Joshua Tucker: Continuing our series of Monkey Cage Election Reports, we are pleased to present the following pre-election report on the October Canadian federal election from political scientist Tyler Kustra, a PhD candidate at New York University.
Canadians will go to the polls Monday. Here are six things to look for in the results as voters choose between the right-wing Conservatives, centrist Liberals, and social democrats of the New Democratic Party.
Ontario will determine the outcome
In 2011, the Conservatives took 73 out of 106 seats in Canada’s most populous province. That, combined with strong support in Western Canada, gave them a majority government. The Liberal Party had its worst showing in the history of the country, claiming just 34 seats nationwide and only 11 in Ontario.
Since that election, the number of seats has been expanded to reflect population growth. If the Tories were to repeat their past performance in Ontario, they would likely form the next government. But in the last four years, the Liberals have moved from a party on deathwatch to the front-runners. As of Monday morning, they are projected to take 146 seats across the country of which 67 are in Ontario, knocking the Tories to second place.
The source of the Liberal gains has been their young, charismatic leader Justin Trudeau. Previously mocked for having better command of his hair than public policy, Trudeau managed to stay relatively gaffe-free during the campaign. The parties agreed to five televised debates, with the other parties hoping that this would give Trudeau plenty of opportunities to put his foot in his mouth. Instead, he gave a series of solid performances that reassured Canadians that he was ready to be prime minister. That, combined with his personability, has garnered him first place.
Trudeau is the son of the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who was prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984.
Liberals may retake Quebec for the first time in my lifetime
For 100 years, Quebec was a Liberal bastion. Then in 1982, Pierre Elliot Trudeau patriated the constitution with the consent of every English-speaking province and against the will of Quebec. Quebecers have not forgiven the Liberals, and since then the majority of Quebec MPs have been Tories (1984, 1988), members of the separatist Bloc Quebecois (1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008) and New Democrats (2011) but never Liberals.
That could change Monday night. The latest polls suggest that the New Democrats will still take the majority of seats in La Belle Province. The polls, however, do not provide detailed regional breakdowns within Quebec, and there is a chance that, due to how the votes are distributed among its ridings, the Liberals will take the most seats in the province. The irony that the son of Pierre Trudeau would be the one to lead the Liberals to this win will not be lost on anyone.
The New Democrats will lose the election
For the first time in the party’s history, the New Democrats went into this election with a realistic chance of forming a government. Four years ago, they rode a wave of support for their now-deceased leader Jack Layton, coming second overall and capturing the majority of seats in Quebec. The swing was so unexpected that several university students, who had run as sacrificial candidates so that the party would be on the ballot in every riding, found themselves representing people in constituencies they had never visited. Famously, one candidate even flew to Las Vegas to party during the campaign.
The NDP was hoping to capitalize on their previous success to come first and lead the country. Although they polled in first place when the election was called two months ago, they have bled support to the Liberals. The NDP is now in third overall and will likely lose seats in every region of the country.
Who will form the government>
Canadian constitutional convention requires the government maintain the support of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. In the unlikely event any party wins an outright majority of seats Monday night, it will form the government, otherwise it will have to negotiate for the support of the other parties.
Both the Liberals and the NDP have promised that they will not support the Conservative party in the next Parliament, so effectively the Tories will need to win a majority of seats if they hope to maintain power. That is unlikely. The Liberals and the NDP will probably have a majority of seats between them, and the one with the most seats will be supported by the other in the Commons for the time being.
That support, however, is likely to be contingent on the other party’s poll numbers. If they think that they will increase their seat count by withdrawing their support and causing another election, they will. Therefore, Canadians will likely be going back to the polls in a couple of years.
What will happen to the party leaders
Stephen Harper has led the Conservative party or one of its forerunners for 13 years and been prime minister for almost 10. During his tenure, any public suggestion that Harper may retire from politics has been verboten among Tory insiders, but that was when Harper was winning. If he doesn’t win Monday night, the party membership will likely seek to replace him with a new leader. While Harper has stayed mum on the topic, the smart money is on him jumping before he is pushed. If he delivers a concession speech Monday night, expect it to include his resignation. Because his departure has not been publicly discussed among party members, there is no heir apparent.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair may also leave if he doesn’t become prime minister. His predecessor led the party to its best showing ever, and Mulcair came into this election at the top of the polls. If the party is reduced to its traditional outcome of third place, expect there to be internal recriminations and a movement to drop Mulcair. Again, he may jump before being pushed.
Justin Trudeau, the most likely contender for the prime ministership, is alone in not needing to be prime minister to remain leader. His party did so poorly in the last election that as long as the membership sees substantial improvement, they are likely to keep him on in the job.