Less than two weeks to go before a federal election, Timberlea mother Jenna Simser counts herself among thousands of undecided voters in Nova Scotia.
She’s been listening keenly to political debates and monitoring campaign platforms for promises that will alleviate her family’s financial burden, but says so far, none resonate with her.
She struggles to articulate their dilemma: between careers in banking and the military, Simser and her husband Jeff earn a comfortable income.
But in recent years, that’s tipped them “over the hump,” she explains, disqualifying them from daycare subsidies and reducing the amount they receive monthly from the Canada Child Benefit.
Now, the cost of daycare for their nine-month-old infant Alice is nearing the cost of their mortgage – a fee they’re already paying to reserve her spot, even though Simser is still on maternity leave.
“It’s a good problem to have,” she says of their income. “It’s just, you’re being stretched thinner and thinner and thinner, and no one is really offering us a good solution.”
According to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News, 68 per cent of Canadians feel like they can’t get ahead and 82 per cent say they feel life is becoming less affordable. That same poll shows Canadians are split down the middle, 50-50, on whether they are better off now than in 2015.
Affordability and cost of living was identified as an important election issue by three out of 10 undecided voters in a Sept. 28 Ipsos poll, in line with 27 per cent among all voters.
Howard Ramos, a political commentator and sociology professor at Dalhousie University, says with promises addressing cell phone, housing, child care and energy costs, the federal parties’ political platforms broadly reflect the economic concerns expressed by Canadians. But that doesn’t mean their message is resonating with voters, he adds.
“What’s been very fascinating about this campaign is, the polls haven’t really budged much since the writ was dropped and it seems to indicate the messages aren’t getting through to everyday Canadians,” Ramos explains.
“None of this stuff has seemed to stick, people seem to be in the doldrums of this election so it really shows there’s an effort that needs to be made to try and get the electorate interested, otherwise we may see very low turnout.”
When it comes to the issues Simser cares most about, including tax cuts and childcare costs, each party is proposing something a little different.
The federal Liberals for example, are proposing to raise the basic personal amount to $15,000 by 2023 for those who earn less than $147,000 per year while the Conservatives want to cut taxes by 1.25 per cent for those with a salary under $47,630 annually. The Greens and NDP both suggest a slew of tax increases for the wealthy, including different methods for taxing web giants and e-commerce companies, like Netflix Facebook.
On childcare, Justin Trudeau would increase the Canada Child benefit by 15 per cent and Andrew Scheer’s Tories would make employment income benefits tax-free for new parents. Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats would pour $1 billion into affordable childcare and Elizabeth May’s Greens aim for a universal childcare program.
It’s a lot of information to take in, and Simser says she’s not sure where her so-called “middle class” family fits in.
“I’m attracted to different aspects of what each party is offering but there’s no one conclusive party that is offering me exactly what I want,” she tells Global News from her Timberlea home.
“We’re all citizens of Canada, we’re no less because we make a certain income or meet a basic definition solely on money. Everyone has their own challenges, different expenses and life experiences.”
‘Middle class’ is a term tossed around by politicians ad nauseum, but Ramos says that in Canada, it’s become increasingly hard to define. The country’s median income, he explains, is around $47,000 per year, but that’s not a salary many Canadians would consider to be ‘middle class.’
“If you look at income trends over the last couple of decades, for most of us it hasn’t been keeping up with the pace of inflation,” he says. “So we have a shrinking middle class and the term isn’t as meaningful as it once was.”
The party leaders have one more chance to woo voters like Simser in a French-language debate this evening in Gatineau, Que.