Since most Americans are currently immersed in the seemingly never-ending sideshow of a presidential election (that is still, somehow, another 14 months away from taking place), you may not have noticed that your neighbors to the north recently kicked off our own election season. It will take place one month from now, in between two of the Democratic primary debates. And although the ins and outs of Canadian politics might seem kind of quaint compared to the American-Gladiator-in-suits brand of reality show madness prominent in the U.S., it might be a refreshing little vacation from all that to learn about what’s going on up here. After all, Canada is an enlightened, post-racial socialist paradise, free from the extreme political polarization that has paralyzed most of the western world. Right?
Actually, not so much!
In fact, though Canada may not have its own Trump (he comes later) and the volume might be turned down a few notches, you’ll find that the coming election is still stocked with wacky characters and filled with comparative levels of idiocy, chaos and ineptitude. So meet the main players vying for northern political supremacy and prepare to completely upend your notions of what your hockey-loving neighbors are all about. (This also applies to smug Canadians who haven’t been paying attention.)
Justin Trudeau — Liberal Party Leader and Prime Minister
After Donald Trump’s election, Trudeau got held up by many prominent American media liberals as the idealized example of what political leadership should look like—a compassionate, empathetic (and dashing) statesman who puts time and effort into things like using gender-neutral language and wearing fun socks. The actual reality is that his stint as Prime Minister has been a huge disappointment. After winning a sweeping majority in 2015 by explicitly running to the left, promising to use deficit spending on important social programs, reform the country’s broken first-past-the-post electoral system, mend the government’s relationship with Indigenous communities, and enact meaningful environmental action, he then proceeded to outright walk back or severely dilute almost all of these promises (except for legalizing marijuana which, granted, is pretty cool).
His environmental action, for example, is nothing more than a non-binding promise to meet the inadequate Paris climate targets, wonkish subsidies for electric vehicles, and the purchase of the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline, which is actually more of a bailout for a gigantic oil conglomerate that was trapped in an expensive legal and political quagmire. He’s also at the center of a major ethics scandal. So, while he’s still the odds-on favorite to form the next government, he’s very vulnerable, and ironically, if this election goes south for the Liberals and Canada ends up with a Conservative government that captures 30% of the popular vote, he’ll have his lack of action on electoral reform to blame. The socks are great, though, aren’t they?
(Editor’s Note: Speaking of clothes, you may have heard that he has since been implicated in a different scandal, this time related to his powerful affinity for costumes.)
Andrew Scheer — Conservative Party Leader
Scheer may be a talentless, unlikable charisma vacuum who is not able to spout basic platitudes in someone’s living room without reading teleprompter cues that tell him how to sound like a normal human being, but that doesn’t mean anyone should overlook his ties to extremism (Hamish Marshall, former board member of far-right conspiracy website Rebel Media. is his campaign manager) or regressive views on social issues. This certainly isn’t just an issue with him personally; it’s enough of a widespread problem within the party that Scheer had to hold a hilarious emergency midnight press conference on a plane to offer blanket forgiveness to any candidates who had hateful social media posts dug up, as long as they apologized.
The Conservatives will be facing an uphill battle to unseat Trudeau—Canadians have gotten a glimpse over the last year of what the Conservative Party has to offer in Toronto and Alberta and lo and behold, it’s mostly cutting environmental regulations during a climate crisis and funding corporate tax cuts by slashing social services that people depend on. But a Conservative victory would make a lot of sense as part of the general trend of everything constantly getting worse, everywhere, so they definitely should not be counted out.
Elizabeth May — Green Party Leader
The Green Party, led by May (now a cagey veteran of the Canadian political process) very well may be in for the best election in party history, which has naturally invited more scrutiny as to what their actual plans and policies are. As expected, they have released a very robust and uncompromising climate plan, but while environmental issues are quickly becoming a major factor—or perhaps the major factor—for many Canadian voting constituencies, their non-environmental platform has raised a few critical eyebrows. For example, their proposal for a UBI program sounds suspiciously like a neoliberal trojan horse designed to dismantle the existing welfare state, and as such is more in line with the gimmicky Silicon Valley version being touted by tech entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg or upstart Presidential candidate Andrew Yang than an actual left-wing policy proposal.
