Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National's At Issue panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians in the past, but no longer does any partisan work. Other members of his family have worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians, and a daughter currently works for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.
Lots of effort is going into parsing the words of Liberal and NDP politicians about what they will or won't do if the Conservatives fail to get a majority of the seats in this fall's election.
Might they consider a coalition? Would they serve in each others' cabinet? Or just support each others' legislative ambitions?
That time spent studying the words could be better spent. Doing almost anything.
That's because the world has changed. And the truth of what they will do is becoming as obvious as their unwillingness to tell that truth.
In my mind, unless Stephen Harper wins 171 seats this October it will be the last Thanksgiving he spends at 24 Sussex Drive. No doubt Mr. Harper knows this, too, and is probably comfortable with the bed he has made.
His treatment of the other two parties has created zero goodwill. Trust is never very high among rival leaders, but we're in new territory these days.
Can you imagine the press conference where Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau explains to their parties' supporters that they've decided to take a wait-and-see approach with the policy agenda of a new Harper minority government? No, I can't either.
Both NDP and Liberal organizations are propelled by a visceral dislike of the Conservatives. It's as strong a sentiment as I've seen in 30 years of being an observer of national politics.
Justin Trudeau or Thomas Mulcair will be tempted to agree to a lot of things they might not really like, if it means an end to the Harper era. And there's no reason to believe that Stephen Harper would do anything to try to convince them not to oust him.
The Conservatives have created no opportunity to have a "stand with us" discussion with another party. In fact, their whole approach has been to make it clear to voters that they have nothing in common with other parties, and no intention of bending to humour progressive voters.
In short, if they don't win more than half of the seats, their time in office will be counted in weeks not years.
If it's likely that the NDP would probably join a Liberal government and vice versa, it's just as likely that neither leader will say as much. And to be fair, it would be irresponsible for them to reveal anything other than confidence that they can win the election. At least for the time being.
Others may want to predict an outcome, with months to go and 75 per cent of voters undecided. From where I sit, with 75 per cent of voters not decided, there's no telling how this lengthy battle will turn out.
And so, when it comes to all the "what if" questions about different outcomes, we should expect a kind of liar's poker game rather than a play-itself-out scenario in the next couple of months.
When there's evidence of Liberal momentum, Mr. Trudeau will feel obliged to ask voters for a clear win, and profess indifference to the idea of a coalition. On any days he might fear the progressive or change vote could coalesce around the NDP, he'll want to sound more hostile to the idea. Doing otherwise would make matters worse. The same conundrum exists for Tom Mulcair, which is evident by the variety of his positions on the subject over time.
And so it will go, for now.
But as we get closer to Election Day, the hypothetical questions will feel more legitimate, and evasive answers will work less well.
Polls will, for better or worse, have a large influence. Horse race numbers will dictate a narrative about where the change or progressive vote is settling out.
A great young songwriter, Zoe Muth, wrote a song a couple of years ago called You Only Believe Me When I'm Lying. In it she sings about "slamming the door, but watching what I say."
When leaders talk about coalition scenarios, they may not be out-and-out lying, but there are good reasons they watch what they say – and won't tell the whole truth.