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Opinion It’s way too soon to know what will happen in October election

It has been more than a week since Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion issued his finding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he pressed then-attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Since then, journalists and politicians have had plenty to say. On Wednesday, the Liberals used their majority to prevent the ethics committee from hearing from the commissioner. Barring some major new development, there is nothing more we will learn about the affair before Oct. 21, election day.

So how have the parties and their leaders fared in the wake of the report?

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At first blush, Mr. Dion’s findings appear to have done no harm to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and offered no help to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. The Liberals and Conservatives remain essentially tied in the polls.

But that statement masks earthquakes. When the Liberals won a majority government in 2015, most observers, including many Conservatives, expected to see at least two terms from the Trudeau government. As late as January, polls veered between predicting a Liberal majority and a Liberal minority. Now there are even odds that the Grits could be beaten – a testament to the lasting damage the SNC-Lavalin affair has inflicted on Brand Trudeau since the first revelations back in February.

As Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, notes, the popular vote often lags behind other indicators, such as the share of voters who think the government deserves to be re-elected. That number is down in the low 30s for the Liberals, suggesting the party has a long hill to climb to get back into majority-government territory.

“The voters are sending mixed signals,” Mr. Bricker said in an interview, Thursday. “It’s impossible to say at this point how this election will play out.” (Disclosure: Mr. Bricker and I are the co-authors of a recently published book on population shifts.)

And there’s this: Mr. Trudeau gave a foreign-policy address Wednesday that was largely ignored. This scandal hurts the Liberals every day that they are unable to take control of the news cycle away from the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Another consequence of the Dion report is the changed attitude of Green Leader Elizabeth May. With the NDP under Jagmeet Singh offering a lacklustre performance at best, many progressive voters who are angry at the Liberals appear to be giving the Greens – who currently hover around 10 per cent in popular support – a serious look.

In a hung Parliament, you might assume that the Greens could be counted on to throw their support to the Liberals, whose plan to reduce carbon emissions is more credible than the Conservative counterpart.

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But in testimony at the ethics committee, Wednesday, Ms. May said some things that could be hard to take back.

“The Prime Minister is guilty of the kind of offence for which resignation is appropriate,” she declared in righteous indignation. The Green Leader was appalled by the report’s finding that SNC-Lavalin had successfully put pressure on both the Trudeau government and the federal bureaucracy to enact legislation specifically designed to protect the company from criminal liability on corruption charges.

“It is beyond belief that this kind of thing could go on,” she told the committee. “It’s not a small matter. It shouldn’t be covered up.”

If the Conservatives were to secure a narrow plurality of seats in the House of Commons, and if Mr. Scheer were to make the right promises, Ms. May and her Green caucus – if there is one – might find their way clear to supporting a Tory Throne Speech. Or not. It could take weeks after election night before we have a clear sense of who will form the next government.

One other party could influence the outcome of this election: the Apathy Party. Driven mostly by Trudeaumania 2.0, turnout in the 2015 election increased to 68 per cent, from 61 per cent four years before. What will happen to those 2.9 million voters on Oct. 21? How many of them will show up to offer the Liberals their support? How many will stay home?

And can Mr. Scheer count on the same voters who stayed with Stephen Harper to the bitter end to transfer their loyalty to him, despite his uninspiring demeanour?

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Anyone who is confident they know what will happen on election night is letting the wish become father to the thought.

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