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Beyond the Ballot: Tom’s Take On Election 2019

This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.

By: Tom Clark, Chair



The Top Line

As it already stands, there are two simple and likely outcomes of Election 43:

  • A divided and disenchanted country has produced a divided result that will make many even more disenchanted.
  • Vicious personal attacks and the general disregard for truth means it will be remembered as the campaign most Canadians hated.



The Bottom Line

As of this morning, there’s not a single poll that is whispering anything other than minority. My take is that most seem to be predicting a Liberal minority, with Trudeau being seen to have caught fire in the last few days while Andrew Scheer starting hitting walls. The undercard leaders of the Bloc and the NDP cemented momentum they had earned in the last two weeks, while the Greens seem to have stalled.

All the commentary above is irrelevant to the almost 30 percent of the electorate who have already cast their ballots in the advance polls. Those were the motivated voters who had already made up their minds. Despite the big number of early voters (25% more than in 2015), it’s unlikely to dramatically affect the final result.




Three Potential Outcomes

From my vantage point, I think the three potential scenarios below are the likeliest and are worth unpacking a bit.

Big Liberal Minority

This would mean that Ontario came out big for the Liberals. The polls don’t rule that out so it’s possible. Justin Trudeau would not only remain as PM but would carry on almost as if he had a majority. He wouldn’t be beholden to deals with other parties. And no one would be anxious to head back to the hustings for another election. The NDP would be broke, the Conservatives dispirited, and the Bloc, with its new official party status and the budget bump that comes with that, would like to enjoy it for a while. There would be lines the Liberals could not cross though, such as raising the carbon tax. Trudeau would be reined in, but not much.

Prediction: it could last two years.



Small Liberal Minority

A win is a win, so Trudeau keeps his job as do all the other leaders. Lines would be drawn in the sand by the opposition parties. No formal alliance would occur but the Liberals would need many small and temporary ones to stay in power. The math is all that matters. If the NDP won’t support a certain bill, what about the Bloc, or even the Conservatives? Or if it’s razor thin, what about the Greens? Very little would be accomplished but expect major environmental initiatives to pass, as long as they don’t hurt Quebec.

Prediction: It would last 12 to 18 months, at most.



Small Conservative Minority

Atlantic Canada, Ontario and parts of Quebec would have to go big-time Blue for this to happen. It could produce a constitutional showdown, or at the very least a raucous debate. Scheer would demand that Trudeau step down as PM. But even if Trudeau did, Scheer would face an almost insurmountable problem — he could only assume government if he had the votes in the House of Commons to do that, and he wouldn’t. Neither the NDP or the Greens would support him. Even if the Bloc stepped up and said it would, Scheer and his party would have some deep thinking to do. How would the Conservative base feel about being beholden to Quebec separatists?



But wait…

There is one last scenario that’s unlikely, but still possible, and that’s a Liberal majority. This would mean hanging on to almost every seat the party has now. Canadians have been known to overthrow conventional polling wisdom before and it could happen again (think Alison Redford, Christy Clark, Francois Legault). This wouldn’t be an enthusiastic endorsement, but a collective decision to not have indecision.

Why not a Conservative majority? Simply because the math doesn’t work. Scheer would have to keep everything he has now (95 seats) and win 75 more.

This wild card would set the leadership wheels spinning in Conservative ranks, and depending on how the NDP fared, possibly a revolt there as well.



What to look for this evening

If there’s a major crack in the Liberals’ Atlantic wall, that could foreshadow something big happening for the Conservatives and NDP. That crack would have to be anything more than 15 seats flipping to the opposition parties.

Tune in for Quebec results. The Liberals don’t just need to hang on here, but grow. If the Bloc wins anything more than 40 seats, it will mean minority.

All signs point to Ontario being the ultimate battleground. The Liberals need to hang on to a good portion of their existing 76 seats to avoid precarious and unstable minority scenarios. They won’t keep them all, but how far they fall will tell the tale.

If the Liberals are wounded in Ontario, then BC becomes the most politically-important place in Canada this evening. Again, it’s all about how the numbers net out.  In a province where there appears to be a three-way race between the Liberals, Conservatives & NDP, this is quite the gamble.



The takeaway

This was a bruising campaign that brought little glory to anyone. Issues took second place to schoolyard taunts and gotcha tactics. We are now seeing some of the political practices that plague Americans move north, and with it, the widening of divisions between people and regions. Making stuff up doesn’t produce sound public debate or policy.

On the positive side though, elections are reality checks on the exercise of power, and should Canadians decide to give everyone a time out by returning a minority, then democracy will have worked.

The new reality as of tomorrow will require a whole new skillset for everyone involved in the process. Combat is for campaigns. Minorities are the opposite. They require skill and finesse, diplomacy, negotiation and co-operation, and not just for the political actors on Parliament Hill. Industry and any stakeholder looking to take forward an issue will have to navigate the same waters with the same careful precision.

Unless I’m wrong and it’s a majority…!


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