My crystal ball is very hazy, but peering through the glass darkly I see the following prognosticatory ruminations.
I’m going to take as a departure point the penultimate (October 18) pre-electoral encyclical from Ekos Politics, Penultimate Check-Up on Election 42. I have a great deal of confidence in their polling methodology and analysis: others may have other favorites. Ekos’ final polling shows the Liberals: 34.3 per cent; Conservatives: 32.6 per cent; NDP: 21.0 per cent; Green Party: 5.4 per cent; Bloc Québécois: 5.4 per cent; and Other: 1.4 per cent. The margin of error is ± 2.4 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
What conclusions can be drawn?
There will be no majority government
Even CBC’s Poll Tracker, an initiative run by Threehundredeight.com’s Éric Grenier, which paints a slightly rosier picture for the Liberals (October 17) — Liberals: 36.3 per cent; Conservatives: 31.2 per cent; NDP: 22.3 per cent; Green Party: 4.4 per cent; Bloc Québécois: 4.9 per cent; Other: 0.9 per cent — only projects that the Liberals would win 137 seats, 33 short of the 170 required for a majority government.
Poll Tracker’s seat projections are: Liberals: 137; Conservatives: 122; NDP: 73; Green Party: 1; Bloc Québécois: 5; Other: 0. Thus, a majority for either Conservatives or the Liberals seems far out of reach and beyond any possible electoral scenario.
The second choice polling numbers for the Conservatives have been at very low levels for months on end and presumably at this stage in the campaign this has evaporated to almost nothing, so even with the potential of the electoral gerrymandering of the (un)Fair Elections Act there seems no possibility that they could recover enough support to obtain a majority.
Similarly, with only 7.2 per cent of Canadians now indicating that they are undecided, the reservoir for potential additional Liberal support to carry them over the threshold into majority territory seems highly improbable bordering on impossible.
This much seems clear even in the mists of my crystal ball.
So, a minority government
Although Poll Tracker’s seat projections would appear to give the Liberals a clear advantage of 137 seats as compared to the Conservatives 122, Ekos’ polling indicates that the race between the Liberals (34.3 per cent) and Conservatives (32.6 per cent) may be tighter, and given that the margin of error is ± 2.4 percentage points, it’s anyone’s guess who is actually in the lead. Furthermore, this could continue to change in the final hours of the campaign. So a couple of scenarios are possible.
1. The Liberals come out on top
If so, although caretaker Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains the Prime Minister, and by Canadian constitutional precedent gets the first phone call from the Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston to see if he thinks he can form a government that would command the confidence of the House of Commons (See the “Constitutional foray”section of my article Election 2015: Will Canada Leap forward or fall back? for more information on this topic), it is certain that Harper would resign and Johnson would immediately thereafter call Justin Trudeau and ask him the same question.
Johnston would then convene the 42 Parliament and Trudeau would have a minority government. Now, this is where things get interesting. In this scenario, Trudeau would (in my view) be unlikely to want to form a coalition government, nor would the NDP, as the third party in Parliament, be much interested in doing so. However, there would almost certainly be some discussions behind the scenes of what the NDP would ask in order support a minority government.
Both parties could, if they so chose, play hardball. Both know that the collapse of a minority would lead to another election and there would be little appetite amongst the Canadian citizenry for such a move. In some measure the Liberals would have the NDP over a political barrel since the Conservatives would doubtless vote against a Throne Speech and subsequent federal budget. In a game of political chicken the NDP would have little option but to support the Liberals.
On the other hand, if the Liberals play hardball with the NDP they can then expect the NDP to play the same game, and if they want their government to survive longer than that of the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark that fell after less than nine months, they might want to adopt a more cooperative approach. Also, conducting a minority government in a ruthlessly partisan fashion would certainly invite comparison to the 2006-2008 minority government of Stephen Harper, something that the Liberals might well wish to avoid.
The good news for progressives is that (in my view) Stephen Harper would resign as leader of the Conservative Party and as Member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary Heritage.
It’s impossible to predict what would happen to the Conservative Party thereafter since, as the title of Michael Harris’ new book Party of One clearly indicates, the federal Conservatives have degenerated into what can no longer property be called a political party with principles, policy, or cadre of actual politicians, into a caucus of sycophants. It’s unlikely to decompose into its original constituent Reform and Progressive Conservative party components, simply because neither of these survive within the current Conservative Party. Perhaps disillusioned and exiled members of both these political movements might try and reclaim it; perhaps it will descend into utter political lunacy like the American Tea Party movement; perhaps it will disintegrate into warring factions. What’s certain is that it will not survive Harper’s departure in anything like the current form.
2. The Conservatives come out on top
Now things get even more interesting. The Governor General would convene the 42 Parliament with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister of a minority government. There would be a Throne Speech, which — in my considered view — would immediately be defeated by a combined vote of the Liberals and NDP. Both Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair have made it clear that under no circumstances would they support a Harper minority.
According to a new Nanos Research poll published on October 17, 71.2 per cent of Canadians want a change of government (23.7 per cent want to continue with the status quo; 5.1 per cent are unsure). This is the constituency that Liberal, NDP, and Green parties represent. No political stratagem could convince any of these parties that supporting another Harper Conservative government would be in their political interests — indeed it would be political suicide to do so.
An interesting side show would be to see what political goodies Stephen Harper would pack into such a Throne Speech in order to make it maximally embarrassing for the opposition parties to vote against it.
So, a Harper minority government would fall on the Throne Speech. The Governor General would then turn, again by constitutional convention, to the leader of the party with the second largest number of seats, presumably Justin Trudeau, and ask him if he thought he could form a government that could command the confidence of the House of Commons.
