Election Preview: Canada 2011

Canada votes in a snap parliamentary election on May 2. I suppose the main question on everybody’s mind right now is what the hell’s going on and why the hell is it happening?

For those who don’t know what I’m referring to, the NDP has pulled in second place ahead of the Liberals in all recent serious polls and are inching ever so close to Harper’s Tories – a gap either as big as 6-7 or as small as 3 points. In Quebec, the NDP is pegged far ahead of the Bloc Québécois by all recent serious polls and most recent polling numbers in Quebec show the NDP averaging as high as 40% in la belle province. Here’s the average for the recent polls from the top pollsters released today or yesterday (today’s EKOS, today’s Nanos 3-day rolling sample, yesterday’s Harris-Decima and Wednesday’s online Angus-Reid)

Conservatives 35.2%
NDP 30.2%
Liberals 21.5%
Bloc 6%
Greens 5.7%

In Quebec, the NDP is between 38% and 42%. The Bloc trails with something between 22% and 29%. Liberals and Tories trail far behind in the mid to low teens, the Greens barely registering. In battleground Ontario, the Liberals seem to be holding on to second with something in the range of 26%-34% with the Tories between 33% and 39% and the NDP between 25% and 29%.

Quebec’s sample has a margin of error of roughly 4% (6% or so in Nanos and HD’s case) while Ontario has a margin of error of 3% (5.5% or so in Nanos and HD’s case). BC’s margin of error is higher, between 5% and 8% and we need to begin mining for salt here, but the Tories are both confirmed as being down either somewhat or significant from their 44% 2008 result to something in between 36 and 44% but down to 36% according to EKOS which has a small 5% MOE in BC. In the province, the NDP is between 30 and 35% with the Liberals below their disastrous 19% showing in 2008 in the 15-18% range. Alberta and the Prairies have higher MOEs, and Tories leading while the useless Atlantic samples with the largest MOEs swing wildly. I intend to post polling averages for the final two days in the comments section of this post, or you can find them on the ThreeHundredEight website.

Here comes the questions. These are my questions, not questions from specific readers. As a note, I don’t do official predictions.

Why on earth did this happen?

The NDP surge started in Quebec and was shortly thereafter “picked up” in the West and finally Ontario. The NDP and Liberals became tied on April 20 and by the 23 or 24, the NDP established itself as the second party in polls.

The NDP surge in Quebec can be partly attributed to a strong performance by Jack Layton in the French debates and a terrible Bloc campaign. Duceppe started off his campaign riding high in polls and most assumed he’d ride unencumbered through April. But the crucial thing was that the Bloc lacked a message. Its message was a terrible “vote for us because, uh, we’re the Bloc and, uh, we defend your interests”. In the Bloc’s good years – 1993, 2004, 2006 and arguably 2008 it had a message which resonated. 1993 was Meech and sovereignty. 2004 and 2006 was Adscam (commandites in French) and 2008 was against Harper’s ill-advised move to cut cultural funding. When the Bloc has a clear message which resonates – as it did in 1993, 2004, 2006 and the second half of 2008 it wins big. When the Bloc lacks a clear message, as it did in 1997 and 2000, it fails. The Bloc also stupidly interpreted the big lead for the PQ in provincial voting intentions and the euphoria at the recent PQ convention as a blank cheque to talk sovereignty. The PQ’s lead in polls isn’t the same kind of lead as it had been in 1993 or 1994. This lead isn’t widespread euphoria for sovereignty (which is, arguably, dead for the moment) but is rather the usual vote for an uninspiring opposition because the government (Charest) is as popular as the plague. The Bloc started talking about sovereignty, and attempted to say that you should vote Bloc because it would make sovereignty possible again. When parties do this in Quebec, it usually explodes in their face. The people dug themselves out of the hole they had been shoved into by the Bloc and looked around. Harper has made it clear that his majority-strategy of 2011 doesn’t pass through Quebec much (unlike in 2007-2008) and Harper is widely unpopular in Quebec where his approval ratings are probably the worst. Ignatieff isn’t seen as credible, and the Liberals have clearly been dealt a fatal blow by Adscam in the province. Layton has all the advantages. He’s genuinely likable, speaks good French, has left-wing policies in line with a left-wing province and has managed to become both the federalist option and the soft nationalist-I don’t care about sovereignty anymore option. He has made a case of targeting Quebec since the Outremont by-election in 2007 and has doubled up his efforts in this election.

