— Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau frames the 2019 election campaign as an historical aberration during an event in Montreal on Wednesday.
In the years immediately before and after Confederation — when votes were carried out by voice at public meetings — the system was crooked by design. The parties frequently purchased loyalties with cash, or with gifts of food, booze or household staples. And they made certain they were getting what they paid for by keeping lists of the bribes and crossing off names.
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The necessary funds came from party backers and self-interested corporate titans — people like railway baron Sir Hugh Allan, who was at the centre of the Pacific Scandal that led to the fall of Sir John A. Macdonald's government in 1873.
"Elections cannot be carried without money," fumed John H. Cameron, the Conservative MP for Peel, as the House of Commons debated secret ballots in the scandal's aftermath. "Under an open system of voting, you can readily ascertain whether the voter has deceived you. Under vote by ballot, an elector may take your money and vote as he likes without detection."
The abuses continued even after open voting ended. Clergy regularly threatened hellfire from the pulpits, and businesses promised instant unemployment, should parishioners or employees break ranks and vote for the wrong party. Electoral lists were drawn up by government appointees who struck off opposition supporters and retained the names of residents who had moved or died — so that ballot boxes could be stuffed if required.
How bad was it back then? According to Elections Canada, between 1874 and 1896 the courts overturned the results in 134 ridings on the grounds that one party or the other had committed vote fraud.
By virtue of his office as prime minister, he decides when Parliament is recalled and he holds that office until he resigns, and he is under no obligation to resign if he believes that he can secure the confidence of the House, and thats the reason why he is able to stay on, Prof. Lagassé said.
Changes to the laws on elections and political donations improved the situation. But that didn't result in campaigns becoming more genteel or evidence-based.
Matthew Hayday, a professor of Canadian history at the University of Guelph, cites a few prime examples of gutter politics. In the 1917 election, Robert Borden's Unionist government manipulated voting rules, painted anti-conscription Quebecers as traitors and openly accused Liberal Leader Wilfrid Laurier of being in the corner of the German Kaiser.
In the 1993 campaign, Kim Campbell's Conservatives aired their infamous "Think Twice" commercials featuring close-ups of Jean Chrétien's face — ads that many perceived as mocking the Liberal leader's partial facial paralysis.
"To me, those campaigns were far worse than anything we've seen in this election," said Hayday.
Richard Johnston is the Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections and Representation at the University of British Columbia. He said he thinks that this campaign has been "more vituperative" that many recent elections — but negative politics has been the norm in Canada for a long time.
The Liberals — while pursuing a broadly Obama-esque agenda focused on the "middle class" and climate change — can stress that one of either Trudeau or Scheer will be prime minister. But there's also Elizabeth May and Jagmeet Singh. Maybe neither of those leaders are likely to end up prime minister, but you can vote for an NDP or Green candidate and hope to end up with orange or green representation.
He pointed to the June 1945 federal and Ontario provincial elections, which saw Conservative backers portraying the left wing Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) — the forerunner of the NDP — as a party of "foreign" ideas, and published pamphlets featuring anti-Semitic caricatures of David Lewis, the CCF's national secretary.
In fact, upbeat and optimistic campaigns like Jack Layton's 2011 run, or Justin Trudeau's 2015 offer of "sunny ways", are the exceptions in Canadian politics — not the rule.
Paul Martin's Liberals clung to power in 2004 by going ultra-negative against Stephen Harper's Tories. The 2011 Conservative win was sullied by the 'Robocall' scandal — which saw voters directed to the wrong polling places — and by the attempted 'swiftboating' of Jack Layton with a leaked story about an old massage parlour raid.
And it's worth noting that self-fulfilling prophecies seem to be at play this time around. A year ago, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Trudeau both warned that the 2019 election would be dirty and perhaps "the nastiest one yet."
An initial swell of enthusiasm and goodwill and then a struggle to live up to expectations. An argument from the political right that the incumbent has been a disappointing, even destructive, failure. An argument from the political left — from those that might be described as social democrats — that more needs to be done on every issue that matters.
To be sure, this campaign has been filled with pointed personal criticism, and things like Trudeau's blackface scandal and the controversy over Scheer's dual citizenship have often overshadowed the platforms.
And it's fair to say that, as the vote approaches, all the parties seem to be doing their best to stoke public fears about their opponents with talk of "secret" plans about hard drugs or abortion, or through third party attack ads and selectively-edited campaign literature.
"We are living in a more polarized political climate in Canada," said Johnston, "and nobody's hands are clean."
During his last trip to Europe as president in November 2016, Obama told reporters in Berlin that if he was German he would vote for Chancellor Angela Merkel — his quote was later printed on posters for Merkel's political party, the Christian Democratic Union.
It's worth remembering at this point that, just six months ago, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP all signed on to a global "election integrity" pledge through which they vowed to crack down on the use of social media bots and avoid the dissemination of "falsified, fabricated" disinformation.
The Verdict: False. The 2019 campaign has featured plenty of ugliness, but it is hardly ranks among the "nastiest, dirtiest" elections in Canadian history. Still, as the clock ticks down, there might be new depths to be plumbed.
Sources: A History of the Vote in Canada, Elections Canada; The Pacific Scandal, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Back then, when the hustings really got down and dirty, Globe and Mail; Top dirty tricks from past campaigns, iPolitics; The Pollcast: Canada's divisive wartime election, CBC News; Zolf: Larry Zolf, Exile Editions, 1999; Martin wins nasty campaign, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Michael Sona guilty in robocalls trial – but 'did not likely act alone', CBC News; No charges in Layton massage parlour leak, CBC News; Conservative leader predicts a 'nasty' election campaign in 2019, CBC News; 2019 federal election campaign likely to be nastiest ever, Trudeau says, CTV News; Scheer suggests Liberals could decriminalize hard drugs, despite Trudeau's denial, CBC News; Liberals, Conservatives and NDP endorse global pledge against fraudulent campaign tactics, Globe and Mail; The Pledge for Election Integrity, Alliance of Democracies.
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On Tuesday, the Conservative leader offered a preview of what he hopes to accomplish during his first 100 days in office — should he win the Oct. 21 election. And at the head of the list is a vow to broker a new, internal free-trade agreement that would eliminate all interprovincial barriers.
In the third of CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlammes interviews with the major federal party leaders, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer talks about his vision for Canada. Heres what else you need to know to start your day.
1. Debrief at the Desk: Days before the federal election, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tells CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme that he hopes his pledge to save Canadians money and balance the budget will resonate at the ballot box.
2. Federal parties: A Green Party candidate in Edmonton says he is ceasing all campaign operations due to polling that suggests he is unlikely to win and is instead offering his support for the NDP.
"I don't see how Mr. Scheer could be successful," he says. "I'm glad it's coming up as an issue, but I'm not sure that it has any retail political value. I don't think that most Canadians care about interprovincial barriers."
3. Project Convalesce: Police have identified the "kingpin" in a Canada-wide human trafficking and organized crime investigation which led to more than 300 charges and 31 arrests.
4. Canadians in Syria: The sister of a Canadian woman being held in a detention camp in northeastern Syria has written to the Canadian government, pleading for help following Turkeys invasion.
5. Marijuana and real estate: A new report from RE/MAX has found that Canadas booming cannabis industry is leading to a spike in both housing prices and home shortages in some regions.
Halloween decor: Wildlife officials are warning homeowners to be mindful of the dangers some outdoor Halloween decorations can pose for wild animals, especially items such as fake spider-webbing and nets that hang on trees and bushes.