Rising Atlantic tide moves tipping points east

Liberals need to hold, Conservatives need to gain in Atlantic Canada

The polling trends so far in this campaign have been pretty clear and consistently moving in the same direction: toward the Conservatives and away from the Liberals.

This is taking place throughout the country with various degrees of intensity. But it is particularly marked in Atlantic Canada, where voting intentions have swung by about 9.5 percentage points between the Liberals and Conservatives since the beginning of the campaign.

This means that Atlantic Canada, which was supposed to have been a Liberal lock, has suddenly become much more important for both parties. The Liberals were counting on 28 seats or so out of the region. Now, they might need to put in an extra effort to hold on to what they have. For the Conservatives, the region is looking good for growth — making gains in more challenging areas like Ontario and Quebec relatively less important.

Let’s get to the tipping point seats at the end of this second week of the campaign. I introduced the concept before the writ was dropped. It’s borrowed from U.S. politics but can be applied to Canada as well. To put it simply: line-up all 338 ridings in this country according to how likely a party is to win them. The seat that sits at No. 170 — the threshold for a majority government — is the tipping point seat.

In addition to each party’s majority tipping point, I’ve also identified the tipping point seat for the Conservatives to achieve a plurality, the New Democrats to double their caucus (to 48) and the Bloc Québécois to win a majority of seats in Quebec.

Liberal tipping point: Cumberland–Colchester

The Liberal tipping point seat has been moving around the map quite a bit since the beginning of this campaign. It started in Shefford, signaling how important Quebec was to the Liberals’ path to a majority government. But as the polls soured, it moved to Sudbury, an indication of how holding off the New Democrats in Liberal-held seats in Ontario had become key.

Now, the tipping point is moving to Nova Scotia’s Cumberland–Colchester, a riding Lenore Zann won for the party by a single percentage point over the Conservatives in 2019.

Last week, Cumberland–Colchester was 154th on the Liberal list, meaning it was estimated to be much easier to win than it is today. Sudbury has only fallen back to 172nd, but Shefford keeps rocketing up the charts to 138th. As the Liberals’ poll numbers get worse in British Columbia, Ontario and Atlantic Canada, those Quebec gains start to look comparatively easier.

That is not to say, however, that Ontario and B.C. aren’t still essential for the Liberals’ dwindling hopes of winning a majority government. Of the seats ranked 165th to 175th, straddling that majority threshold, five are in Ontario and three are in B.C.

But the path has changed. In addition to holding their very safe seats, the Liberals now need to make big gains in Quebec and, if things go well, hold on to their marginal seats in B.C. and Ontario — and in places like Nova Scotia. At the outset of this campaign, holding in Ontario and Atlantic Canada was a given while those few extras seat in Quebec were the challenge. The Quebec seats are still on the table, but it is no longer a given that the Liberals can hold nearly all the seats they won in 2019.

Conservative tipping point: Bonavista–Burin–Trinity

It might be weird to think about since the Conservatives haven’t won a seat in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011, but the 170th seat that puts Erin O’Toole into majority territory could be a seat like Bonavista–Burin–Trinity, this week’s Conservative tipping point.

The Conservatives were only a little more than six points behind Churence Rogers of the Liberals in 2019, so it isn’t a stretch to see this riding as the one that could make the difference. Again, this goes back to the big swing we’re seeing in Atlantic Canada. It is making it a place where the Conservatives could make some gains, taking the pressure off the party in other regions of the country.

For example, Vaughan–Woodbridge, which was 170th two weeks ago, is now 175th. This doesn’t mean that this GTA riding has become more difficult to win — it just means there are easier ones for the Conservatives now as their support increases in Atlantic Canada.

Bonavista–Burin–Trinity was 173rd last week, so it has only moved up the rankings a touch. But the Conservative tipping point seat is staying out east, after Prince Edward Island’s Egmont rose to 170th last week. This week, Egmont is looking even better for the Conservatives, ranked 159th.

Of those ranked 165th to 175th, six of them are in Ontario and five of those are in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The region is still the linchpin for a Conservative majority government.

