One week to go in #Elxn43: Mo-alition?

In 7 days, plus a few hrs, the polls will be closing in the 43rd general election in Canada.

There will be 338 local elections that will determine who the area’s Member of Parliament (MP) will be from 2019 – ? (More on the “?”, below).

The parties these MPs-elect belong to (shocker – even though they are running, no independents will win (except…maybe, Jody Wilson-Raybould), anywhere in Canada – though some of the new MPs may become politically homeless and ‘independent’ during their term of office) will then stack up from first to last in seat totals.

As of today, it’s easier to start from last and get toward the first place party with declining degrees of confidence.

Last: People’s Party of Canada. One seat ceiling. And even that may be a squeaker.

Fifth: Green Party of Canada. While the party looks like it will at least double its vote total from the 2015 general election (to 8+% of the national vote), they are highly unlikely to elect more MPs than will fit (comfortably) in a Toyota Prius. I canvassed performance-related issues in past week’s blog, but I think the major disconnect between total green votes and seat count will be (a) the electoral system we have (First Past the Post – FPTP), and the fact that the transition from ‘movement’ to political party is hard, painful, unglamorous work.

Third/Fourth: Until the last few days, it would have been unpopular (but, accurate) to suggest the NDP may once again drop to 4th place party status. Stagnant in the polls over the last few years, the NDP has bounced from the low to high teens in most polls. The Bloc Québécois (BQ) have been polling anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 (occasionally a little higher) of the total national NDP support, but because they are only focused on running 75 candidates (and many of those even in no-hope ridings), not 338. As of today, it’d be foolish to declare that the NDP will definitely finish fourth. The number of pollsters, headlines, hashtags and other things declaring a #singhsurge and using the sought-after word “Momentum”, is legion. All four of the leading parties have proven they can sweep 2/3+ of Quebecers off their couches and into a ballot box in recent decades, so the likelihood of the BQ winning the most seats in Quebec is getting higher every day. It’s a question of *if* and *where* the NDP sees the vote upswing, in the GTA, prairies, BC and pockets of Atlantic Canada, that will translate that into seats and determine the 3/4th place finishers.

Second/First: For the first time since the election started, seat projection models (338 and CBC’s Poll Tracker) both this weekend dipped into (and in one case, back out of) Conservative minority government forecasts. All the pollsters have the Liberals dipping, and with the BQ rise in Quebec and the NDP seeing momentum in its corner, the liberals have dropped by 20-30 seats in most forecasts in the past few weeks. You can see from Trudeau’s campaigning in four NDP-held in Ontario today, and the Tories going after Liberal-held seats in Winnipeg, while the NDP darts in and out of B.C. Liberal seats, that everyone is trying to open the closing week of the campaign on offence. And, as always, not all of them are doing that with a straight face.

So, to some numbers.

Just under 18 million people cast ballots in the 2015 federal election. That was a 68.3% turnout of eligible voters. That represented a 10% increase in voter turnout over the 2008 election, and was up ~7% over the 2011 election.

Advance polls in Canada opened on October 11th. As of this morning, the final day for advance poll voting, Elections Canada says over 2 million people have turned up/out to vote. That was up 25% over the total advance polls in 2015.

I can go dig up and throw lots and lots of stats out there. But I think my friends in Academia do they much, much better than I can. And, as Shania Twain would say, that likely ‘don’t impress (you) much’.

Here are a few reflections on the week that was, the week to come, and the “what then?”

Last week – Smile, you’re on camera!

Leader’s Debates – I said debates don’t deliver knock-out punches. And the neither the English or French debates did. You’ve no doubt seen lots of breathless coverage of the English language debate from October 7th, so I’ll just say this.

Too. Many. People. On. Stage.

5 moderators. 6 party leaders. Are you kidding me?

Rosie Barton was by far the most non-nonsense moderator, but by the time her section came the arse was already out of ‘er, as we’d say on the east coast.

Max got more attention than ~1% of the national vote merits/merited him. YFB surprised a lot of English Canadians, and was the only person with little-to-nothing to lose. He looked it.

(Note: I saw some friends in a spirited social media debate about why YFB/the BQ were even there in the English debate, since they only represent Quebec interests. We’ll see what happens when the Alberta Separatist/Firewall party really gets going during next few years, and likely revisit this question…)

There were a few good zingers/one-liners.

Singh was funny, authentic and “on message” (boy was he on-message). Most reviews gave him the performance of the night. It helped him that expectations were generally low. But he did perform well for the format.

Scheer did solidly, although he was clearly frustrated in not being able to have just a 2 hour debate with Trudeau. He got off a few good lines, and was the target of a bunch of base-satisfying cracks from May, Singh and Trudeau. He probably would have rather been watching football, though.

Trudeau has a classic front-runner strategy – try not to f*^k it up, as a former co-worker would have said. And, thanks to the format, he largely didn’t. He was a punching bag for Scheer, but his time in the ring has taught him how to duck and weave. Inconsistent moderating made “talking over” a feature of many of Trudeau’s interactions with other leaders.

May was fine, if largely ineffective overall. She was super-on-message (like, really on message). The problem for her was both the format, and the need to always try and be “clever”. These debates have never leant themselves to that tendency, and beyond getting off a good line or two, the new format didn’t, either. In a four-party debate, where cameras would a third leader in the shot more often and with a consistent moderator, she might have had more chance to shine.

This week – Farwell Andrew, we hardly knew ye

People better have purchased A LOT of offsets for the amount of ground that will be covered this week.