In the rest of Canada, a whole slew of factors has been going on. The Tory attack ads on Michael Ignatieff’s character and biography have become a staple on television since 2008 and the Tories have clearly succeeded in socializing the average voter to the image of Ignatieff as an opportunist, elitist, arrogant hypocrite “who didn’t come back for you”. The Liberals decided to keep all their ads fund for the campaign and thus allowed this image to take root. I don’t know who runs the Liberal campaigns since 2008 or so, but clearly a toddler could run a better campaign than that failtrain. But at any rate, Harper himself isn’t very popular: he has underwater approval ratings with roughly 50% disapproving and 40% or so approving. Fortunately for him, he has a committed rock-solid base which guarantees him a high floor which is certainly no lower than 33-35%. But the ceiling is low, in the 40-42% range (which is majority territory, fortunately for him).

To Ignatieff’s credit, he himself hasn’t turned out to be a bad campaigner and his personal style on the stump isn’t bad. By all measures, the Liberals had a good kick-off and prior to the debates managed to instill, somewhat, a rhetoric that they were the alternative to Harper and did steal a few NDP votes, largely in Ontario. But Ignatieff did poorly in the debates. In English (which I didn’t watch), he apparently appeared arrogant and unable to talk about his platform. He might have focused too much on the “contempt of Parliament” and attacks on Harper for his own good. In French, he did well, but he came off as a Trudeau-like centralist Liberal which is clearly poison to many Quebeckers. Layton did well in both debates and got himself out there as a good alternative. People like him, and is the only leader who has non-negative favourable ratings. Harper comes across as a stale robot, Ignatieff comes across as an arrogant professor who doesn’t care about you. As aforementioned, Harper’s appeal outside the Tory base is weak. Ignatieff appeals to nobody. Finally, the NDP surge in Quebec made him look even more credible an alternative to English Canada. He has managed to catch the fledgling voter who doesn’t like Harper but dislikes Ignatieff just as much (or more). Personality seems to be key in the NDP surge, and not policies (the Liberal and NDP policy is very similar).

Is Harper’s majority gone?

My gut feeling is that the elusive majority is getting further and further away from the Tories. A vast majority of predictions either indicate that Harper will have a strengthened minority or, more recently, a reduced minority but a majority is not seriously predicted. While a Tory majority now seems increasingly unlikely, there are a few things which make it still within the realm of possibilities. As far as I have polling data (2004), the governing party underpolled from the final poll to its election day numbers. In 2008, the Tories were pegged by most pollsters 35-36% and took 38%. The Liberals underpolled, as the governing party, in 2004 and 2006. The Tories could very well still win 38-39% of the vote even if the average for them seems to be in the 35-36% range. Secondly, the Tories will find the seats they need for a majority (around 11 seats, 10 if you count the independent Arthur as a Tory) in Ontario.

Polling places the Tories at their 2008 level (38%) in the key battleground province of Ontario, with the Liberals down either slightly or by as big as 6% from their 33.8% result in the province and the NDP up 7-8%. The NDP surge has touched Ontario, undeniably, but later than all other provinces and perhaps with weaker intensity. In some key Liberal-Tory marginals in Brampton, Mississauga and the GTA region, where the NDP is rarely in a winning position, a split in the non-Tory vote could allow for some Tory pickups in those key 905 seats. Add to that some potential gains in the Maritimes and you could get your Tory majority even if the Tories don’t enter 40%-majority territory. But beware that the Tories can lose seats in Quebec – where they’re down 6-8% from 2008 – and in the Prairies/BC, where most fights are Tory-NDP. The bottom line for the elusive majority: likely? Less and less so. Possible? Definitely.

Will Laytonmania go the way of Cleggmania?

