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Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Crunching Numbers

Majority barely an option, Official Opposition up for grabs as final polls roll in Add to ...

Despite having to fend off a late surge by the New Democrats in the last week of the campaign, all indications are Stephen Harper's Conservatives will likely win their third consecutive election Monday night. But whether the next government will be a minority or a majority, and who will be facing the Prime Minister across the aisle in the House of Commons, remains unknown.

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With polling data still pouring in over the weekend, ThreeHundredEight.com's final seat and vote projections for the campaign won't be posted until the end of the day. But a look at the most likely minimum and maximum seat totals the parties could win reveals the very different scenarios that could unfold when the votes are counted.

Taking into account all riding-level projections with a gap of five points or less between the projected winner and the challengers, the Conservative Party could win as few as 128 seats or as many as 156. If the Tories end up closer to their lower range, their government is unlikely to survive for very long. But at 156 seats the Conservatives would be just over the bar of 155 needed for a majority government. It gives them absolutely no room for error.

Nevertheless, they are almost certainly going to win the most seats. Who finishes second, however, is a toss-up.

The Liberals have a narrower range than the New Democrats, and should win between 53 and 80 seats. On the one hand it would be their second historic defeat in a row, and would place the Liberals in third position in the House of Commons. But there is still a sliver of hope for the Liberals. When the election was called the Grits held 77 seats in the House of Commons. They could return about as many MPs to Ottawa if things turn in their favour Monday night. But with their range dropping so far below their performance of 2008, it is far more likely that as many as a dozen Liberals or more will not be re-elected.

The New Democrats, on the other hand, can look forward to a good night. Though there still is the possibility their starry-eyed hopes will be dashed, they are still likely to win more seats than ever before: their minimum of 47 seats is still four more than the best Ed Broadbent ever did. But Jack Layton can legitimately hope to become the next Official Opposition leader. His maximum likely seat range is 81, more than twice the number of seats his party won in 2008.

For the Bloc Québécois, all they can do is salvage a catastrophic campaign. As the NDP does not have enough resources to put in any great effort in much more than half-dozen ridings, the Bloc could still pull 46 seats out of the debacle. That would nevertheless be a loss of one compared to their pre-election standing. Far more likely, however, is that Gilles Duceppe will be dealt his party's worst electoral defeat in its history. The Bloc could bottom out with as few as 25 seats, far fewer than its previous worst of 38. The Bloc Leader entered the campaign confident his party would be given its seventh straight majority of seats in the province. That seems like nothing but a dream five weeks later.

But there is still much at play in four parts of the country: British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada.

In British Columbia, the Conservative range is from 18 to 25 seats, and with a majority only just within their reach every seat will count. The New Democrats could win as many as 12 in the province, while the Liberals will have to fight hard to win more than their minimum of three.

The best potential source of gains for the Tories is Ontario, where they could win between 48 and 58 seats. The Liberals will need to make their stand here, as they can pull as many as 40 seats out of the province. They might still, however, be reduced to only 29.

Much is at stake for the Liberals and Conservatives on the Atlantic coast as well, as the Liberals could win between 11 and 18 seats in the region. The Conservatives could take between seven and 13. How the votes fall in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland could mean all the difference for the Tories.

But Quebec is the big unknown. Will the New Democrats manage to get the vote out? Will the Bloc prove more difficult to oust than the polls might suggest? There is a wide range of seats within the NDP's grasp in Quebec. They could win anywhere from 10 to 32. Either result would be a historic breakthrough for the party, but only one moves Jack Layton into Stornoway and one confidence vote away from being Canada's next prime minister.

ThreeHundredEight.com's projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and record of polling firm accuracy. The tested seat projection model makes individual projections for all 308 ridings in the country, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support from the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the presence of well-known candidates and the effects of incumbency.

These projections are a reflection of the likely result of an election if an election were held today. They are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

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