Opinion-Policy Nexus

Two years passed since the spectacular 2011 election, leaving Canada with a very new electoral dynamic. The Conservative party emerged as the new dominant political force; the Liberal party was reduced to third-party status; and the NDP rose to official opposition and acquired a more confident posture about crossing over to the governing benches. Now, at the mid-way point of this government’s mandate, we take a look at how things have evolved. As it turns out, much has changed.

Two years’ worth of seat projections computed by LISPOP associate Barry Kay is summarized in Figure 1. These are based on publicly available polls, catalogued by LISPOP. One obvious change over this time is the renewed popularity of the Liberal party.

Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca)

With Justin Trudeau as its new leader, the Liberals now seem far less like the deceased political entity many claimed it to be. The Liberals, which governed with a rather weak base in the Western provinces, and, since the early 1980s, without Quebec offering solid support, appears to have reversed much of its misfortune. The Liberals gained strength early on since 2011. The very first seat projection since the last general election nearly doubled the Liberal seat count in Parliament. The party broke through the 100-seat mark in spring, 2013, where it took the lead, nationally. It pushed further ahead in June to 166 seats, although our most recent projection (July 9, 2013) suggests the Liberals lost some ground. Overall, though, the party's gains appear to have come at the expense of both the NDP and Conservatives.

But the real story is not in national numbers, which could easily be skewed by polls that over sample the more populous areas. As we all know, electoral politics in Canada is fought at the regional level. On this score, too, much has changed.

In British Columbia, the Liberals languished in a distant third place behind the Conservatives and NDP (see Figure 2). However, the Liberals have come from way behind and now there is far less space separating the three major parties. Currently, the LISPOP projection gives the Conservative and NDP each 15 seats, and the Liberals 11.

Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca)

The regional flip-side of Canada, the Atlantic provinces, shows a flip-side of trends (see Figure 3). The 2011 election left the three parties relatively close by to each other. The Conservatives, which led the region two years ago, saw its strength halved, with our latest seat projections allocating six seats to the party. The NDP, while hardly a formidable force back in 2011, has weakened a tad more. But the Liberals, which won 12 seats in 2011, is now allocated nearly twice that.

Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca) Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca)

In Quebec, the NDP – which in 2011 displaced the Bloc Québécois as the dominant party in the province – has lost much ground to the Liberals. Our most recent allocation gives the Liberal 39 seats, with 26 to the NDP (see Figure 4). The Conservatives, which always struggled in Quebec, have remain way behind. Our seat projections rarely gave the party anything more than single-digit allocations. Our most recent projection gives the Conservatives five seats. Meanwhile, the Bloc, which suffered a near-death experience in 2011, could be said to remain on life support. Our seat projections gave the BQ its best allocation of 20 seats in March of 2012, but since then the party's numbers rarely exceeded the low teens. Our latest projection gives the Bloc eight seats.

Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca) Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca)

In Ontario, the Liberals are effectively tied with the Conservatives (see Figure 5). The Liberals spent much of 2012 tied with the NDP for a distant second place. But since the winter of 2013, the Liberals broke away from that pattern to now tie with the Conservatives.

Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca) Source: Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (lispop.ca)

It is only in the three Prairie provinces where things remain relatively unchanged over the last two years. The Conservatives continue to dominate in Alberta, with the opposition parties are allocated only three seats in our latest projection. The opposition parties have made more of an improvement in the other two provinces, but the Conservatives remain still very much on top.

It should be cautioned that all of this is a premature analysis of trends. The next election is not until two years, and a great deal can happen in politics in a very short period of time. Perhaps that is the motivation behind yesterday's cabinet shuffle. Also, new electoral boundaries are not yet set in stone, so our projections are based on assumptions that may very well need to be modified. In sum, the present situation could easily juggle into another dynamic or return to the polarized scenario of 2011. There is no telling what a campaign could do to “restore” Canada to the political order established two years ago, or even to shake it up further into yet a new and unexpected equilibrium.

For a complete list of LISPOP's federal seat projections, visit: http://lispop.ca/seatprojections.html


All political parties have spikes and dips in their level of support. The problem for the Liberal party is that their spikes are not as high as they used to be, and their dips are much deeper. In other words, they're on a downward trajectory, and they have been for many decades.

The fact that we're talking about the resurgence of the Liberal party now that the Liberals have broken into minority govt territory in public opinion polling, smack of the middle of the Conservatives' term, during the honeymoon period of a new leader that is also the son of the most revered leader in the history of the party, tells the story of just how far the federal Liberals have declined.