Campaign catch-up: The themes that dominated
Rows of pallets with supplies for polling stations wait for shipment at Elections Canada in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Angela Mulholland and Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, October 16, 2015 5:35PM EDT
Voters could be forgiven if they had trouble paying attention to all the promises made and issues raised during this federal election campaign. After all, it was one of the longest in Canadian history, with no single topic dominating.
That’s not to say the election has been dull. Indeed, the main party leaders have attempted to push several issues in their campaigns, while others have sprung up unexpectedly on their own -- including perhaps a few you may have forgotten.
So with election day fast-approaching, here’s a look back at the major themes.
The Mike Duffy trial and PMO ethics
It may now seem like years ago, but when this election campaign began, Mike Duffy’s criminal trial had already been underway for four months.
Within days of the campaign beginning in early August, several key figures in the case made their way to the stand, including Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and Harper’s former legal adviser, Benjamin Perrin.
Harper faced plenty of grilling on the campaign trail about what he did and didn’t know about his closest aides’ involvement in the Duffy repayment scheme. Harper stood firm, asserting that Duffy and Wright were the only two people responsible, and that they were being held accountable.
Still, polls suggested the trial testimony hurt Harper.
A Nanos Research survey conducted for CTV News and the Globe and Mail at the time found that more than half of respondents viewed the Conservatives more negatively after Wright took the stand.
In a bid, perhaps, to avert further Senate scandals, Harper announced a week before the election began that there would be a moratorium on any future Senate appointments. The Liberals say they want to reform the Senate by creating a merit-based appointment process to end its partisan nature. The NDP want to abolish the Senate altogether.
Economy and the federal deficit
From Day 1 of the campaign, the Conservatives have said the election is about the economy.
Their most prominent message throughout has been: Conservatives are the only ones who can “protect this fragile economy” while also creating jobs and keeping taxes low.
That message hit a snag in early September, when second-quarter GDP numbers showed Canada had recorded two consecutive quarters of negative growth -- the technical definition of a recession.
Then, a few weeks later, the finance department revealed the country had posted a surprise $1.9-billion surplus in 2014-15, instead of an expected deficit. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reacted by suggesting the surprise surplus was due to the Conservatives' cutting spending in time for the election.
Though the economy has fallen in and out of the headlines, it has remained one of the most important issues to voters.
The Conservatives have promised to keep taxes low for all Canadians while also balancing the budget. The Liberals have said they will boost spending on infrastructure and housing with the aim of eliminating the deficit by 2019.
Trudeau has said that the Liberals would run three “modest” deficits in order to pay for infrastructure investments and other promises. The NDP has committed to balancing the budget right away.
The exodus of refugees out of Syria and other parts of the Middle East dropped unexpectedly into the laps of the federal party leaders in early September when the body of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey and family members revealed the family had been trying to flee to Canada.
While the details of the family’s plight was more complicatedthan a simple story of applications rejected or delayed, the government’s refugee policy was thrust into the spotlight. The NDP and the Liberals accused the Conservatives of failing to live up to their promise to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, while the Conservatives insisted a military fight against Islamic State was the best way to aid Syrians.
Polling conducted a week later by Nanos Research for CTV News and the Globe and Mail found voters were divided on which party leader had delivered the best response.
Afterthe refugee issue slipped out of the headlines, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife revived the topic with a report that staff in the Prime Minister’s Office had sought political gain by prioritizing certain Syrian refugee applicants.
The Conservatives denied that the PMO had interfered in the selection of refugees, saying the government only wanted to prioritize the most vulnerable.
The Tories have promised to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by September 2016 under an “accelerated” processing system. The NDP has said it would accept 10,000 refugees by the end of 2015, while the Liberals said they would accept 25,000 by the end of the year.
Perhaps the most unexpected flashpoint during the election campaign turned out to be the question of whether Muslim women who cover their faces should be allowed to do so during Canadian citizenship ceremonies.
The Conservative government’s attempts to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies – quashed by the Federal Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal – generated heated discussions on the campaign trail and during leaders’ debates.
It also touched off a larger debate about “our values,” especially in Quebec, where the niqab issue struck a chord with voters who support bans on religious garments and symbols.
Combined with the Conservatives’ controversial pledge to stamp out “barbaric cultural practices,” the Tories’ niqab stance has led to accusations of racism and intolerance.
Rival party leaders have accused Harper and the Conservatives of playing on people’s fears and trying to marginalize Muslim Canadians and other minorities.
During one of the leaders’ debates, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May dismissed concern over niqabs as a “false debate” designed to distract from real election issues, such as the economy and the environment.
Critics have also pointed out that the niqab issue affects an extremely small section of the Canadian population.
The woman who initially sparked the niqab debate by challenging her right to have her face covered in court, Zunera Ishaq, became a Canadian citizen on Oct. 9. She took the citizenship oath at a private ceremony in Mississauga, Ont.
The Tories have said that, if re-elected, they will re-introduce and adopt legislation banning niqabs and other face coverings at citizenship ceremonies. Mulcair has said that the NDP would not force a woman to reveal her face during the symbolic portion of the citizenship ceremony. The Liberals, meanwhile, have promised not to appeal the recent court decisions on the niqab ban.
Candidate resignations over gaffes
Throughout the entire campaign, as major issues ebbed and flowed on the campaign trail, more than a dozen candidates from different parties were forced to step down over gaffes that ranged from inappropriate social media posts to some downright bizarre actions.
The most notorious case involved a Conservative hopeful who was caught on video urinating in a client’s coffee mug while on his day job as a repairman.
But some candidates were able to survive major embarrassments. NDP candidate Alex Johnstone, who apologized for making a crude reference to Auschwitz and then subsequently admitted that she “didn’t know what Auschwitz was,” is still running.
“Party war rooms used to be preoccupied with selling their leader or trashing their rivals. Now their primary purpose seems to be protecting candidates from their own stupidity,” wrote Don Martin, host of CTV’s Power Play.
To catch up on all other ballot box issues and party promises, visit CTV News’ election page for complete coverage.