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Low-key election will come down to voter turnout

If not for a sea of signs joining “for sale” on the lawns of some homes – and in copious numbers along the highways and byways – you may not have noticed there’s a federal election campaign underway.

Called ahead of a fixed election date set for two years hence, the return to the polls was engineered by Justin Trudeau, who’s still trying to explain just why he made that call. And why we need to get out to vote in the midst of a pandemic, or try mail-in balloting in large numbers for the first time.

Still, there is an election, like it or not.

The public seems to have more on its plate than the fate of 338 politicians and would-be politicians. Canadians are dealing with the whole pandemic thing, which in turn has led to economic woes, issues with their children and general disruptions in their everyday lives. Each of those is far more pressing than an election, even if the parties are each trying to outdo each other in promising “solutions” to the problems caused by the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns.

Trudeau is positioning himself as the leader who took on the pandemic, and the one with the plan to bring us out of the crisis. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, on the other hand, has been denigrating the Liberal handling of the pandemic, proposing his own solution to a post-COVID reality. He’s also been busy trying to put the party in a different light, not the Republican-lite label put on his predecessors, Andrew Scheer and Stephen Harper. In that, he’s been at least partly successful.

As with the previous election, Jagmeet Singh just wants somebody to notice he’s around. Annamie Paul is no Elizabeth May, with the Greens on somewhat shakier ground.

This is certainly Trudeau’s election to lose. He called it, calculating now was a good time to win back the majority he won in 2015 and then lost in 2019. His message is much the same as in previous campaigns, promising an ever-growing list of entitlement programs.

The other parties must see that as a winning strategy, as entitlements lead the way even with the Conservatives – O’Toole is looking to enlarge the tent to combat demographic trends.

Singh’s message has been a return to the traditional working-class appeals, along with making him out to be a regular guy, just like you, the voter he wants to see at the polling station voting for the NDP.

Polls now show the Liberals and Conservatives are neck and neck. Traditional strongholds are likely to remain, with Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois being the biggest wildcards.

In Kitchener-Conestoga, the riding became Liberal by a slim margin last time around after remaining Conservative by another close vote in 2015.

Few of us, however, vote for the local candidate, opting for the party instead. On that front, either choice between the Liberals and Conservatives is ultimately destructive for middle-class Canadians, whose incomes and standard of living have been eroding under neoliberal ideologies. The Liberals have stopped using traditional corporate talking points, while the Conservatives are still somewhat in the mode, trying to play up the inexplicably enduring idea that the party is good at managing the public purse, though history has repeatedly shown that Tory times are tough times, both here and abroad.

There are likely to be changes in the voting map this time out, but with less than two weeks until we go to the polls, major swings in core support are not in the cards. The key will be voter turnout: the more people that cast a ballot, the better for opposition parties. That includes both the party faithful and the disenchanted who feel politicians aren’t getting it done for them. Low voter turnout usually favours the incumbent.

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