The Weekly Writ for Sept. 13: Does Poilievre need Quebec?
Plus, which demographics have moved the most since 2021, a potential Manitoba tipping point and the tightest of leadership races.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
One of the recurring questions asked since the Conservative convention in Quebec City wrapped up is this one: do the Conservatives need Quebec?
It depends on what one means by “need”. They don’t need Quebec to win the most seats, that’s clear. And in order to win a majority government, the Conservatives don’t need all of Quebec or even much more of it.
But they might need conservative Quebec.
The polls have been pre-tay, pre-tay good for the Conservatives of late, with their best results putting them more than 10 points ahead of the Liberals with leads in every region of the country except Quebec, where even there the party is more likely to poll above 20% than below it.
But things are reaching the point where the Conservatives would struggle to do much better than this — no party has captured more than 40% of the vote across the country since Jean Chrétien’s Liberals did it in 2000, and even that was only by a few tenths of a percentage point. Since the advent of the 4+ party system in 1993, at or narrowly above 40% is about as good as any party has been able to do.
Seat projections are an imperfect art, but the consensus of late is that the Conservatives would win somewhere around 175 to 180 seats with the kinds of numbers we’ve seen in the polls. If that’s a high watermark, that isn’t a lot of wiggle room for a majority government, which (for now) requires at least 170 seats.
That’s where Quebec comes in.
Conservatives will often point to the 2011 election as an example of how it is possible for the party to win a majority without Quebec. In that election, the Conservatives won only five seats in the province but 11 more across the country than they needed to secure a majority government.
But the 2011 election was an anomalous one — an exceptional election, not a model. The Conservatives were able to win a majority without Quebec for the simple reason that the electoral geography was pushed far beyond its traditional boundaries due to the rise of the New Democrats and the fall of the Liberals, causing some beneficial splits for the Conservatives, especially in Ontario. The Conservatives won 15 seats by less than three points in that campaign. Their majority was narrower than it looked and had those splits not worked in their favour the party’s inability to win more in Quebec would have been seen as a prime reason why it had failed to secure another majority.
Fast forward more than a decade. If the polls suggest the Conservatives can win a majority government with a seat cushion of less than 10 seats, then those 10 seats the party won in Quebec in the 2021 election become really important.
Beyond those 10 seats would really just be gravy.
What is perhaps under-appreciated is just how secure the Conservative base is in the Conservative-voting parts of Quebec. Of their 10 seats, nine were won by at least 20 percentage points in 2021. Four of them were won by 30 points or more. With the possible exception of Chicoutimi–Le Fjord, the seats the Conservatives already have in Quebec are among their safest in the country.
The Conservatives don’t need to grow in Quebec to win a majority (and their prospects are relatively few, barring a significant breakthrough). But they do need to hold their seats to have a shot. Writing Quebec off — not that this is what the Conservatives are doing, quite the opposite — would be a mistake. Doing just enough to keep conservative Quebecers in the fold is probably all that Pierre Poilievre has to do to win.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News out of the Conservative convention, the Ontario Liberal leadership, who is running in Manitoba and an MP who is opting not to re-offer.
Polls on which voters have swung over to the Conservatives, plus new numbers out of Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba.
Two defeats and nine re-elections if the elections were held today.
Fort Richmond, a potential Manitoba tipping point, in this week’s riding profile.
When 50% plus one really means 50% plus one in the #EveryElectionProject.