May also made comments earlier this summer about a potential willingness to prop up a minority government if the Greens happen to hold the balance of power after the election, which led many activists to begin wondering if we were on the verge of some kind of unholy Green-Conservative Alliance that could theoretically form the early stages of a kind of eco-fascism (which, as we get closer to the IPCC climate deadline, could very possibly become a political reality here and elsewhere). Though May has since more or less walked back these comments and suggested that we’d likely be headed back to the polls if such a situation were to occur, many Canadian progressives are left wondering whether she and the Greens can be fully trusted.
Maxime Bernier — People’s Party of Canada Leader
The very existence of the People’s Party of Canada should put to rest any notion that Canada is in any way above the toxic racism and paranoid white identity politics of our southern neighbors. Led by Bernier, who came dangerously close to winning the Conservative Party leadership election a few years ago, the PPC has dispensed with all notions of civility, decorum, or reality itself, enthusiastically diving headfirst into the unhinged world of far-right conspiracy theories. Although the PPC platform is basically indistinguishable from the delusional rantings of a broken-brained baby boomer who bases his political analysis on secret drops from a deep cover operative on a message board designed for Nazis, pedophiles and anime enthusiasts, Bernier has still worked tirelessly to lay to rest any doubt that these folks are his primary constituency.
Just a few months ago, he proudly retweeted a popular Qanon Youtuber who suggested that the multiple incidents of far-right mass shootings we’ve seen devastate communities from Quebec to El Paso to Christchurch were actually perpetrated by leftists. On the Atlantic coast, another Qanon Youtuber—who refers to himself as “Canada’s Red Pill” and whose design aesthetic seems cribbed from Cesar Sayoc’s van—is actually running as a PPC candidate. (By the way, if you’re wondering what Canadian Qanon is, it’s essentially a pro-oil pipeline/anti immigrant movement with some conspiracy nonsense mixed in.) In any case, there’s there’s a good chance this party will actually win some seats in the coming election! So, that’s not great.
Jagmeet Singh — New Democratic Party Leader
If there is an x-factor in the 2019 Canadian election, it is most definitely Singh, the first-ever person of color to ever lead a major political party in Canada (which, again, should tell you something about the actual, non-saccharine marketing campaign reality of race and racism to the north). After winning the NDP leadership relatively easily two years ago, Singh and the NDP have consistently failed to present themselves as a viable alternative to the never-ending Liberal/Conservative hegemony, and, as a result, the NDP—financially unstable and still struggling to completely fill its slate of candidates—is heading into this election facing a significant polling deficit and the very real possibility of being all but wiped out in just a few weeks.
However, since the election was called, Singh has started to dabble in some fairly compelling, unapologetic economic populism, the NDP has put out a platform that does go a long way towards embracing the bold progressive agenda that activists have been urging them to get behind for years. The charismatic, likeable Singh’s performance in the first leadership debate resulted in an ever-so-slight polling bump. Whether this is all too little, too late for Singh and the NDP, or whether the party brass is even committed in any way to carrying out the agenda laid out in their platform, remains to be seen. Considering the overall global political trends of the last several years, it’s probably not the best idea for the progressive activists in Canada who still believe in the NDP to get their hopes up, but that won’t stop them from getting their hopes up anyway.
So, if you ever get too down about the profoundly absurd and incredibly depressing state of American politics, and find yourself beginning to believe in the idea that Canada is above it all in more ways than simple geography, please disabuse yourself of this notion. For while the Canadian election may lag behind the US in terms of sheer spectacle, all the same toxic elements are still present, just ever-so-slightly beneath the surface, and we’re still rapidly careening toward the same political cliff. Though we may not be ready to leap quite yet, barring some kind of miracle, we’ll be meeting you at the bottom in no time.