The province that handed Stephen Harper's Conservatives a majority government in 2011 may be about to take it away, as Ontarians move from the governing Tories back towards Justin Trudeau's Liberals.
The Conservatives won 73 seats in Ontario in the 2011 federal election, the best performance of the party and its predecessors in raw seat count since 1917 and the First World War. The Tories also captured 44 per cent of the vote, their highest share since 1984 when Brian Mulroney won the largest majority government in Canadian history. It was a good year for the party.
That gain was also the main reason the Conservatives were able to form a majority government. Of the 23 seats the party picked up since the 2008 election, 22 of them had come from Ontario. A relatively modest five-point increase in support had delivered these new seats as the Liberals and New Democrats split the opposition vote to a greater extent than they had in previous contests.
But Ontario is not immune from the drop in support the Conservatives have experienced nationwide. In polls conducted in 2014, the Tories have averaged only 34 per cent in Ontario. That would be the party's worst performance since 2004, when the Liberals under Paul Martin were re-elected with a minority government. Even in the years of a divided right, the Progressive Conservative and Reform/Canadian Alliance parties managed to capture about 38 per cent of the vote in every election between 1988 and 2000.
Liberals take from Conservatives and NDP
The New Democrats have also taken a step backwards in Ontario, after earning 26 per cent of the vote in the province in 2011. The party has average 21 per cent in polls conducted so far this year.
The beneficiary of both the Conservative and NDP decreases has been the Liberals, who have averaged 39 per cent support in Ontario since the beginning of the year. That is a 14-point gain over the 25 per cent the party took in 2011. In the 65 polls published since Mr. Trudeau became Liberal Leader, his party has led or been tied for the lead in Ontario in 50 of them.
And the polls have been largely consistent in the province. Over the past three months, the Liberals have been measured at between 34 and 50 per cent support, though most of the polls have been in a tighter band of between 36 and 46 per cent. The Conservatives have been registered at between 28 and 38 per cent. Dropping the highest and lowest results reduces that range to between 32 and 36 per cent. The New Democrats have been between 11 and 24 per cent, though most polls have had them at 14 per cent or higher.
Elections Canada has reported that the new electoral boundaries that will be in effect for the next election would have delivered 188 seats to the Conservatives in 2011, 83 of them in Ontario. But on current trends in 2014, the Conservatives are on track to win just 48 seats in the province. That loss of 35 seats alone is enough to reduce the Conservatives well below the mark needed to form another majority government. The party could win every seat it did in the last election outside Ontario – it could even increase that haul by 15 – and still fall short of a majority without an improvement in the country's largest province.
Those 48 seats might also be on the higher end of what the Conservatives could take in Ontario, at least according to recent polls. The range of seats that these polls have suggested possible for the party stands at between 29 and 53, compared to a range of 51 to 84 seats for the Liberals. The New Democrats could take between five and 18 seats.
The wide gap between the low and high ends for the Liberals and Conservatives indicates how important Ontario will be in the next election. For the Conservatives, Ontario is likely to cost them their majority government and perhaps their re-election entirely. The province could make the difference between a minority and majority victory for the Liberals. In 2015, Ontarians – and particularly those in the GTA – will once again find themselves under siege by politicians looking for their election-deciding votes.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.