In elections past, western Canadians were wont to complain that geography, time zones and the electoral system conspired to devalue their votes on the big night. With the outcome clear by the time ballot-counting crossed the Ontario-Manitoba border, eastern Canadians were snugly – smugly, to western eyes – asleep in their beds before polls closed in British Columbia.
It is going to be different tonight. It may well take west coast votes to whether the next government will be Liberal or Conservative – and majority or, more likely, minority.
I have never seen an election so close going into voting day – not since the 1972 election that ended with the Pierre Trudeau Liberals clinging to a minority government by just two seats over Robert Stanfield’s Conservatives.
Last Wednesday, the CBC poll tracker had a double tie: Liberals and Conservative both with a projected 130 (of 338) seats and the NDP and Bloc Québécois both with 38. Next day, the poll aggregator 338Canada.com had the two big parties tied at 132 seats with the Bloc a hair ahead of the NDP in third.
By Sunday morning, the CBC tracker had the Liberal and Conservatives still tied – at 32 per cent – in popular support. Both parties lost support during the official campaign period, which tells us all we need to know about electorate’s opinion of each party’s ugly, negative tactics. It was a dirty war that pitted Conservative disinformation against Liberal evasion. Both parties lost respect as well as votes.
As in 2015, voting hours will be staggered across the country today in an attempt to minimize results lag. Even so, Atlantic Canada will offer an early indication of how the election may unfold. The Liberals won all 32 seats in the region in 2015. The question is: how many of the 32 will they lose today? I’ll be keeping a close eye on the four Metro Halifax ridings.
In Quebec, the story is the late campaign surge of the Bloc. It is going to take votes from the other parties, but how many votes it costs each will tell the tale in Quebec. I’m especially interested in Montreal’s Outremont riding. That’s the old Liberal seat held by former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair from 2007 to 2018. It flipped back to the Liberals in a by-election last February. Will the New Democrats be able to make it flip again?
In Ontario, the first contest on many watch lists is Peterborough-Kawartha, a riding that since 1980 has never failed to send to Ottawa a member of the winning party. Can the Conservatives wrest it from Maryam Monsef, the Liberals’ minister for Women and Gender Equality? If they can, it will be a bad omen for her leader, Justin Trudeau. And in the GTA, the five Mississauga ridings are crucial.
West of Ontario, the polls have painted the Prairies blue. To watch: Regina-Wascana, where Ralph Goodale, minister of Public Safety and the lone Liberal MP from Saskatchewan, is fighting to hold his seat. All 32 seats in Alberta (three of which were Liberal at dissolution) seem destined to go the Conservatives.
It’s a different story in British Columbia whose 42 seats have produced a number of close three- and four-way races. Naturally, all eyes will be on Vancouver Granville to see whether former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould can hold onto her seat as an independent. But it may take the final tallies on Vancouver Island before the election outcome is definitive.
Whichever ways it goes – Liberal or Conservative, majority or minority – the new government faces some urgent issues that were not addressed (or were avoided) in the campaign. It is often observed that the federal government has three overriding missions: national unity, the economy, and relations with the United States. Overall, the economy is in decent shape. Enhancing relations with the U.S. will be hard, if not impossible, as long as Donald Trump is president.
But with the rise of populist provincial governments, aggressively focussed on regional pursuits at the expense of national causes, the fabric of the nation is sorely strained. Mending it must be job one of whomever is prime minister after today.