We are now six months out from Oct. 21, the date of the next general election, and there is good reason to ask whether Jagmeet Singh would be willing to allow Andrew Scheer to be prime minister.
The answer is: probably yes.
For more than a year, the Liberals and Conservatives have been close to each other in the polls. Thanks to the damage inflicted by the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Conservatives are currently ahead, though the gap appears to be narrowing.
The day-to-day trauma of that scandal has finally receded, but the resignations of cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have made Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the least popular of the three national party leaders.
The Liberals’ grand bargain on energy and the environment – a pipeline from the oil sands to the Pacific in exchange for a carbon tax to fight global warming – has resulted in no pipeline as yet and five provinces at war with Ottawa over the carbon tax.
The new North American free-trade agreement that the Liberal government worked so hard for sits unratified in Congress or Parliament, while the tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum exports remain in place.
In short, there doesn’t appear to be anything that would shift public opinion toward the Liberals sufficiently to produce a second majority government.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has his own problems. To start, he is forced to share the stage with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney in the battle against the Liberal carbon tax.
Mr. Scheer projects little public presence, seeming to many people bland and ill-defined. On the opposite side, the Liberals are not being shy in accusing him of failing to call out right-wing extremists, which could cost the Conservatives in crucial suburban ridings with large immigrant populations.
So if a majority Liberal government no longer seems likely, a majority Conservative government is equally hard to envision. In which case, enter Jagmeet Singh.
Mr. Singh made a bad first impression after winning the NDP leadership a year and a half ago. A quarter of his caucus has announced they are not running again. Fundraising is in the doldrums and Mr. Singh has had difficulty attracting and keeping staff.
But he finally won a seat in February’s Burnaby South by-election and has been competent on his feet in Question Period. He has a new book, Love and Courage, in which he confronts the bullying and sexual abuse he endured in childhood.
Polls show the NDP back in its traditional location: the mid-to-high teens, doomed to lose most or all of its remaining beachhead in Quebec, but with strength in Ontario and British Columbia.
Voter discontent and a possible breakthrough in Tuesday’s provincial election in Prince Edward Island could push support for the Green Party higher, though such a shift would not likely influence the balance of power.
A credible guesstimate of what might happen in six months: The Liberals will lose seats to the Tories in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies. They will gain seats at the NDP’s expense in Quebec. Whoever does the best in suburban Ontario and British Columbia will end up with the most seats, though not enough for a majority government.
In that situation, many progressives would expect the NDP to support the Liberals so as to keep the Conservatives out of power. But that’s not how the game is played.
If the Liberals were to win the most seats, the NDP would vote confidence in a new government, though Mr. Singh would keep Mr. Trudeau on a short leash.
But if the Conservatives have a plurality of seats, the NDP would likely vote confidence as well. After Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won the most seats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the late Jack Layton’s NDP backed them, though the Tories had to make important concessions during key votes.
It does not profit the New Democrats to keep Liberals in power, despite the pleas of progressives. Both parties target the same voters. The long-term aim of the NDP is one day to supplant the Grits.
If you’re thinking such election speculation is baseless, so far in advance – yeah, I know. But if I had to bet, I’d bet on a minority government, with Jagmeet Singh in the driver’s seat.