This is a definite possibility. The reasons for it are plenty, but you can think of equally as many reasons that it won’t. Voters might be toying around with the idea of voting NDP, but it is certainly possible that on polling day they’ll go back to the old instincts of voting for the established parties (Tories, Grits and Bloc) be it for traditional reasons or for strategic reasons. The NDP overpolled a bit in 2008, were in the low end of their margin of error in 2006. Some voters might be scared away from voting NDP because they dislike the prospect of Layton as a potential Prime Minister, but given his high ratings and the fact that he isn’t that scary (he might be to those who’d never vote NDP to begin with) makes it more unlikely. In provinces such as Ontario and BC which have bad experiences with NDP provincial governments, some voters might be scared away because of that. The not so popular NDP government in Nova Scotia might prove a stumbling block for the NDP in that province with the best NDP pickup opportunities outside Quebec. The NDP may also be hurt more than you think by the lack of strong ground organization – their ground organization in Quebec is apparently quite poor and they have lots of paper candidates (including a former Communist Party candidate, amusingly).

But there are certain things which make the NDP surge hard to block. If the Liberals continue to drive off cliffs, the NDP could become the only serious alternative and they might benefit from strategic voting from some Liberals and bloquistes. It might be the Liberals, taking the spot of third party the NDP was in the past, who underperform the polls after all. In Quebec in particular, parties aren’t necessarily hurt by lack of good ground organization. The ADQ had no serious grassroots in 2007 and elected a bunch of paper candidates (who turned out to be dunces). The PCs elected a bunch of paper candidates as well in the 1984 blue wave. The NDP surge, unlike Cleggmania, also comes late and built up progressively and not overnight as the alleged LibDem surge did (it is questionable whether the LibDem surge really happened or was only crappy polling). A ‘Red Scare’ type campaign is possible, but it would be late and desperate and the NDP isn’t a scary socialist party as, say, the CCF in the 1940s. Its only effect might be to shore up Tory support from right-wingers who never considered voting NDP.

The last ‘NDP surges’ federally, which, as far as I remember were in 1988 and 1943, also came way out from election day. In 1943, it was two years out from the 1945 federal election and gave plenty of time to coopt their platform (as Mackenzie King and George Drew did) or call them communists. In the 1980s and 1988, the NDP started the campaign off polling strongly (and Liberals weakly) but the Liberals found their way back (through the debate) and NDP support finally fell off in the final weeks. The debates are now over, the election is imminent and a major surge-blocker would be desperate and unlikely (the royal wedding also steals media coverage on Friday).

Will the NDP become the Official Opposition?

I think the chances of this are, if the NDP surge is sustained, well over 90%. A Liberal comeback appears very unlikely at this point, and a Bloc comeback is equally unlikely (but Quebec is prone to weird and huge swings, so who knows). The key to the NDP forming the official opposition is probably the amount of gains in Quebec. It’s hard to say whether NDP gains in Quebec will come in droves or in trickles. Quebec works in weird ways, and I shy away from predicting what might happen especially in uncharted waters like this. But at any rate, it seems likely that Jack Layton will lead the opposition after May 2.

Where will Quebec NDP gains come from?

We’re working in uncharted waters, and your guess are probably as good as mine (and the ‘pundits’). Swing-o-metres never work in Quebec, and with the support patterns changing so much since 2008 it’s very hard to predict. Gains are certain, their location and overall totals are unknown. Riding polls are done a lot in Quebec, and that’s good, but sadly they’re quite worthless and ought to be taken with loads of salt. They indicate what’s going on, but sometimes they’re way off the mark.

The general feeling is that the NDP’s gains will be concentrated in urban areas such as Montreal, Quebec and their suburbs but also smaller towns such as Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Drummondville, Trois Rivières and so forth. Rural Quebec seems more impenetrable, but if a wave really happens on May 2 everything is possible. The most optimistic projections have the NDP going up to over 40 seats in Quebec, and the Bloc could very well be reduced to less than 20 MPs and become, largely, a rump caucus from rural Quebec like Social Credit was in the 70s. A result under 40 seats is almost a quasi-certainty, and a result below 30 seats might be the most likely.

