Why Was A Snap Election Called?

Canadians are heading back to the polls on September 20, 2021, less than two years after the last federal election. The next election was previously scheduled for October 16, 2023, four years after the 2019 elections. However, Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau triggered an early election, also referred to as a snap election. This decision has been met with criticism, as many felt it was unacceptable for Trudeau to be calling for an election while Canada is still dealing with the pandemic. Conservative leader Erin O’Toole “accused Trudeau of pursuing an election in his political self-interest,” speculating that the snap election was called in an attempt by the Liberal Party to gain majority control of Parliament. Currently, they hold a minority government which means they must work and collaborate with other parties in order to govern. 

Canada’s System of Government

Canada is a constitutional monarchy. This means that Queen Elizabeth II is the official head of state while the Prime Minister is the head of government. 

Canada’s system of government is a parliamentary democracy, which refers to a form of government “in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the parliament forms the government, its leader becoming prime minister.” The Parliament of Canada is a bicameral legislature, which means it is split into two chambers: the Senate and the House of Commons. The Senate’s 105 members are appointed by the Governor General based on the suggestion of the Prime Minister. According to the Government of Canada’s website, “the Senate’s fundamental role is to be a complementary legislative body to the elected House of Commons in providing sober second thought.”

The House of Commons consists of 338 elected politicians, also known as Members of Parliament (MPs), who each represent a different riding, or district, within Canada (you can find your riding here). In Canada, you vote for a representative of your riding, rather than directly for the Prime Minister. When voting, the candidates from parties who are running in your riding will appear on your ballot, and the candidate from the riding with the most votes wins a seat in Parliament. Then, the leader of the political party with the most seats in the House of Commons is summoned by the Governor General and sworn in as Prime Minister. 

As mentioned prior, before the dissolving of Parliament, the Liberal Party formed a minority government and held 155 seats, with the Conservatives in second with 119. To have a majority government, the Liberal Party would need to win 170 seats. 

First Past the Post

The current system for determining the MP for each riding is called “first-past-the-post.” The only determining factor for winning the riding is having the highest number of votes – they do not need more than 50% of the votes to win. This system, just like any other, has its pros and cons. One of the most troubling effects is that it encourages tactical voting wherein you cast a ballot “not for the person you want to vote for, but for the candidate best positioned to defeat the candidate you most dislike.”

The Parties

Although Canada has many political parties, some have dubbed it a “two-party plus” system, which refers to the fact that the country is regularly influenced by two main parties. These parties are the centre-left Liberal Party, which has dominated politics over the last 70 years, and the centre-right Conservative Party. There are 22 registered political parties but there are only five parties that have representatives in Parliament, detailed below. 

To understand the parties, it is important to understand the political spectrum. In short, it refers to a scale with opposite ends, referred to as left and right. Simply put, the left is associated with progressive views and encourages reform while the right is associated with traditional views and favours small government.

The Liberal Party – Leader: Justin Trudeau

The Liberal Party of Canada has been active since 1867 and has been the dominating federal governing party, as showcased by the fact that they have been in power for 70% of the last century. Opinions on its standings vary, but it can be generously defined as a centrist party with progressive leanings. Today, the Liberal Party headed by Justin Trudeau is quite centrist, favouring a free market economy while being socially progressive, as shown through its policies on immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and support for the middle class. 

The Conservative Party – Leader: Erin O’Toole

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is the Official Opposition, meaning it is the political party with the second-most seats in Parliament. The current Conservative Party was formed as a result of a merger in 2003 between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party, with the aim to unite Conservative voters in Canada after repeated Liberal victories. The party is headed by Erin O’Toole, and the party favours small government, strong adherence to law-and-order, and is focused primarily on economic betterment this election.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) – Leader: Jagmeet Singh 

The New Democratic Party (NDP) is a social democratic political party that began as the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in 1933 representing workers and farmers. The party has enjoyed “scattered success” at the federal level, polling at around 10% of the vote. The NDP has been headed by Jagmeet Singh since 2017, who was the first non-white, non-Christian leader of a federal political party.

The NDP is on the left of the political spectrum, focused on halting climate change, taxing the rich, and building a more inclusive economy.

Bloc Québécois – Leader: Yves-François Blanchet

Bloc Québécois (BQ) was formed in 1990 in reaction to the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, “which would have recognised Quebec as a distinct society and would have given it veto power over most constitutional changes.” The Bloc focuses primarily on the interests of Quebec, with an emphasis on French-language rights. Despite the fact that it only runs candidates within the province of Quebec, the party manages to maintain a secure standing thus far. The Bloc is currently led by Yves-François Blanchet and can be considered a single-issue party, which is Quebecois nationalism and can be placed on the centre-left political scale.

The Green Party – Leader: Annamie Paul

The Green Party of Canada began as a single-issue party on the environment, but former leader Elizabeth May broadened the party’s platform by making them out to be a left-leaning grassroots party. Although climate change remains the party’s main priority, it also focuses on housing as a human right, prioritising Indigenous reconciliation, investing in the green economy, and increasing Canada’s overseas development assistance budget. Current leader Annamie Paul was elected leader of the Green Party in 2020 and she made history as “the first woman of colour, the first Black person, and the first Jewish woman elected to lead a major federal political party.” In the midst of a pandemic, heat waves, and wildfires the Green Party declared “This is a moment that demands daring, courageous leadership. We are the party for this moment.”

The Issues and Where the Parties Stand

Note on Transparency: this article is no longer attempting to give a general overview. The following analysis includes personal biases. 

