At the halfway mark of this election campaign, the Liberals and Conservatives remain tied in the polls. This could hold till election night. What we see right now is what we may get in three weeks.
There are plenty of caveats. The leaders’ debates could shake things up. A fresh revelation could embarrass one party or another. Family conversations on Thanksgiving weekend could move the vote.
But barring some kind of game changer, we are confronting the prospect of a hung parliament, which will almost certainly result in a weak minority government and an unhappy, restless country.
Since the middle of August, according to Nanos Research, which polls for The Globe and Mail, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party have been close to each other in support, with any gap usually falling within the poll’s margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.
Despite this story about a compromised local candidate or that about a photo of Mr. Trudeau in brownface, neither party has been able to establish a clear and consistent lead. On Monday, the Grits were holding steady at 33 per cent, with the Tories at 34 per cent.
Conservative support is heavily concentrated in the Prairies. The Liberals will likely lose seats there and in Atlantic Canada, but are poised to pick up many of the NDP seats at risk in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois is growing stronger, though, which could limit Liberal gains.
Polls also show the Liberals and Conservatives tied in the 905, the large band of seats surrounding Toronto, named after the region’s area code. In past federal elections, the 905 has voted as a block – handing the Conservatives a majority in 2011 and the Liberals a majority in 2015. But if the current tie holds, then the region could split, with the Liberals losing some but not all of their hold on the region.
Add it all up and from this desk it appears the Liberals won’t be able to form a majority government, though the odds favour them retaining the plurality of seats.
But Conservative supporters are more committed to their party than Liberal supporters. If turnout is low – which seems likely, given the lack of voter enthusiasm – and the Conservatives mobilize their vote, the Liberals could be in for a nasty shock.
Whoever comes in first in the seat count, Mr. Trudeau is likely to carry on as prime minister, since NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has made it clear that he would never prop up the Conservatives. To become prime minister, Mr. Scheer must win a majority government, which currently is not in the cards.
(While Elizabeth May’s Green Party rivals the NDP in popularity, the party’s support is spread like a thin coat of paint across the country, making it unlikely the Greens will pick up enough seats to play kingmaker.)
Many Canadians like minority Liberal governments, because they lead to increased investment in social programs. That was the case with Pierre Trudeau after the 1972 election, and it could be the case with Justin Trudeau after the 2019 election. Mr. Singh could extract a swifter and more comprehensive pharmacare program from the Liberals as a condition for his support.
But the country would be divided. The Conservatives might win the popular vote, and possibly even the seat count, while being unable to form a government. Westerners will be deeply angry that voters in Greater Toronto and Montreal once again went Liberal, ignoring the West. And if the Liberals agree to abandon the Trans Mountain pipeline in exchange for NDP support, the fracture in national unity could be critical.
The new government will face a world in turmoil. America is tearing itself apart over Donald Trump, with impeachment proceedings now under way. If he’s cornered, and if Congress refuses to ratify the renegotiated North American free trade agreement, the President could move to withdraw the United States from the deal entirely, creating an economic crisis.
Even without such a crisis, the Sino-American trade war could take the global economy into recession, while the Brexit schmozzle undermines the European Union.
Canada will need a strong federal government to navigate such perilous waters. Instead, Parliament could reflect the growing tensions and polarization within Canada itself. And there may be nothing we can do to prevent it.