The most likely gain is Gatineau – the NDP came within 3 of the Bloc in 2008 and it seems certain that the NDP will win easily this time. The NDP gain in Gatineau will probably facilitate a gain in next-door Hull-Aylmer from longtime Liberal MP Marcel Proulx and also in Pontiac where Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon is in a close contest and could face a “spillover effect” from Gatineau.

Other gains will likely come from the 514 (Montreal) area, with the top two targets being Jeanne-Le Ber (southwest Montreal and Verdun), Westmount-Ville-Marie. Jeanne-Le Ber, which includes working-class and low-income areas of southwestern Montreal and Verdun is demographically favourable to the Dippers. Westmount-Ville-Marie hinges on the NDP being strong in the part of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a trendy neighborhood, included in the riding as well as the multicultural trendy areas in downtown Montreal. The very wealthy Westmount Anglo enclave seems unlikely, unless the NDP can also overtake the Liberals as the party of Anglos. The NDP also has its eyes set on a whole slew of other things in the 514/450 area. On the island, other top targets include Ahuntsic (where the Liberals also stand a real chance), Hochelaga, Laurier-Sainte-Marie (Duceppe’s riding), Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, Papineau (from Justin Trudeau) and perhaps even West Island Liberal strongholds such as Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine or Lac-Saint-Louis.

On the South Shore, the top target is Saint-Lambert (where a pickup seems dependent on both Bloc bleeding and Liberal bleeding) but the Liberal seat of Brossard-La Prairie is high on the list, which at the pace things seem to be going should be extended to include Châteauguay-Saint-Constant, Verchères-Les Patriotes and Longueuil-Pierre-Boucher. The Laval ridings, which are currently split 3-1 Bloc/Liberal are all NDP targets but how winnable they are is totally unknown.

Outside the Montreal area, the top 3 targets are Drummond, Brome-Missisquoi and Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou. Brome-Missisquoi is a Bloc-Liberal marginal which a recent riding poll showed as winnable by both NDP and the Liberals. The NDP hopes to gain Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou because of its star candidate, Cree leader Romeo Saganash. Drummond, centered around Drummondville, is demographically favourable to the NDP. A recent poll in Trois Rivières has shown the NDP far ahead of the Bloc incumbent in the working-class city whose demographics make it naturally NDP.

But the surge places the Tories on the defensive as well. A poll has shown Tory cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn’s Jonquière-Alma riding is vulnerable to the NDP – but 2007 by-election winner and incumbent Tory Denis Lebel has really built up a stronghold in next-door Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean. Outside Saguenay, the Conservatives are facing tough races in all three of their seats in Quebec City, with Beauport-Limoilou being most likely to go but also affecting high-profile Quebec Conservative Josée Verner in Louis-Saint-Laurent, traditionally presumed to be the Conservative bastion in the city. Independent wet Tory André Arthur has no Tory opponent (for obvious reasons: he’s a Tory in all but name) but his Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier riding is vulnerable to the NDP (and not the Bloc, as it would have been pre-surge). While I wouldn’t bet on it, a NDP sweep of all Quebec City is possible. The South Shore Tory block of MPs in the Chaudières-Appalaches is hard to predict: riding polls in two of the five ridings in the region have the Tories slightly ahead of the NDP. Only Beauce’s Maxime Bernier is safe. Your guess is as good as mine in Quebec, overall.

What about NDP gains outside Quebec?

In Ontario, the NDP might have maxed-out in 2008 with strong gains throughout northern Ontario which makes major gains in 2011 unlikely. The closest targets are seats like Kenora, but an NDP surge in the province would make Liberal seats with distant NDP challengers in Toronto quite vulnerable. These include, of course, Parkdale-High Park, but also previously safe Liberal Beaches-East York and Davenport. Outside of those seats, the NDP could edge out the Liberals for second in plenty of old blue-collar areas in southwest Ontario (Brant, Cambridge, Essex and so forth) and shore up marginals such as Welland and Sudbury, but significant gains appear unlikely.

In the Maritimes, the NDP’s surge adds Liberal Nova Scotia riding such as Sydney-Victoria, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Halifax West to the list which invariably includes the old Tory-NDP marginal of South Shore-St. Margaret’s. In Newfoundland, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl is the only NDP target. Neither New Brunswick (which has one NDP MP, Yvon Godin) and PEI (the NDP’s weakest province) have any winnable targets for the Dippers.

