In this era of fixed-date federal elections (on the third Monday in October), political strategists work on premise that most voters snooze through the summer pre-campaigns and only shake themselves awake and pay attention after Labour Day.
Now with Labour Day in the rear-view mirror and the prime minister poised to drop the writ in 10 to 12 days, the electorate is presumably becoming focussed. So, here is a small political quiz. What are these three sets of numbers? What do they mean?
162-143; 153-146; 158-135
Answer: They are projections of how many seats – of 338 in the House of Commons – each of the two major parties will win. The projections have been prepared by three different organizations, each using its own formula to weigh and interpret the latest data from a variety opinion polls. In each set, the first number is for the Liberals, the second for the Conservatives.
Although the two parties are deadlocked in the national polls – with a little over 30 per cent apiece – the seat projections give a clear edge to the Liberals. That’s because of the “efficiency” of their vote. Translation: the Liberals’ supporters are more concentrated than the Conservatives’ in areas with significant numbers of winnable ridings, primarily urban and suburban Ontario, British Columbia’s lower mainland and parts of Quebec.
But what do the sets of numbers really mean? Well, they don’t necessarily mean anything. They can be turned on their head if a game-changing event occurs between now and Oct. 21, which could happen, for example, in one of the leaders’ debates.
Pending a game-changer, the numbers simply suggest two things: first, that a majority government (requiring 170 seats) could be beyond the reach of either party; and, second, that the Liberals are in the better position to win a plurality of seats and to form a minority government.
They would also have a better chance than the Conservatives of negotiating post-election support from smaller parties on the left side of the ledger – the NDP, the Greens and possibly the Bloc Québécois. Maxime Bernier is dreaming if he thinks his right-wing People’s Party, anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, anti-multiculturalism, will wield the balance of power. The three projections give it either one seat or none.
The NDP, desperate to save even half of the 44 seats it won in 2015, would not support a Tory minority government – so vows its leader Jagmeet Singh. The Green Party’s Elizabeth May has hinted she might conceivably cut a deal, but the price she could demand – action on her priority objectives: war on climate change, no more pipelines, and introduction of proportional representation – would be impossible for Conservatives to swallow.
Andrew Scheer knows his only realistic chance of becoming prime minister is to win at least 170 seats. That’s why his campaign has been trying to fire up the party base with an urgent message: majority or bust.
He needs to pull a rabbit out of someone’s hat – and last week he tried to do just that. Into my inbox on Thursday popped a surprising 78-second fundraising video from Stephen Harper, his predecessor, from whom Scheer had been diligently distancing himself for months.
Harper looks good – not like a rabbit at all, but like a relaxed silver fox, with a little Andrew Scheer smile playing on his lips. “The country is at a turning point,” Harper declares, adding living is getting more and more expensive, and Canada needs a government that lives within its means.
“He (Scheer) and I both know it is time for you to get ahead,” Harper says, before concluding: “Let’s make Andrew Scheer the next prime minister of Canada.”
The message is low-key and inoffensive. Yet it is risky, a sign of desperation. The party doesn’t need the cash Harper will raise; it will have more money than it is allowed to spend. What it does need is to reassure wavering supporters that Scheer can win and that he has what it takes to be prime minister.
Recruiting Harper may help to stiffen the resolve of the Tory base, but it warns everyone else that the Conservatives are still the folks they threw out four years ago.