In this situation, as the leader of the second party in the House, Trudeau might well want to explore the possibility of a coalition with the NDP, which would give the government greater democratic credibility. It would be logistically, tactically, and strategically difficult for the Liberals to navigate a minority government without some express understanding from the NDP as to what they would or would not support, whether inside a formal coalition or not. The NDP might present some sine qua non demands (Proportional representation? Repeal of Bill C-51? Meaningful action on climate change? A $15 an hour federal minimum wage? A $15 per day national childcare program?) that it would require a commitment to in exchange for supporting a Liberal government.
How things would proceed further is certainly beyond the ken of my crystal ball, however, I think such an experience would be a very productive one, both in regards to illustrating to Canadians the legitimacy, conduct, and effectiveness of formal or informal coalition governments (provided, of course, that it did not dissolve into untenable feuding and acrimony), which, in turn, might lay some important groundwork for undertaking electoral reform leading to proportional representation — a situation that often leads to either minority or coalition governments. Canadians might also relish the prospect of seeing opposition parties actually working constructively together to achieve objectives of value to all Canadians, rather than feuding endlessly in a hyper-partisan quagmire — the habitual state of affairs that the tenure of the Harper Conservatives have reduced the Canadian Parliament to. What a novel concept!
Would Stephen Harper resign in such a circumstance, or would he stay on as a wounded ex-Prime Minister to try and torture Justin Trudeau? Beats me.
Wildcard: Candians turn out in droves
An extremely auspicious sign is that according to Elections Canada during the four days of advance polling, October 9-12, 2015, 3,633,422 Canadians voted, a 72.9 per cent increase on the 2,100,855 that voted in advance polls in the 2011 election. This is a very strong indicator of electoral engagement and would indicate that turnout on election day itself may be similarly strong. Imagine if this 72.9 per cent increase applied to the overall E-day turnout. This would translate to 25.6 million of the 26.4 million Canadians eligible to vote — a 97 per cent turnout!
Such a high turnout is almost inconceivable and without precedent in Canada, however, the high turnout at the advance polls does indicate there may be a sizeable improvement on the dismal 61.1 per cent that voted in 2011. An increased turnout would certainly benefit all the opposition parties at the expense of the Conservatives since it would a) be an indicator of the strong desire for political change; and b) would be indicative of significantly greater youth engagement.
A singularly depressing feature of the 2011 election — which gave Stephen Harper his majority government — was that only 36.9 per cent of the 18-24 age bracket voted. Compare this to the 70.7 per cent of the 55-64 age bracket or the 77.4 per cent of the 65-74 per cent age bracket who showed up at the polls. A high youth engagement does differentially benefit the NDP and Green parties whose shares of the 18-34 age demographic are slightly higher than their overall level of support.
Where other political chips fall
In my estimation it’s possible that the NDP may do somewhat better than the 73 seat projection that CBC’s Poll Tracker currently posits. They do have a much larger number of incumbents than do the Liberals, and incumbency does provide a slight advantage in tight elections. Ekos does give them a slight lead in Québec (NDP: 26 per cent; Conservative 19 per cent; Liberal: 24 per cent: Bloc Québécois: 25 per cent; Green Party: 4 per cent), where a large number of their incumbents are, and the fallout from the Daniel Gagnier scandal is apt to continue in these final hours of the election, to the benefit of the NDP and the detriment of the Liberals in that province. There is some indication that the fallout from the niqab issue, which hit the NDP particularly hard (to the benefit of the Conservatives and BQ) in Québec, is fading. Once in the polling booth Québecers, however strong their antipathy to the niqab may be, may question whether this is what they would really like the ballot question to be.
Ekos polling shows the Conservatives in the lead in British Columbia (NDP: 25 per cent; Conservative 41 per cent; Liberal: 24 per cent: Green Party: 8 per cent) but depending on the regional distribution of this support, the NDP may do better than overall numbers indicate. The British Columbia vote may well have a significant impact on the overall Canadian results.
It seems unlikely that the Green Party will win any seats other than that of its leader, Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands, despite support in several other British Columbia ridings (See: Exclusive: Elizabeth May on political reform, climate change and democracy). In some areas the fragmentation of the progressive vote does leave the potential for Conservatives to ride up the middle (See: How to Vote Harper off the Island). Bruce Hyer, the other Green Member of Parliament at the time of dissolution, seems (according to the riding projections of ThreeHundredEight.com) to be in fourth place in the riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North in Ontario, which may not auger well for his re-election.
As for the Bloc Québécois, the riding projections of ThreeHundredEight.com indicate the potential for victory in five Québec ridings: Beauport-Côte-de-Beaupré-Île d’Orléans-Charlevoix (where the Conservatives, NDP, and BQ are in a statistical tie); Bécancour-Nicolet-Saurel (where the BQ enjoy a strong lead), Laurentides-Labelle (where the Liberals, NDP, and BQ are in a statistical tie), Laurier-Sainte-Marie (where the NDP and BQ are in a statistical tie and BQ leader Gilles Duceppe is running), and Pierre-Boucher-Les Patriotes-Verchères (where the NDP is running a close second). [Note these projections are not based on local polling.] It is a moot point if Duceppe can win his own riding where projections show the BQ leading with 34.7 per cent, but the NDP a close second at 33.3 per cent. If not, it is possible we may see Duceppe resigning from the leadership of the BQ for a second time.
In closing, I look forward to the election on October 19, 2015 and being shown to be completely off the mark in these political prognostications. What I think I can confidently predict is that we are in for a wild political ride. Bring on the results.