Conservatives Take The Lead Over Trudeau’s Liberals With Only One Week Until Election Day

Conservatives Take The Lead Over Trudeau’s Liberals With Only One Week Until Election Day

Canada’s leftist New Democratic Party soars thanks to Jagmeet Singh’s debate skills, the nationalist Bloc Quebecois shows signs of life, and the Conservatives take the lead with seven days to go.
Joshua Lawson
By

The Far-Left NDP Rises Thanks to Jagmeet Singh

In the aftermath of the final two debates in the 2019 Canadian federal election cycle, no man has benefitted more than NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. While Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer opened strongly against Trudeau and landed the best blows on the sitting prime minister, it’s Singh that’s seen his party’s fortunes rise the most following the Oct. 7 and Oct. 10 debates. Singh played the debates coolly, staying above the fray, and attempted to posit himself as an alternative to Canada’s traditional parties.

By every measure, Singh’s calm and genteel approach paid off with viewers — especially with the higher-rated English debate. Polls by Ledger as well as Innovative Research found Singh won handily. Google search results also show that Singh garnered the largest bump in post-debate interest out of any of the candidates.

Yet away from the bright lights of the debates, Singh’s message remains frequently caustic, a stark contrast to his message of understanding and camaraderie. Earlier in the campaign, Singh expressed hope that U.S. President Donald Trump would be impeached. After his remark drew criticism, Singh qualified his comments by claiming they were “a little tongue-in-cheek.” Most recently, Singh said he believed there was “no question” that Canada was a racist country, before eventually walking the comment back.

The Conservatives Take the Lead in Election Predictions

After the Liberal Party led the last three weeks of projections, last-minute movement is upending what looked to be a stable race. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois have seen notable post-debate gains, and both parties have swelled at the expense of the Liberal Party. While the Conservatives are still waiting to pull away, for the first time since the election began, they sit atop the field, currently pegged to win the most seats.

The most recent average of seat projections from 338 Canada, Canadian Election Watch, Calculated Politics, Too Close To Call, and the CBC predicts a minority government for Scheer’s Conservatives. This week, I’ve left Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Advanced Symbolics Inc.’s “Polly” AI and Wilfred Laurier’s LISPOP projections out of the mix as they haven’t included the latest three days of important polling.

EKOS pollster Frank Graves believes the NDP and Bloc gains are “real” but that the Conservative seat count would project even higher with a greater “vote efficiency.” Indeed, the CPC is running away with the vote in the western provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, while currently projected to lose crucial Ontario ridings by a few percentage points.

Trudeau’s image, while initially thought to have survived the blackface scandals, may have cracked after all. A recent survey found that Canadian voters believe Trudeau to be the “most fake,” “most elitist,” and “most hypocritical” of all the leaders of Canada’s prominent political parties. Scheer, in contrast, fared much better in the survey, coming first in the categories of “most trustworthy,” “most straightforward,” and “most honest.”

A Few Hurdles Remain for the Conservatives

While the Conservatives are holding steady in the polls and are leading in seat projections, obstacles remain in front of Scheer and his quest to defeat Trudeau and become prime minister of Canada.

Scheer and his Conservatives must find a way to win 170 seats — securing a majority government outright — or convince the Bloc to form a coalition government with them. To do so, however, would likely require Scheer to make favorable assurances to the Bloc on issues of “climate change” and Quebecois interests.

Standing in the way of a Conservative/Bloc coalition is not just the fact that Scheer would have to move politically left on several issues, angering the Conservative base. Additionally, Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has publicly stated that his party would not agree to form a coalition government with any other party, proclaiming, “There will be no support for a government, for a party, for a coalition, or anything of the sort.” Though Blanchet would later clarify he would be willing to work on a “case-by-case” basis with any leading party if the policies promoted were good for Quebec, the Bloc leader’s reluctance would appear to be a hindrance to an attempt to govern by either Trudeau or Scheer.

Any hopes of the Conservatives reaching the necessary 170 seats for a majority will need to come from Ontario. It cannot be stressed how important the “905” region outside Toronto will be for any chance Scheer has of stealing seats formerly held by the Liberals. Additionally, Conservatives may be able to look to British Columbia, where NDP growth could theoretically vote-split with Trudeau’s Liberal MPs, paving the way for a few Conservatives to sneak in.

Uncertainty Awaits Any ‘Winner’ in a Minority Government Scenario

In a minority government scenario, as the sitting prime minister, Trudeau would have the first crack at attempting to “form” a government, even if Scheer’s Conservatives win the most seats in the election. Making things harder for Scheer is a recent announcement by Singh that the NDP would be willing to form a coalition government with the Liberal Party to prevent the Conservatives from taking power.

Conversely, Singh’s gambit may backfire. If the Conservatives win the most seats overall, but Singh and Trudeau form a government girded by their mutual disdain for Conservative policies, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Conservatives to frame such a move as “undemocratic” and an affront to the will of the people. For his part, however, Trudeau is urging anti-Conservative voters to reject Singh’s NDP and coalescence around the Liberals.

At this juncture, however, a clean majority government looks out of reach for both major parties. My current projections don’t find enough total seats between the Liberals and the NDP to reach 170. Judging by history, absent any Bloc support, the Conservatives need to start to see popular vote polling approaching at least 36 percent for them to have a reasonable shot at a majority (the CPC is currently sitting about 32.5). With tentative Bloc support on a “wait-and-see” basis, Andrew Scheer would become prime minister and likely last up to two years before another election.

In 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won the smallest minority government in Canada’s history — winning 124 (or barely 40 percent) of the available 308 seats. As a result, Liberal leader and incumbent Prime Minister Paul Martin resigned as PM. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Trudeau’s Liberal Party suffers the same fate on Oct. 21.

If the Liberal Party slips below 30 percent of the popular vote on election night, such a result would be difficult to spin as anything other than a dismal failure. Trudeau, after all, had the Liberal Party leadership essentially gift-wrapped to him, and he came into the 2019 election wielding a solid majority of 184 seats. However, those expecting him to automatically follow Martin’s example may not want to hold their breath. If Trudeau ends up losing next week and cannot help his party cross the 170-seat threshold with the help of other parties, Trudeau may yet bow out gracefully or thwart custom and give it another go. Either way, the eyes of his nation and much of the world will be watching.

Joshua Lawson is a graduate student at the Van Andel School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He is pursuing a masters degree in American politics and political philosophy.

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