Affordable Housing  

The current housing crisis and plans for affordable housing and other solutions are a hot topic this election. 36% of young Canadians doubt they will be able to afford a home while 1.6 million households in the country spend over 30% of their income on housing alone – and now each federal party is fighting to present the best solution. 

The Liberal and Conservative housing plans are not too different from each other: both promise to build around a million homes over the next few years and to impose a ban on new foreign ownership for the next couple of years. A criticism that arises every time a Liberal plan is brought forth is: the Liberals had six years to change this already, why should we believe them now? 

The NDP and especially the Green Party view housing as a human right which has guided their platforms’ planning. They too have focused on stronger regulations for foreign investments. The NDP’s platform plans to address the housing crisis in various forms such as streamlining the application process for co-ops and other social housing as well as 30-year mortgages and more rental units. Critically perhaps, the NDP and Conservatives included an Indigenous housing plan while the Liberals did not. 

Environment and Climate Change

To many people, the climate emergency is the single biggest issue for this generation and as such, for this election. 

Though the Conservative plan under O’Toole addresses combating climate change, his party does not fully support it. 54% of delegates at a convention voted against a motion that would include phrases “we recognise that climate change is real” and “the Conservative party is willing to act.” Those opposing it did so for reasons such as “because it unfairly centres greenhouse gases as the major pollutant … which is not true” and that the focus should be on local environmental issues like sewage. A Liberal aim has been to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, the Conservative plan was even more disappointing with an aim of a mere 30% cut – which would force a withdrawal from the UN’s Paris Climate Accord. 

The NDP has not shied away from the fact that its climate plan is ambitious with an aim to get Canada to net-zero, investing in low-carbon jobs, national and sectoral carbon budgeting   – and it’s not for nothing, it’s essential. Several NDP candidates are joining the campaign mainly to join the fight against climate change including Anjali Appadurai a climate activist running in the Vancouver-Granville riding and Avi Lewis a long-standing climate activist and journalist who is running in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast- Sea to Sky Country riding. Both of these candidates have been endorsed by incredible environmental activists like David Suzuki and the organisation 350 Canada. The pioneering NDP climate plan and the candidates running all understand and promote climate justice through an intersectional lens understanding that it needs to be addressed alongside economic inequality and racial injustice. 

For those who criticise the NDP saying that the plan is too ambitious and who just want to keep the status quo – all that’s gotten us is pipelines and the destruction of old-growth forests among other things. Now is the time for an ambitious climate plan. We don’t have time to wait. 

Social Equality

In terms of social equality, the parties have very different outlooks. Bill C-6, which would aim to outlaw conversion therapy, a practice which has been widely discredited and labeled as traumatic, passed in the House of Commons. Concerningly, however, 62 Conservatives, and 1 Independent voted against this bill. 

In terms of issues like police brutality, corruption, and institutional racism, the Conservative plan includes increased support for the RCMP, while the Liberals vaguely referred to reforming the RCMP. Contrastingly, both the Green and NDP organise in a more holistic way. The Green party clearly favours redistributing funds from police forces to social and community services, a process commonly known as defunding the police, and focusing on rehabilitation-centred criminal justice rather than punishment. Similarly, both the Green and NDP have a hefty aim of tackling systemic injustice which exists in society and within the criminal justice system. This includes an NDP National Action Plan to end gender-based violence. Both parties have committed to implementing recommendations regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as well as various action plans focused on monitoring hate groups and bettering accountability measures.  

Critically for the Liberal Party, Trudeau committed in 2015 to get clean drinking water to Indigenous reserves but six years later this has still not happened. This coupled with his support for pipelines and no action against RCMP violence against land defenders throughout the country is extremely concerning and makes it difficult to believe in his promises. During the English language debate, all the candidates faltered on the topic of Indigenous reconciliation. Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer and professor, wrote on this for CTV News: 

“Here’s the problem with historicizing Canada’s genocide of Indigenous peoples – it distances those in power from any sense of responsibility for addressing past wrongs, but it also keeps them from acting with urgency to end the multiple, overlapping crises facing us in the here and now. If the debates showed us anything, it’s that none of them grasp the monumental task ahead of us…So long as politicians treat Indigenous reconciliation as a grab bag of assorted headlines around which they must craft careful speaking points and clever comebacks, we won’t be able to move forward with substantive reconciliation in a meaningful way. That leaves Indigenous Peoples with few options but to vote for the least-worst party and uncertainty about reconciliation moving forward.”

Now You Know – So Go Vote!

Now that you know how the system works in Canada, a little about each party and have read one critical look, it’s time to get ready to vote! Voting is an essential part of a democratic system. It is so easy to feel discouraged or overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. Take your time, read through the party platforms, and research and reach out to your local candidates. You can even volunteer with your local nominees to go door-knocking and canvassing to encourage others to vote. Use your voice to make the change that you want to see in this country and around the world. 


Register to vote: https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=reg&document=index&lang=e

You can register online or at an Elections Canada office – all you need to bring is an ID with your name, picture, and address. 

Find your riding: https://www.elections.ca/scripts/vis/FindED?L=e&PAGEID=20

“How do the main parties compare on these issues?”, CBC News: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/elections/federal/2019/party-platforms/

“2021 Elections Platform Guide,” Macleans.ca: https://www.macleans.ca/rankings/2021-federal-election-platform-guide/

Danica Torrens

Danica Torrens (she/her) is a fourth-year student at UBC pursuing a BA in Political Science and Middle East Studies. She is Norwegian but was born and raised in Luxembourg. Outside of academics, she has...