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Politics For Scheer’s Conservatives, it’s either a majority government or maybe no government at all

If the Conservatives cannot form a majority government after the Oct. 21 election, they may form no government at all.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Polls suggest that if an election were held today, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives would win the most seats in the House of Commons. But even so, he might not become prime minister. The reason is Jagmeet Singh.

In any hung Parliament, the NDP Leader will be under enormous pressure from his caucus and his base to prevent the Conservatives from coming to power.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau could cobble together a working government with NDP support, even after coming in second in the seat count.

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If the Conservatives cannot form a majority government after the Oct. 21 election, they may form no government at all.

Polls by Ipsos and Nanos, along with the CBC poll aggregator, show the Conservatives in the mid-30s in percentage terms of popular support. The Liberals hover around 30 per cent, and the NDP are in the mid-teens. Elizabeth May’s Green Party sits at 10 per cent.

Although there are bound to be swings between now and election day, if those numbers hold, the Conservatives would probably win the most seats but not enough to form a majority government.

Most voters assume that in such a situation, Mr. Scheer would become prime minister, leading a minority government. This was the case when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won a plurality, but not a majority, of seats in 2006. Liberal prime minister Paul Martin asserted that the party that won the most seats was entitled to govern, so he stepped aside.

Such assumptions “conflate convention, practice, custom and norm,” said Philippe Lagassé, a Carleton University professor who studies the Westminster system of government. While it is custom for an incumbent party that comes second in an election to acknowledge defeat, Westminster’s conventions give Mr. Trudeau, as the incumbent Prime Minister, the right to meet the House of Commons and test its confidence, a vote he might win if he had the support of the NDP.

Mr. Singh has a tenuous grasp on the leadership of his party. His Quebec caucus could vanish on election night, and there could be losses in English Canada as well.

In that situation, he would be hard-pressed to declare that the NDP might support a Conservative government. Instead, he might be compelled to support the Liberals.

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“That would be the most natural move for Singh,” said Karl Bélanger. Mr. Bélanger was former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s principal secretary and a senior adviser to Jack Layton when he was leader.

The NDP is more closely aligned with the Liberals on environmental issues. Climate change could be a pivotal election issue, with the Liberals defending their carbon tax and the Conservatives vowing to scrap it.

“Chances are the NDP would enter into serious discussions” with the Liberals, Mr. Bélanger said.

What would it take for the NDP to support the Liberals? Scrapping plans to build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would be on the table, along with a promise to replace the first-past-the-post system of electing MPs with a form of proportional representation.

All this assumes the NDP will win enough seats to prop up a Liberal government. But there are many wild cards. If the Greens add a few more seats, their support might be needed as well.

Then there is the question of how many seats the Bloc Québécois will take in Quebec and which party they would be inclined to prop up. And will Maxime Bernier’s populist People’s Party win any seats?

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The situation on the morning after election night could be very fluid.

NDP strategists have long believed that it does not profit their party to keep the Liberals in power. Better to extract concessions from a Conservative government while working to supplant the Liberals as the dominant progressive party. Mr. Layton saved Mr. Harper’s minority government in fall, 2009, and his party became the official opposition in the next election.

But Mr. Singh may not have enough strength within his own party to engage in such stratagems. That is why Mr. Scheer must work for a majority government. For the Conservatives, it may be all or nothing.

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