In the Prairies, the Liberal by-election win in Winnipeg North is more likely than not gone by now (though interestingly the Liberals won present-day Winnipeg North in 1988, the previous NDP record high). The NDP has serious hopes in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar which appears more winnable that anytime before with Palliser and maybe Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River as longshots in the land of cradle of the NDP. In Alberta, Edmonton-Strathcona will more likely than not return the NDP’s Linda Duncan to the shagrin of the Tories who might also have a race in their hands in Edmonton East.

In British Columbia, the NDP has three targets. Two of them: Surrey North and Vancouver Island North are Tory seats. The final one, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca is held by retiring Liberal MP Keith Martin who had a strong personal vote which means that the contest is actually Tory-NDP. The Liberals polled awfully in BC in 2008, a mere 19%, and the Tories polled a strong 44% which means that the Liberals, if they improve only minimally, can still hope for pickups (in North Vancouver or West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country) and allow Ujjal Dosanjh to breathe a bit in Vancouver South where the Tories shocked us by coming so close to taking him out.

Will ‘ABC’ go away in Newfoundland and allow for Tory gains?

The Conservatives, you’ll remember, had been destroyed by the ‘anything but Conservative’ campaign on the island led by popular PC Premier Danny Williams. But since then he’s retired and the NL PCs have started mending bridges with Harper. Harper has been targeting Newfoundland somewhat, and has good candidates in the two seats where the Tories stand a chance: Avalon and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. Former MP Fabian Manning, now a Senator, is running again in Avalon where the Tories lost by 10 points to Liberal Scott Andrews. In St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, the Tories have Loyola Sullivan, a popular provincial politician. But polls in both of those ridings have shown the Tories trailing either narrowly (by 4 or so in Avalon) or badly (placing third in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl). Perhaps Newfoundlanders won’t come back to Harper’s fold after all.

What about the Greens?

This campaign hasn’t been kind to the Greens. Their exclusion from the debates certainly didn’t help, and neither did the fact that the environment didn’t feature prominently in the campaign. Pollsters such as Nanos do not prompt the Greens when polling, which reduces their numbers but those might be closer to reality given that the Greens overpoll. The Green campaign has been entirely a “Elect Elizabeth May” campaign, focused on the leader’s campaign against Tory cabinet minister Gary Lunn in Saanich-Gulf Islands (BC) at the price of running paper candidates everywhere else. That will likely mean that the Green vote will suffer outside Saanich-Gulf Islands. But in Saanich-Gulf Islands, May has emerged as the uncontested ‘progressive’ candidate and an internal poll has her 7 points ahead of Lunn. Which means that while the Greens will suffer overall, they could finally elect their first MP.

Greens in FPTP countries often need to decide whether they take out the bazookas in one key riding they’re putting their leader and all their resources on or if they run decent candidates everywhere with decent campaigns to maximize their national vote. Just ask Caroline Lucas.

Will high(er) turnout have an effect?

Probably, but I don’t know in which way. Advance polling turnout was up 35% from 2008. The Tories have the most motivated, most solid base. They voted heavily in 2008, and will do so again in 2011. I didn’t crunch 2008 turnout numbers, but my gut feeling is that higher turnout could, I repeat could be favourable to the opposition forces – NDP mostly nowadays. But I don’t think higher turnout means that the Tories will do worse than expected or alter results that drastically because polling is, as far as I know, rather competent in taking into consideration such things.

Will this lead to realignment along real left-right lines?

The old dream of the CCF/NDP is realigning the Canadian political system along traditional left (NDP)-right (Conservatives) lines at the expense of the Liberals. But the Liberals emerged as the ‘natural party of government’ in Canada taking up, in the past, Quebec, Catholics, Francophones, new Canadians and urban voters. But with the NDP as the official opposition, could this be the end of the road for Canada’s oldest party?

It could well be. Parties of government usually cannot adapt to long-term stints in opposition, and the Liberals certainly have not been able to deal with the fact that they’ve been out of power since 2006. If it cannot claim the mantle of sole governing alternative to the right, it will be left in dire straits. It would make the oft talked about NDP/Liberal merger far more likely, or it would consolidate the NDP as the governing alternative to the Conservatives.

