Opinion: Ontario, Quebec voters likely to decide 2015 election

Published Dec. 22, 2014, in the Waterloo Region Record.

As the country approaches federal election year 2015, only two things appear certain.

First, the 42nd Canadian general election will be held as scheduled on Oct. 19. That’s what the law provides, and, although the prime minister can change the date by cabinet order, Stephen Harper made it reasonably clear in his year-end interviews that he is as unlikely to do that as he is to grant Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne an audience any time soon. (That is to say, any time before hell freezes over. But I digress.)

The second “certainty” is that no one has the faintest idea what may happen on Oct. 19. There have been occasions in the past when polls published 10 to 12 months before a general election proved to be reasonably accurate indicators of polling day. Not this year.

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It’s not so much that the polls are volatile as it is that they are shifting restlessly. The third-place Liberals had enjoyed a fairly comfortable lead ever since they made Justin Trudeau their leader in the spring of 2013. In recent months, however, their lead shrank and virtually disappeared as the issues shifted from the Liberal court (distaste for Harper; time for a change) to the Conservative court (national security; the economy, especially the energy sector; and uneasiness about Trudeau’s ability to lead the nation).

But just as it seemed the Conservatives were on the rebound, the numbers moved again. It’s the sort of thing that causes political prognosticators to tear out their hair in frustration. The latest round of published polls puts the Liberals ahead by roughly four percentage points. It’s not much, but if it signals a reversal of the downward trend, it could be significant. Or not.

On Friday, the web-based poll aggregator, ThreeHundredEight.com, having incorporated the most recent surveys, presented these numbers: Liberals 35.6 per cent; Conservatives 31.9; NDP 20.2; Greens 6; Bloc 4.3; and others 2.1.

In other words, minority government. In fact, ThreeHundredEight.com, projected a dead heat with the Liberals and Conservatives each winning 134 seats, the NDP 67, Greens 2, and Bloc 1 in the enlarged 338-seat House of Commons.

If those numbers bear out, 2015 would see the closest national election since 1972 when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals won just two seats more than Robert Stanfield’s Tories.

Will it happen? Probably not. What makes elections so fascinating is this: when the electorate takes it into its head to move, no one — not pollsters, poll aggregators, pundits or political gurus — knows how far it may move and where it may stop.

The best the aforementioned pollsters, etc. can do is watch certain key areas. They know (or assume) the Atlantic region will go heavily Liberal. They think the Prairies will again be strongly, if not solidly, Conservative. They believe British Columbia will produce the most drama, with a number of close three- and even four-way races.

But it’s the two big provinces, Ontario and Quebec, that will decide the outcome. In Quebec, the New Democrats’ “Orange” breakthrough of 2011, under Jack Layton, is threatened by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The latest polls put the Liberals four to five points up on the NDP, now led by Quebecer Thomas Mulcair. But that lead can evaporate overnight. The Conservatives are effectively on the sidelines in the province, while the Bloc Québécois appears to have outlived whatever relevance it might once have had.

To Ontario, then, with its wealth of 121 seats. The 73 seats that Harper took in 2011 made his majority. Can he duplicate that performance? The polls are very tight, with the Liberals, strong in the cities, especially Toronto, sitting about three points ahead of the Conservatives, who poll well in the suburbs and in the towns of southwestern Ontario. The NDP is well back with about one-half the support of the other two.

The fight between now and Oct. 19 promises to be brutal. It will make 2015 a year for the books for political junkies.

LISPOP on Global News: Ontario election seat projection

Published June 10, 2014, in the Global News.

LISPOP’s latest seat projection was mentioned in an article by Andrew Russell which suggests the Liberals could pick up 47 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 41 and the NDP 19. Full article available here.

LISPOP on Global News: Polls suggest tight race with just days left in campaign

Published June 9, 2014, in the Global News.

LISPOP’s latest seat projection was mentioned in an article by James Armstong which suggests the Liberals could pick up 48 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 41 and the NDP 18. Full article available here.

LISPOP mentioned in the Waterloo Region Record

Published May 20, 2014, in The Waterloo Region Record.

The Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) was mentioned in an article related to the 2014 Ontario Election. Full article can be accessed here.

Growing Interest in Municipal Politics

There appears to be increased interest in municipal politics. This is possibly due to a combination of Rob Ford’s antics as well as the coming Ontario-wide municipal elections. But it may also be due to some recognition that a lot of politics is now taking place at the municipal level.

Opinion-Policy Nexus has posted blog entries that cover various topics related to municipal politics. Here is a summary of the most recent:

  • Dr. Zachary Spicer, a post-doc at the University of Toronto, sheds light on homeowners as a particular segment of the electorate that is more likely to vote in local elections, and thus, more likely to weigh heavy on decisions made at the municipal level.
  • Dr. Robert Williams, Professor Emeritus at University of Waterloo, provides some commentary on electoral reform at the municipal level.
  • Dr. Christopher Alcantara, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of LISPOP, was interviewed by CBC Radio on the role of municipal-level political parties and the specific (and contentious) topic of Light Rail Transit for Waterloo Region.

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Interest may abate after the municipal elections, but there are reasons to believe otherwise. Over several decades, municipalities have acquired more and more responsibilities. Naturally, more and more researchers, students and commentators, not to mention voters, follow with greater awareness of the impact municipalities have on people’s lives. Also, municipalities are now more closely tied concrete issues that have typically animated “higher level” politics, such as employment and taxes. All of this suggests local politics will play a larger part in our general political discourse.