It’s a virtual certainty that Andrew Scheer will spend a good part of this week speaking to an internal audience. All of the predictable warnings against some kind of coalition government are not really aimed at converting voters to his cause, although they will be styled that way (CBC, the Globe, and most other national outlets are carrying some version of a story today that Singh and Trudeau are both open to a coalition government to “stop” the Conservatives). His biggest threat comes from within. Already, there are open rumours of Peter MacKay’s supporters readying his leadership bid. If Scheer does not win a majority, or a minority that has a seat total greater than the Liberals + NDP + Greens, he is unlikely to make it to the next election as leader.

Given where he and his party were in the polls in the late Winter, and the series of cudgels handed to him by the Trudeau team with which he could chip away at their support…he had proven unable to break through.

After this is all over, he will be trying to figure out how he can position himself to succeed Scott Moe in the Saskatchewan Premier’s office in a few years time.

Why do I say that – especially if the Conservatives win a plurality of seats next Monday night? See section below, on what’s next.

For the balance of this week, however, you can expect a lot of exhorting, some fear-mongering, awkward political-mating dances, party leaders telling you to do “what you feel is right” (and then explaining what that is), warnings about taxing-and-spending, warnings about deep cuts, alarms about the climate crisis, xenophobic rhetoric and the like.

And expect a lot of use of the phrase ‘only I/we/(insert party name)’ – as each leader tries to show their unique value proposition in a crowded marketplace for votes.

With the security threats to the PM, there will almost certainly be stories or reports of online interference and dirty deeds by ‘foreign actors’, and more moments that make us shake our head and say “this is Canada, right?”

What’s next – Some leadership races, Queen bees and lots of jockeying

I said it last week and I stand by it. Justin Trudeau will remain Prime Minister on the 22nd. Why do I say that? Well, because it’s true. Blame it on the Queen.

Our system of government requires a PM in place at all times. And the only way you exit the job is through being asked to leave (super-rare) resigning (most frequent) or dying (thankfully, not often).

There will be a lot of analysis and bon mots from the commentariat over the next few weeks about “precedents”, “conventions”, “practice”, and a lot of bandying-about of the word “constitution”. Oh, and the word “confidence” will be used a lot, too.

As the current Prime Minister, JT has a kind of tenure. Sort of like that Academic tenure you often hear about. As it stands, either the Governor-General can request him to step down (with, of course, the express knowledge and consent of the Queen, on whose behalf Mme. Payette acts), or he can offer his resignation. Losing the popular vote, and/or a plurality of seats in the House of Commons do not necessarily lead to this outcome.

In an election as close as this one appears to be, it’s a numbers game. The magic number is around 169. With 338 seats in Parliament, and the Speaker *ordinarily* coming from among the government caucus ranks, the number of votes needed to achieve a majority is about 169, presuming no sicknesses, vacancies or absences.

The forecasts as of today have the Liberals around the 130-140 mark, the Conservatives in the same range, the BQ in the low-30s and the NDP in the 25-30 range. The Greens sit at 4 seats or less, and the PPC at 0-1.

If this precise scenario holds, the Liberals could win a plurality of seats and a minority government. Then the negotiations begin about the management of this scenario (I will write more on this next week).

With 50-60 seats likely to be decided by less than 1000 votes (that seems like a lot, but not on ridings of 75-100k electors), final forecasts at this juncture are a poorly-laid bet. As above, I think it’s a relatively equal possibility they the Conservatives or Liberals win a plurality of the seats.

But (also as above) JT will remain PM on October 22nd under either a blue or red narrow plurality scenario.

If the Liberals gain a plurality, depending how precarious, they will start into discussions with the opposition parties about formal or informal arrangements to support them on confidence measures.

If they win a strong plurality, expect to see them proceed on a “land of many options” approach – one where they keep their options open and say enough good things in their maiden minority Throne Speech to plausibly gain the support of the BQ, NDP and Greens.

If the liberals are within ~10 seats behind the Conservatives, Acheer will still declare a “win”. In fact, if he gets one more seat than the Liberals, you can bet he’ll pull a Blaine Higgs and say Trudeau must do the right thing and step aside for him.

Not much is likely to blunt the Tories’ inevitable apoplexy when the Liberals (also, inevitably) form some arrangement (Coalition, support agreement, whatever) with some combination of opposition parties to remain form a new government.

The Tories will likely – probably even assuredly – approach the Bloc and try and get an agreement of support from them( and on the strength of this approach the Governor-Genera to ask to be allowed to meet the house and see about gaining its confidence. This scenario only works if the Bloc have a fairly good day (30-40 seats), and the Conservatives have a comparatively good outcome (138 minimum, more like low-mid-140s), and the NDP help to knock the Liberals down into the 120s.

Even *if* this occurs, I’d lay money on the fact that Trudeau tries to meet the house and appeal to the NDP (with whom he may have already by then struck a formal agreement, ditto the Greens), and impress the Bloc enough to gain their support — even if they have a “back-stop” agreement of some kind with the Tories.

From here, that looks like a lot of luck rolling in Mr Scheer’s direction.

So – that was long-winded.

To sum-up:
– This week will be full of frenetic campaigning, warnings and recriminations;
– Something like ~16 million (or more?) people could still be voting next Monday. That’s a lot of minds that may or may not be made-up, depending how accurate our polling nationally is;
– If *someone* has a really good piece of “oppo” (see last post for more on this), it will need to drop by late Wednesday/early Thursday in order to have some effect on the outcome and little-to-no-chance-of-recovery for its target;
– Next Monday night, Trudeau will still be PM;
– Within 3-5 weeks, Trudeau will present a new Throne Speech, and within a few weeks will test the house in a confidence vote on that speech (and, I predict, will survive that and remain PM for at least 18 months);
– Andrew Scheer will be facing a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking, open calls for him to step aside, and may even be polishing his CV, by the depths of Winter 2019-20.