But as I said earlier a lot of this surge is because Layton is more likable than Ignatieff. Layton certainly won’t be there forever – he recently fought off a minor cancer himself – and once he retires it remains to be seen if the NDP can come up with a leader of his caliber. His Quebec lieutenant Thomas Mulcair is probably the obvious successor, but could he connect with voters as well as Layton?

If in opposition – or even government – the NDP must then prove itself. It certainly has talented individuals, but could a whole slew of new faces be as competent? Canadian history has plenty of parties which surged into opposition and collapsed into obscurity for various reasons – the ADQ being the latest example. Furthermore, with the NDP, traditionally irrelevant in Quebec, facing a very large Quebec caucus, it opens up a can of worms. Certain NDP candidates in Quebec are very soft nationalist – one advocates the province’s right to opt out from every federal program with financial compensation. How would the old guard of the NDP respond to this? Plus, a whole bunch of new NDP MPs vying for some sort of position of power within caucus could mean some backroom infighting between older MPs and new MPs.

The death of the Liberals?

Realignment along a strict two-party system seems very unlikely. Ignoring the Bloc for a second, Canada just hasn’t had a real two-party system since 1921. As mentioned above, plenty of parties have surged into second place and proceeded to collapse into obscurity quickly thereafter. While the Liberals have never finished third federally, the Tories have but they still never died. The PCs didn’t die after the 1993 rout of epic proportions. The Liberals have finished third in Ontario provincially before but never died. When Bob Rae lost in 1995, he did so to the third party in the legislature – Mike Harris’ Tories, not the second party. I could go on with comparisons, but I think they’re not very relevant. Especially links to provincial politics in the past.

If the Liberals – the party of government, the unifying party, the top broker – finishes third, they will be facing tougher days than the Tories faced in 1921 and 1993. Nothing in the Liberal Party’s history has prepared them to finish third and risk being overtaken on the centre/centre-left by the NDP. Unlike a party with strong ideological traditions such as the NDP or even the Tories, the Liberals finishing third isn’t something that they can dig themselves out of easily. Especially if the Liberals post-May 2 are basically a rump of MPs from Toronto and Vancouver.

The Liberals won’t die in 2011 or 2012, I think nobody is saying that unless they’re hacks. But they will be facing tough times and will need to hunt for a leader which can reinvent the party, shoot it up with steroids and take on a winning strategy to appeal to progressives who abandoned them to the NDP and to old Blue Grits who abandoned them to the Tories. Is it easy? Obviously not. Is it possible? Everything is possible, but this isn’t the most possible of things.

The end of the road for the Bloc?

The Bloc’s troubles reflect the troubles of the sovereignty option in Quebec. It just isn’t on the table for the average voter in Quebec any longer, and those people are more and more likely to turn away from any party which seeks to make it an option. The PQ might/will form the next government provincially, but that’s only because Jean Charest has the approval ratings of the rat in your kitchen.

A rout for the Bloc means Gilles Duceppe can finally retire, probably in favour of Pierre Paquette, his competent lieutenant, but calls into questions the party’s raison-d’etre not by the Anglophone population who questions the party’s  raison-d’etre since 1993 but by Quebec itself. I’ve talked above about how crucial a ‘message’ is for the Bloc if it wants to win an election. The message ‘interests of Quebec’ doesn’t seem to work these days, but it isn’t necessarily a message which will never work. Say Layton retires – can his successor appeal to Quebec as much? Layton’s the main cause for the NDP surge at any rate, but can another NDP leader be as good in Quebec?

I’m not writing off the Bloc personally, because I believe it can still find a winning message (sovereignty isn’t one and won’t be one for quite some time unless things change drastically) and it can work its way back up if the NDP – with a new leader (Layton won’t last forever) – can’t appeal as much (or if they screw things up, a la ADQ) and the Liberals/Tories continue to have weak support in the 15-25% range. But one day, I don’t know when – I might not live to see it, something will happen in Quebec which leads either to a rejuvenation of sovereignty or the death of sovereignty altogether and with it the Bloc and PQ. In the short term, as with the Liberals, the route ahead for le Bloc isn’t very nice and it has lots of looming potholes in it.