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It’s also key for a Conservative plurality. Last week, the seat that ticked the Conservatives into minority territory was Newmarket–Aurora, north of Toronto. This week, it is York Centre in Toronto itself. If the O’Toole Conservatives are winning formerly-friendly Toronto-area ridings like York Centre, they are likely winning more seats than the Liberals nationwide.

If they are winning seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, they are probably heading north of 170.

NDP tipping point: Compton–Stanstead

I’ll say it every week: an NDP majority government is a ways off. Indeed, the seat that ranks 170th for them is one where they are estimated to be about 28 points behind the front runner. So, a challenge.

But that 170th seat has moved from the GTA to Quebec’s Eastern Townships. As the Liberals come down in Ontario and the NDP inches up, previous tipping points are looking easier for the NDP. Brampton West has risen from 170th two weeks ago to 152nd today, while Newmarket–Aurora has gone from 170th last week to 165th today.

Compton–Stanstead is, to put it lightly, not a good NDP seat. The party didn’t crack 10% there in 2019. But they did win it pretty handily back in 2011, so it isn’t a surprise to see that it would be one of the seats that would contribute to an NDP majority.

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On the whole, Quebec is becoming more interesting for the New Democrats. On Friday, Ruth Ellen Brosseau announced she was running to win back her seat in Berthier–Maskinongé. With the Bloc’s support looking a little soft, I’d say that makes Berthier–Maskinongé No. 2 on the NDP’s list in Quebec.

In terms of the NDP’s tipping point for 48 seats, that is now Jonquière in the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region. It stuck with the party in 2015 so it is a better NDP riding than many others in Quebec.

The New Democrats still face some serious challenges in Quebec, but their numbers are improving. They are up nearly two points in Quebec since the beginning of the campaign. That is still only 2008 levels — when they only won a single seat — but it might give a few Quebec New Democrats a glimmer of hope.

Bloc tipping point: Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine

It’s the lacklustre performance of Yves-François Blanchet’s Bloc that is providing that hope. The party is only around 26% support in Quebec, about as low as the Bloc has registered since the 2019 election. As they are dropping, the Conservatives and NDP have been inching upwards. That puts some of the Bloc’s seats around Quebec City and in the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region under some pressure.

The path to 40 seats is looking more difficult for the Bloc, but it still runs through the Liberals. For the past two weeks the tipping point for the Bloc was Longueuil–Charles-LeMoyne south of Montreal. This week, it is Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine in eastern Quebec.

The seat was won by the Liberals’ Diane Lebouthillier by less than two percentage points last time, so it was always going to be high on the Bloc target list. But the reason that Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine has moved up to No. 40 is because of the Conservatives’ rise in Quebec. Last week, Chicoutimi–Le Fjord was one of the seats on the Bloc’s path to 40. Now it looks more challenging, which means Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine has become comparatively easier.

The Conservatives are mucking up not only the Liberals’ hope of a majority, but the Bloc’s, too.

Let’s return here to the concept of vote efficiency for the Liberals and Conservatives. Earlier this week, I wrote in more detail about the kind of lead the Conservatives need nationally in order to be favoured to win the most seats:

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But the tipping points give us another indication of each party’s vote efficiency.

This analysis is based on Friday’s update of the CBC Poll Tracker, which gave the Liberals a 0.6-point lead over the Conservatives. They were estimated to be 3.1 points behind in their tipping point seat. Theoretically, this means the Liberals would need to be 3.7 points ahead of the Conservatives nationally to eke out a majority government.

The Conservatives, however, were estimated to be 11 points behind in their tipping point. That means they’d need to be 10.4 points ahead in the popular vote to win a majority government. While that might be an exaggeration — these exercises get less meaningful the further you stretch them — it does show the advantage the Liberals have in vote efficiency.

It won’t take much of a shift to move the Liberals back into majority territory. But it will take a reversal of current trends — because the odds that Conservatives end up winning more seats appear to be increasing with every passing day.