• Release of Trudeau “brownface” photo puts Liberals on defensive

  • Liberals maintain solid lead in Quebec with Conservatives and Bloc neck-and-neck for second place

  • Premier François Legault releases list of demands for federal parties

  • Debate commission volte-face: Maxime Bernier will now take part in official debates
With week one of the Canadian election campaign in the rear-view mirror, there are no clear election policy issues driving the national discussion. The past life of political candidates, however, has played a central role in the election campaign. None more so than that of the Prime Minister himself.

Last night, Time Magazine released an 18-year-old photo of Justin Trudeau posing in brownface makeup in the yearbook of a high school where he was teaching. As of the release of this newsletter, two more instances of Trudeau wearing blackface have emerged, each more cringe-worthy than the last. After the Liberal war room spent the first week of the campaign relentlessly going after Conservative candidates for past indiscretions on social media, Trudeau’s campaign is on the defensive now that he has been caught with a dark stain in his own past. This is a stunning blow for Trudeau, who for ten years in politics has built his image around diversity and cultural sensitivity.

It's still unclear how last night's explosive news will affect the Liberals in Quebec. Given past controversies around blackface in the province, our sense is that this won't affect the Liberal vote much outside of Montreal. In Montreal, disappointed voters will likely reexamine their options more closely, but we don't expect to see a seismic shift in voter preference, barring any new revelations of past indiscretions.

Throughout the first week all four major parties made large spending announcements. The Conservatives and the Liberals made a slew of promises aimed at families, which at times were indistinguishable. The NDP is heavily promoting its national pharma and dental care program. And of course, the Green Party announced environmental regulations. However, we are not yet seeing central policy themes emerge in the campaign.

Both the Liberal and Conservative parties are in dead heat nationally at around 35% of popular support, according to the polling aggregator 338Canada. The NDP and Greens are intertwining and seem to be running on similar slates, which could divide their votes. The Liberals have the support of 37.6% of Quebecers. If the election were held today, that would result in 52 of 78 ridings secured (before the election was called, they had 40). The Conservatives are behind with an estimated 14 seats, and the Bloc would have 11. While the NDP had 14 seats before the election, it seems like they’ll be lucky to win even one. In terms of the popular vote, the NDP and the Green party are tied at around nine per cent.

On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault presented a list of demands for all parties at the federal level. These demands include: 

  • Allow Quebec to impose its French language law (Law 101) on companies serving under Federal jurisdictions, such as banks;

  • Allow the province to dictate how many immigrants it can receive and the different criteria it can set regarding their acceptance, which is under federal jurisdiction;

  • Pledge that they not contest Bill 21 in the courts;

  • Allow the implementation of a single government income tax filing for Quebecers (Quebec is the only province where taxpayers have to file their federal and provincial income taxes separately).

So far, the federal leaders have been mostly quiet regarding these demands. Trudeau and the NDP's Singh have been outspoken critics on the issue of Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law that was adopted by the provincial nationalists in the spring. Conservative leader Scheer’s stance on the matter isn’t clear yet. The Prime Minister has vowed to uphold Canadian values and not to cede to the demands of Legault on this matter. The Bloc Québécois has backed Legault’s demands and seeks to solidify its position as the legitimate party for Quebec’s interests. How this will sit with Quebecers, we can’t know for sure yet. When polling provincial voters on the Bill, results show that most Quebecers are favorable to the law. However, federal voters polled in Quebec support Trudeau’s opinion.

The People’s Party of Canada has received little attention or support up to now. In Quebec, they’re only supported by three per cent of the population. Nevertheless, the official debate commission has granted its leader, former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, a podium at the French and English debates in mid-October. This is a big win for Bernier, a Quebec francophone who has had difficulty getting serious media coverage that didn’t revolve around his anti-immigration tweets. One of the big unknowns is how Bernier’s performance at the debates will affect the national vote. If he performs well, it could be to the detriment of the Conservatives. In this province however, an increase in support from Quebec nationalists could pull away support from other parties as well.
As always, HATLEY will keep you posted on the most important developments throughout the entirety of the campaign with the HATLEY Report.

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