Perhaps the best thing that happened to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in this election campaign was getting clobbered in the first French-language debate by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.
Mr. Scheer looked like death when it happened, and it hobbled Conservative fortunes in Quebec. But when the dust cleared, the surging Bloc was threatening Liberal hopes in the province, too – and Quebec is more crucial to Justin Trudeau.
And what’s more, the Bloc’s rise opens up a realistic opportunity for Mr. Scheer to govern in what is likely to be a minority Parliament. The NDP and the Greens have said they’d try to stop the Conservatives from taking power. But Mr. Blanchet will play let’s-make-a-deal. And now the Bloc might just have enough seats to hold the balance of power.
That means Canadians now have a better chance of hearing four new words next week: Prime Minister Andrew Scheer.
At least, he is probably closer now than he has been at any point in the campaign.
For the Conservatives, it is almost like an accident. Mr. Scheer’s party hasn’t gained an inch in opinion polls over the course of the campaign. Both he and Mr. Trudeau seem to be facing a none-of-the-above sentiment. But the rising fortunes of the Bloc, and a recent bump for the NDP, have pegged back Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals.
Tracking polls conducted by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV found that as of Sunday, 32.1 per cent of Canadians would vote Conservative, nearly identical to the 32.8 per cent when nightly tracking began Sept. 13, two days after the campaign began. (The three-day rolling poll of 1,200 telephone interviews has a margin of error of 2.8 per cent, 19 times in 20.)
Mr. Scheer has, in fact, been higher – at 37.8 per cent in the second week of the campaign. But what’s odd is that his Conservatives probably have a better chance now of winning the most seats in the House of Commons. That’s because Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals have slipped, too, in important places.
The Bloc is now running close to the Liberals in Quebec, where Mr. Trudeau had hoped to pick up seats. The NDP, bolstered by Leader Jagmeet Singh’s sympathetic performance in the debates, has seen a bump in support that could help them win some Liberal-held seats in Toronto, and weaken Mr. Trudeau’s hold on several other ridings.
In short, the Liberals and Conservatives are in a tie. It is hard to say who would win the most seats in the House of Commons if the vote were held tomorrow. Neither party is in a position at this point – although a lot can change in a week – of winning an outright majority. It could well be a Parliament where both have sizable numbers – say, 135 or 140 seats. And 140 could be enough for Mr. Scheer, especially if the Bloc holds the balance of power.
Mr. Blanchet has ruled out a formal coalition – but coalitions are rare in Canada anyway. Usually, a minority prime minister rules by putting forward budgets and legislation that gets support from one party or another. Since Confederation, there has been only one coalition, in the First World War, but 13 minority governments. A Prime Minister Scheer would need help in votes, notably on his first Throne Speech, but Mr. Blanchet has said he will vote with any party that satisfies Bloc demands.
That provides a potential path to power for Mr. Scheer.
And the next few days will see a lot more attention on the idea of Mr. Scheer as prime minister.
Mr. Scheer made it a key part of his campaign this weekend when he asked for a majority mandate to stop a Liberal-NDP coalition. A majority seems unlikely right now, but the point is to warn centrist voters in Toronto suburbs that a free-spending and heavy-taxing NDP could hold sway with a Liberal government. Stephen Harper won the 2011 election using just such a warning about a Liberal-NDP coalition.
Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals will be making this last week about a possible Prime Minister Scheer, too – raising it like a bogeyman to tell voters that if they do not support the Liberals, they will get a Conservative PM.
Now both of the biggest parties, closing a campaign that has so far focused a lot on Mr. Trudeau, are talking about a possible Prime Minister Scheer.
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