communications strategist and frequent media commentator on politics and public affairs. She was the catalyst behind the Broadbent Institute, as its founding Executive Director, and served as spokesperson and media director for Jack Layton’s 2011 election campaign, which resulted in the best election result in the party’s 50-year history.


 

BY TIM POWERS

BY TIM POWERS

The second longest campaign in Canadian history is over and to some it provided an unexpected result – a Liberal majority government. Certainly going into the election in August that was not the first outcome people were projecting. But in the end that is what happened. Why?

According to our research company Abacus Data, who have done a significant post-election analysis, the 2015 Canadian General Election was really two campaigns in one. Campaign one, as our team described it, was about whether the Conservatives deserved to be re-elected and whether a credible alternative was available. Campaign two was about which alternative was the best to replace Stephen Harper.

You know the results. Canadians decided they wanted change. The Tories were turfed from office though left with a solid base from which to rebuild. Canadians elected Justin Trudeau’s Liberals who clearly out-maneuvered the NDP as the alternative to best replace Stephen Harper.

During the campaign Abacus discovered that among the 76 per cent of voters who said they preferred to see a change in government, whether they preferred ambitious or moderate change, and change that would be felt soon, or more gradually. Most (58 per cent) favoured change that would be felt soon, rather than more gradually (42 per cent). This is the consensus in all three of the largest seat provinces. Among NDP-Liberal swing voters, 65 per cent want change sooner rather than later. – See more at: http://abacusdata.ca/the-battle-for-the-change-vote/#sthash.h4NgSiIk.dpuf. The Liberals were the vehicle for ambitious change.

It is hard to tell what real impact specific policy positions themselves had on voters during the campaign. For example, when Abacus asked Canadians what the single most important policy issue facing Canadians was during the campaign only four per cent said the environment. Whereas 46 per cent said economy and jobs was the single most important issue. Whether and how Canadians viewed energy in the latter measurement is not clear.

“A change election has almost certainly produced a change in approach.”

The early days of the new government will provide key indicators on how environmental and energy policy will be managed over the next four years. From the appointment of the new environment minister, to Canada’s positioning and delegation heading to the Paris climate meetings, to the influence of the various Liberal regional caucuses all of these things will be key to watch in understanding what guides the new government’s policy directions. The Liberal election platform also potentially provides a helpful roadmap on the way forward.

A change election has almost certainly produced a change in approach. Future Liberal political success will likely be judged on how effective they are at delivering change. Expect change in the way you do business.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarter are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


 

BY STEPHEN HAMPTON

BY STEPHEN HAMPTON

In an election that was dominated by change, we learned that Canadians should not be underestimated, and as a society, we are more socially conscious than some people would give us credit for. In Canada’s longest election in over a century, Canadians were given three very different ways forward and Canadians responded by electing a large Liberal majority government.

Political operatives will tell politicians to relate policies to emotion because people vote not just on policy but on the emotions that comes with them. This election was about change and it inspired Canadians to show up to the polls and in a lot of cases show up for the first time. There was also considerable access to three very different platforms outlining each party’s vision moving forward. Energy and the environment were clear priorities for all parties in different ways, however it is hard to tell how influential those policies were in terms of swaying people’s actual vote.

Looking forward however, I think we can see that the Liberal party will look to follow through with their significant promises on the environment, specifically with the appointment of Ottawa based MP, Catherine McKenna, an international trade lawyer by training and former legal counsel to the United Nations, as the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. Furthermore, the appointment of Mr. Dion as the chair of the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and the environment is a clear indication of the government’s commitment to addressing the pressing issue of climate change. I expect that foreign affairs and the environment will work hand in hand and will try to rebrand Canada’s image on a global scale as a serious player on the climate and environment portfolio.

“The Trudeau government’s approach to climate change creates an opportunity for Canada’s energy industry to move forward.”

I also believe that the Trudeau government’s approach to climate change creates an opportunity for Canada’s energy industry to move forward. One of the biggest failures of the last decade has been Canada’s ability to get our energy to market, something that Trudeau hopes a climate conscious government and industry will be able to accomplish, specifically with our neighbours to the south. The next 12 months are key for this government on the energy and climate change files as they will set the tone for what is to come. By raising the environmental standards and Canada’s role in fighting climate change, there may be an opportunity for Canada’s energy sector to boom.

The 2015 federal election showed that Canadians wanted a change from the former government and elected a party to govern that seems serious about climate change but actively wants to see our energy sector excel, it’s a fine-line to walk, but if the election taught us anything it’s that any obstacle can be overcome.

Stephen Hampton is a Consultant at Crestview Strategy, a public affairs agency with offices in Toronto and Ottawa. Stephen started his career on Parliament Hill and has worked for political campaigns at all levels of government.