OT­TAWA — Let the races be­gin, in all 338 rid­ings from coast to coast to coast.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau vis­ited Rideau Hall Wed­nes­day morn­ing where he launched the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion, with vot­ing day set for Oct. 21.

In­for­mally the cam­paign has been well un­der­way for months, as the party lead­ers have been criss-cross­ing the coun­try to get their mes­sages out and at­tack their op­po­nents. But Wed­nes­day marked the for­mal start of the writ pe­riod as Trudeau vis­its Gover­nor Gen­eral Julie Payette to start the process to dis­solve Par­lia­ment.

The Lib­er­als emerged from the 2015 cam­paign with 184 seats and 39.5 per cent of the pop­u­lar vote, giv­ing them a size­able ma­jor­ity over the Con­ser­va­tives, who fin­ished with 99 seats and 31.9 per cent of the vote. But this will be a much dif­fer­ent elec­tion for the Lib­er­als, as they’ll now be de­fend­ing their own record in govern­ment and search­ing for ways to re­cap­ture the en­ergy that vaulted Trudeau to a ma­jor­ity.

En­ter­ing the 2019 cam­paign, polls have shown the Lib­er­als roughly tied with An­drew Scheer’s Con­ser­va­tives in the low thir­ties. The New Democrats, led by Jag­meet Singh, and the Green Party, led by El­iz­a­beth May, are both sig­nif­i­cantly fur­ther back at closer to 10 per cent.

Both the Con­ser­va­tives and NDP have first-time lead­ers in this cam­paign, with Scheer hav­ing been elected in May 2017 and Singh in Oc­to­ber 2017. But while the Con­ser­va­tives have been polling rel­a­tively strongly, the NDP has strug­gled since Singh took over, post­ing poor fundrais­ing to­tals and lag­ging in the polls.

The Green Party, mean­while, is en­joy­ing stronger-than-usual polling num­bers and look­ing for a break­through, par­tic­u­larly in British Columbia. The party, which has been led by May since 2006, has two seats in Par­lia­ment. The NDP has 39 seats, while the Bloc Québé­cois has ten.

Also look­ing to make a splash is Maxime Bernier’s Peo­ple’s Party of Canada, a pop­ulist break­away party started by Bernier af­ter his bit­ter, ra­zor-thin loss in the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship race. The PPC is lan­guish­ing far be­hind in the polls, but could still nab votes from the Con­ser­va­tives in some rid­ings.

Once the cam­paign be­gins, how­ever, polls could shift dra­mat­i­cally over the next six weeks. In 2015, the Lib­er­als en­tered the cam­paign in third place and then saw a steady rise in the polls that de­liv­ered a de­ci­sive victory – though that cam­paign was also un­usu­ally long at 11 weeks.

The first lead­ers de­bate is sched­uled for Thurs­day night, hosted by Ma­clean’s and Ci­tytv. Trudeau has so far re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in it, mean­ing it may be just Scheer, May and Singh on the stage. Trudeau has also re­jected ap­pear­ing in the pro­posed Munk De­bate on for­eign pol­icy.

Trudeau is in­stead par­tic­i­pat­ing in the de­bates or­ga­nized by the new Lead­ers’ De­bates Com­mis­sion, sched­uled for Oct. 7 (in English) and Oct. 10 (in French). Those de­bates will also fea­ture Scheer, May, Singh and Bloc Québé­cois leader Yves-françois Blanchet; the com­mis­sion has not yet de­cided whether Bernier will be in­vited.

In ad­di­tion, Trudeau has agreed to a third de­bate or­ga­nized by Que­bec broad­caster TVA, sched­uled for Oct. 2. Scheer, Singh and Blanchet are also in­vited to that one – but May is not, de­spite her protests.

Justin Trudeau

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