Do blurred federal-provincial political lines confuse voters?
In 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals stormed back into power in the House of Commons, marking the first time since 2003 that Liberals governed in both Ottawa and Queen’s Park.
Next year, Ontarians are slated to go back to the polls and in 2019, all Canadians will do so for the next federal election.
With Liberals standing as the incumbents for both elections, how will the performance of the Liberal brand in one jurisdiction affect the other?
Some political scientists argue the sharing of party names across provincial and federal jurisdictions may lead to confusion among voters.
“Citizens have a hard time distinguishing between the different levels of government,” says Laura Stephenson, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario. “Voters pay a limited amount of attention to what’s going on in elections or in politics in general.”
In Ontario, she notes, the issue may be amplified due to the relative similarity in name and branding recognition between the Ontario and federal parties.
“There’s a lot of back and forth where (voters) assume that the parties have the same kinds of ideologies across the levels,” Stephenson adds.
This may be the result of Conservative Harper-era tactics, says Jared Wesley, a political scientist at the University of Alberta.
“Up until about 2006, the common wisdom was that somehow voters managed to distinguish between provincial-federal cousins when it came to voting.”
Prior to that, according to Wesley, a set of unwritten rules existed that kept politicians from campaigning against opponents at other levels.
“The Harper government started to dabble in provincial politics, openly campaigning in favour of the provincial conservatives and then even dipping down into municipal politics in the Rob Ford era,” he says.
Thank you @pmharper it was great to see you tonight &amp; thanks to the thousands of people who came #elxn42 #elxn2015 pic.twitter.com/tqIxs0inxD
— Ford Family (@TorontoRobFord) October 18, 2015
Since Harper’s first election win on Jan. 23, 2006, there have been three federal elections with varying levels of success for all three major parties. The Liberals went from third-party status to governing once again, the NDP formed the official Opposition for the first time in its history and Stephen Harper won his first, and only, majority government after two attempts.
Experts say that Canadians should be aware of specific party platforms when voting in provincial and federal elections. During this span at the provincial level, many governing parties remained in power until each province’s most recent election in which voters vaulted an opposition party into government – the only exceptions being in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Three of the current six Liberal-governed provinces were held by provincial cousins of the federal Conservatives, prior to 2014. The three provinces, situated in Atlantic Canada, were a key part of to the federal Liberals’ success in 2015, when they swept all seats in the region.
But how much focus should be put on potential jurisdictional voting correlations as opposed to key campaign issues, or, in the case of the last federal election, a perceived fatigue with the Harper government?
Stephenson believes that leaders are often judged independent of others but, when things are looking up, will work with their party cousins to help out.
By winning 80 out of Ontario’s 121 seats in the 2015 election, the federal Liberals’ success despite the perceived unpopularity of the Wynne government, may be one example of this independence, she added.
Engagement between federal-provincial relations can also turn into disengagement, says Nelson Wiseman, the director of the Canadian Studies program at the University of Toronto.
“The Alberta NDP is very unhappy with the federal NDP’s position on the TransMountain pipeline so they’re not embracing the same position,” he adds. The Alberta New Democrats, unlike other New Democrats, have advocated for the pipeline project, citing Alberta’s economic interests tied to the oil industry.
Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline project is heading to court this fall. The BC NDP govt will be there as an official intervenor. pic.twitter.com/MkpTRHRu1Y
— BC NDP (@bcndp) August 30, 2017
The rift reared its head in May when reports indicated that Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley barred staff from aiding the British Columbian NDP in its campaign because of the disagreement.
I’ll be speaking in BC, Ontario &amp; Alberta about how important the Trans Mountain pipeline is to Canada’s economy: https://t.co/GBiMqa9h4a
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) November 7, 2017
While these are contentious issues for the New Democrats in Western Canada, other, more pressing battles on the horizon lie eastward.
With provincial elections slated to take place in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick in 2018, the results for all three parties may provide some predictions for the 2019 federal election – if there is actually a correlation.
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