The tipping points move out to the suburbs

Liberal, Conservative tipping points all in Ontario

According to the Poll Tracker, the odds of either the Liberals or the Conservatives winning a majority government is just under 20%, or less than one-in-five. For both parties, the path to 170 seats looks pretty far off — at least with where things stand today.

But that path runs through Ontario. In particular, it runs through suburban Ontario.

Every week, I’ve been looking at the tipping point seats and how they have changed from week-to-week. The tipping point seat is the one that sits at No. 170 in a ranking of all ridings according to a party’s chances of winning them.

It’s a way to understand how the electoral geography is shifting for every party. The thing is, though, that the geography hasn’t shifted much this past week.

The polls have been holding pretty steady. After three consecutive weeks of swings of two or three points between the Liberals and the Conservatives, Week 4 showed very little movement as the two parties have settled into almost the exact same position as in October 2019.

The tipping point seats have changed this week, but only by a little. Let’s start with the Liberals, and their increasingly unlikely hopes of winning a majority government.

Liberal tipping point: Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill

While the Liberals started this campaign with a big lead in Ontario only to lose it, they are still ahead in the province. It makes it one of the most important pieces in their re-election strategy — and gains in Ontario are what they would need to hope for majority status.

The Liberal tipping point this week is Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill, located in the suburbs north of Toronto. The riding was won by former-Liberal-turned-Conservative Leona Alleslev by just two points in 2019. With the polls tightening in Ontario, that gap is estimated to be about twice as wide now. But if the Liberals are winning a majority, it means picking up the few seats in the Greater Toronto Area that escaped their grasp last time.

Last week, Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill was 165th, putting it as part of an enlarged Liberal minority rather than a majority. So it has gotten a little harder to win, but much easier than some other areas. Nova Scotia’s Cumberland–Colchester, for instance, was 154th three weeks ago, 170th two weeks ago, 193rd last week and now 215th — the kind of seat the Liberals win only in a landslide.

Shefford in Quebec, 170th at the beginning of the campaign, is still ranking as part of a Liberal re-elected minority at 144th, largely unchanged from its standing at 140th last week and 138th the week before that. The Liberals need a few gains in Quebec to keep their plurality.

Among the seats ranked 165th to 175th, so straddling the majority mark, four are in Ontario and three each are in Quebec and B.C. Of these 11 ridings, seven of them are in the suburbs of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Conservative tipping point: Nepean

The suburbs are big for the Conservatives, too. But not just the suburbs of Canada’s three largest population centres. This week’s tipping point for the party is Nepean in Ottawa.

The Liberals’ Chandra Arya won this comfortably in 2019 by a margin of 12.4 points, but the area that is now Nepean formed part of Nepean–Carleton when Pierre Poilieve won it as part of Stephen Harper’s majority in 2011. That it needs to come back to the fold for an Erin O’Toole majority in 2021 makes sense.

It was 168th last week. Willowdale, 170th last week, is now 171st. So these seats are just jostling around. But it demonstrates that the Conservative path to 170 includes suburban seats in all big cities, including Ottawa.

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Listen now (47 min) | This week on The Writ podcast: In the news David Coletto is the CEO of Abacus Data and hosts inFocus with David Coletto. He joins me to discuss how the race has unfolded so far and how the Liberal-NDP switchers are the key electorate that could decide the outcome of the election…
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A Conservative plurality, on the other hand, can be won by picking off mid-size cities. The tipping point seat that gives the Conservatives more seats than the Liberals this week is Thunder Bay–Rainy River in northern Ontario. Marcus Powlowski won this for the Liberals by six points in 2019. If the Conservatives are emerging with a plurality of seats, it is the kind of riding that tips over into the Conservative column.

Other mid-size cities that sit around the plurality tipping point include Fredericton, St. Catharines, Jonquière and Sault Ste. Marie. Conquering the suburbs gets Erin O’Toole into plausible minority territory, but to get there he needs some of these seats in smaller urban centres.

NDP tipping point: Winnipeg South

Four weeks in and the chances of an NDP majority government are just as slim as they were at the outset. Nevertheless, the tipping point seat for the New Democrats this week is Winnipeg South.

The riding was 179th for the NDP last week, so Manitoba is looking a little more promising for the party. British Columbia is looking even more promising as the NDP closes the gap on the Conservatives there. Last week’s tipping point, Chilliwack–Hope, is now 139th for the NDP.

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The tipping point for doubling the NDP’s caucus from 24 to 48 seats is also in British Columbia. The seat is Surrey Centre, where the NDP was 10 points back of Randeep Singh Sarai in the last election. The party last won the seat (when it was Surrey North) in 2011.

The path to 48 for Jagmeet Singh is looking more western than it was last week, when it looked a little more Central Canadian. As the NDP falls back a bit in Ontario and the Liberals shore-up their support there, Parkdale–High Park has fallen from last week’s 48th seat to this week’s 62nd. The NDP has better prospects elsewhere than in Toronto.

Bloc tipping point: Berthier–Maskinongé

By my calculations, the Bloc Québécois cannot win 170 seats. But they can win a majority of those up for grabs in Quebec. Getting to 40 seats is looking tougher for the Bloc as the campaign rolls on, though Yves-François Blanchet might have been given a lot of help at the (checks notes) English-language debate?

This week’s tipping point seat for a Quebec majority for the Bloc is now Berthier–Maskinongé. Yves Perron won this in 2019 by a margin of 2.7 points over Ruth Ellen Brosseau of the NDP’s Class of ‘11 fame. Brosseau is back on the ballot and the NDP is doing okay in the polls in Quebec, so it is now a hurdle for the Bloc to jump rather than a gimmie.

Indeed, Berthier–Maskinongé began the campaign as one of the 29 seats in the Bloc’s column. Now it is all the way at 40, moving up from 36th last week.

With the NDP and Conservatives doing better in Quebec than in 2019, the Bloc needs to run through more Liberal seats to get to 40. We’ll have to wait and see if the polls shift enough in the coming days to change this equation, but the Bloc’s hope of 40 seats is facing challenges from all sides.

Update on vote efficiency

The Liberals’ vote efficiency has improved this past week as they open up a little gap over the Conservatives in Ontario and see the Bloc fall in Quebec. Last week, a Liberal majority government was theoretically possible with a lead of just 3.8 percentage points over the Conservatives. This week, it is just 2.1 points.

Is that likely? I’d say no. But the map is getting better for the Liberals. So, we shouldn’t be surprised if, on election night, things fall in all the best ways for the Liberals and they get closer to 170 seats than we would have thought possible. The Poll Tracker gives the Liberals a 15% chance of a majority government, just a little worse than rolling a ‘1’ on a six-sided die.

For the Conservatives, their efficiency has gotten worse. Last week, they could win a plurality of seats with a lead of 3.4 points in the national popular vote. This week, it is 4.7 points. That’s a big lead to have to build up.

Their efficiency for a majority is not different than last week, though. They need a lead of 10.5 points nationally, unchanged from where it was a week ago.

It’s hard to imagine the Conservatives opening up a lead like that in these final nine days. But the final days often see the most movement. It’ll be a good week to watch the polls.