OK, the Tories get another minority. What’s next?

Harper will probably get the most seats – something between 130 and 150 seats seems a good estimate. He would be asked to form government and go to the House quickly to table his budget which was presented the week the writs were dropped. It had no concessions to the NDP or Liberals, who opposed it. Harper could very well table the same budget with no concessions, it’s in character to do such things. Or he could table a budget with some concessions and goodies for either Dippers or Grits. If the budget has no concessions, the opposition parties will be pressed to deny his government supply (which entails loss of confidence). Ignatieff already talked of such a situation, and Layton probably has it on his mind as well. The opposition could advise the Governor-General that they can form an alternative government without having another election. As in 1926, the GG would call on Layton (or Ignatieff, if the Liberals salvage second place) to form government. Considering that Layton would already have discussed this possibility with other parties, he would certainly accept. It could either be a formal coalition – which Canada has never had (Borden’s war government included Liberals who crossed the floor to support him) – or a deal where the Liberals (and a weak Bloc) prop up a NDP minority. Ignatieff will probably be packing his bags if this occurs, which means the Liberals would be choosing a new leader (such as Bob Rae) to lead them either a junior governing party or a ‘supporter from outside’.

Harper could prorogue again and hide from a Parliament which denies him supply. But unlike in 2008, when he prorogued after having passed a Throne Speech (and thus confidence), he wouldn’t have passed the test of confidence if he prorogues before the budget is even voted on. If the Liberals and NDP have over 155 seats to themselves, he couldn’t use the ‘evil separatist’ case. Even if they don’t and depend on a weak Bloc, it would be a Bloc with a much reduced caucus and as a distant fourth (not a strong third) party, and thus not as scary.

The Liberals would be in tough waters. If they prop up Harper, it would go against all they said about Harper being a grubby authoritarian in contempt of Parliament and make them look bad to their centre-left voters. If they prop up Layton, they risk losing the few remaining ‘Blue Liberals’ to the Tories. In a formal coalition, they would be the junior partner and entering totally uncharted waters. Junior coalition partners don’t have a great record across the world. But could the Liberals reemerge, with a new (and better) leader, out of a NDP-led government which would inevitably face issues related to new MPs, inexperience in governance and so forth?

The Conservative Party is an exercise in democratic centralism, but Harper will inevitably be facing some questions if he leads the party into a fourth election with no majority mandate out of any of them. Harper seems to have very strict control over his ranks, thus I don’t believe ideas of Tory infighting very much. But he can’t hold the party indefinitely if he can’t win a majority. His case would be made worse if the Tories lost seats.

A word on seat predictions

The Pundits’ Guide has a great post on the flaws of the predictions which spring up everywhere. The site in general is all-around excellent, especially for statistics and every number in the world of Canadian politics.

Why don’t you talk about riding X, a swing riding?

I’ve obviously not talked about every swing riding. That would take far too long, knowing how much I ramble on. There are many sites which look at ridings, the most famous of which is the old Election Prediction Project (EPP) which people love to bash but which still has a nearly 90% accuracy rate after all.

As always, I welcome additional questions. Sadly, I won’t be liveblogging on election day or election night because I’ll be working at the polls all day long and counting the votes (to ensure a Marxist-Leninist victory, obviously).

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Posted on April 29, 2011, in Canada, Election Preview. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the lovely recommendation of my website, and allow me to return the favour in spades.

  2. Nightstallion

    It will certainly be a very, very interesting election night…

  3. What do you reckon the chances are of a NDP-Liberal coalition if the NDP comes second but together the two parties have enough seats for a majority?

  4. There will be a lot of pressure from the establishment and from the Liberal Party’s financial supporters (those that remain) to support a Harper Conservative minority.

    That support would be contingent on either a maintenance of the quarterly public allowance for political parties, or a restoration of corporate contributions. For there is no other way the party could survive financially.

    It remains to be seen which Liberal MPs survive the onslaught on Monday, and that may ultimately be determinative.

  1. Pingback: Canada 2011 « World Elections

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