While Syria is expected to dominate the next presidential debate in the U.S., another major conflict zone -- Ukraine -- may be a deciding factor in Canada's upcoming election, AFP reported Wednesday. Incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in a close race over 338 seats in Canada’s parliament heading into the Oct. 19 election.

The election has pitted Harper’s Conservative Party against the Liberals and New Democrats with Ukrainian-Canadians potentially holding enough of a voting share to push the race in one direction or the other. There are approximately 1.3 million Ukrainian-Canadians in Canada, and at almost 4 percent of the population, they could sway the vote.

"The Tories established that the Ukrainian vote could tilt the results in a dozen tight electoral races in Canada," said Dominique Arel, the chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa, referencing the Conservative Party.

Politicians in Canada have targeted the Ukrainian-Canadian population in the past with that group comprising over 10 percent of the population in a few districts. With the conflict in Ukraine ongoing, experts said international affairs could factor into this election more than in the past.

Harper has courted the Ukrainian-Canadian vote and taken a hard-line stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

 


 

“Canada has provided significant assistance to Ukraine as well as imposed tough sanctions against the Putin regime for its illegal occupation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine,” Harper said, speaking at a Ukrainian festival over the summer. “Moreover, Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine in the face of the ongoing violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Across the border to the south, American presidential candidates have also mentioned the situation in Ukraine, but the issue was expected to get less play in the 2016 election. Republican candidate Donald Trump has criticized U.S. President Barack Obama’s actions in the matter and also said he would have better relations with Putin than Obama does.

"Our president is not strong, and he is not doing what he should be doing for the Ukraine," Trump said.

The war in eastern Ukraine, which has pitted government forces against Russian-backed separatists, has taken the lives of over 8,000 people and displaced 1.4 million since it began, in April 2014.