Conservative tipping points move to the Greater Toronto Area
Atlantic Canada still key for the Liberals, but the GTA could decide who gets the plurality of seats
After three weeks of campaigning, it seems harder and harder to imagine that any of the parties can cobble together a majority government. That means the tipping point seats are getting increasingly theoretical — but they remain revealing nevertheless.
Two dynamics playing out in the polls that have been key to the evolving electoral map have been in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. The Liberals and Conservatives have moved into a close race in Ontario but that movement appears to have stopped. In Atlantic Canada, however, the Conservatives continue to close the gap on the Liberals and have made the region tougher for the Liberals and more important, seat-wise, to the Conservative path to 170.
Elsewhere, improving fortunes for the New Democrats in Ontario and Quebec have seen their tipping points from earlier in the campaign rise up in the rankings, while Conservative gains in British Columbia make that province less of growth area for the NDP.
I’ve been profiling the tipping point seats every Saturday since the beginning of the campaign. The concept is simple (and borrowed from U.S. elections): line up all 338 seats according to how likely a party is to win them, and the seat that sits at No. 170 is the tipping point that puts a party in majority territory.
As always, I’ve also identified the tipping point seat for a Conservative plurality, an NDP caucus doubled to 48 seats, and a Bloc majority of 40 seats in Quebec.
Liberal tipping point: Fredericton
Atlantic Canada is looking more and more problematic for the Liberals. When the campaign began, they enjoyed a 21-point lead over the Conservatives and were poised to nearly-sweep the region once again. Now? The margin is less than six points and perhaps as many as a dozen seats are in play for the Conservatives.
One of them is Fredericton, which is now the Liberals’ tipping point. Their incumbent there is Jenica Atwin, who crossed the floor from the Greens earlier this year.
Last week, Fredericton was 156th on the list — so part of a re-elected minority government but well within the Liberals’ grasp if they were on track for 170.
No more. With the way things are going for the Liberals, winning a seat like Fredericton means they are in the running for a majority because it signals they have overturned their negative trends in Atlantic Canada. Before the campaign, it was nearly a given that they would win this seat.
Atlantic Canada has become such a challenge that last week’s tipping point, Cumberland–Colchester, is now 193rd. The region used to be a first stepping stone to 170. Now, the party is more likely to pick up seats in other parts of the country than they are to hold a lot of their seats in Atlantic Canada. For example, Shefford in the Eastern Townships in Quebec was the tipping point at the outset of the campaign. Now, it is ranked 140th — the Liberals are more likely to gain Shefford than they are to retain Cumberland–Colchester or Fredericton. It’s a topsy-turvy world.
Conservative tipping point: Willowdale
What isn’t so unusual is the importance of the Greater Toronto Area to a Conservative government.
This week’s Conservative tipping point is Willowdale, located on the northern outskirts of the city of Toronto. The Conservatives’ Daniel Lee was about 13 points back of the Liberals’ Ali Ehsassi last time and the two are facing off here again.
Willowdale was 165th last week, so it has actually gotten a little harder for the Conservatives. This is because other areas have gotten comparatively easier: Bonavista–Burin–Trinity in Newfoundland and Labrador was 170th last week and 160th this week. Egmont in Prince Edward Island was 170th two weeks ago but is 158th now. Those Atlantic seats would add to a Conservative minority. Seats like Willowdale or Vaughan–Woodbridge, the party’s initial tipping point, would be part of a majority.
Interestingly, the seat that delivers a bare plurality is also in the GTA: Newmarket–Aurora, which was the Week 1 tipping point for a Conservative plurality. This shows how important the Greater Toronto Area is for the Conservatives. If they can win seats like Newmarket–Aurora (and others like Oakville or York Centre), the Conservatives are probably on track to win more seats than the Liberals. If they can win a seat like Willowdale, which voted Conservative back in 2011, then the party is probably on track for a majority.
Big gains in Ontario and B.C. are key for O’Toole’s path to 170: of the 11 seats ranked 165th to 175th, nine of them are in these two provinces.
NDP tipping point: Chilliwack–Hope
The New Democrats are having a good campaign. They aren’t having a campaign that puts 170 seats in their reach. Nevertheless, their tipping point has moved from central Canada to British Columbia.
Chilliwack–Hope in the Fraser Valley was comfortably won by the Conservatives in 2019. That’s why it’s the kind of unlikely NDP win that would signal an NDP majority. It was 165th last week, however, which shows that B.C. is getting more challenging for the New Democrats — at least when it comes to picking off Conservatives.
The GTA tipping points from the writ drop and Week 1 have become much easier to win, on the other hand, with the Liberals dropping and the NDP gaining in Ontario. Brampton West was 170th three weeks ago but is 144th now. Newmarket–Aurora was 170th two weeks ago but is 152nd now.
In Quebec, the NDP’s improving numbers — and the worsening numbers for the Liberals and Bloc Québécois — means Compton–Stanstead has rocketed up from 170th last week to 139th this week. If the NDP was forming a government, Quebec would be a big part of it. Indeed, five of the seats ranked 165th to 175th for the NDP are in Quebec.
Doubling the caucus, however, still runs through more familiar territory. The 48th seat this week for the NDP is Parkdale–High Park in Toronto. If the NDP is winning a seat like that, they are likely having a very good night and winning three seats in the city.
Bloc tipping point: Sherbrooke
With the Conservatives and NDP doing better in the polls in Quebec — before knowing what impact Thursday’s debate is going to have on those numbers — the Bloc’s path to 40 seats and a majority in the province is getting harder and harder.
This week, their 40th seat is Sherbrooke. That’s because the (modestly) rising NDP in Quebec has made a seat like this tougher for the Bloc to win, making past tipping points that were pure Liberal-Bloc fights like Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine and Longueuil–Charles-LeMoyne comparatively easier to win. The two seats are now ranked 39th and 38th, respectively.
We’ll see what happens in the polls in Quebec over the next few days. It’s possible the Bloc’s path to 40 gets easier. It’s also possible their path to 40 becomes unrealistic.
Update on vote efficiency
The tipping point seats give us a rough calculation of the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ vote efficiency. It hasn’t changed much since last week.
Leading in national polls by about three percentage points but trailing in Willowdale by an estimated 7.5 points, this suggests the Conservatives need to build a 10.5-point lead over the Liberals nationwide in order to win a majority government. Last week, it was 10.4 points.
For a plurality, the Conservatives are nearly there. Trailing by an estimated 0.4 points in Newmarket–Aurora, this implies the Conservatives would be the favourites to win the most seats with a lead of 3.4 points over the Liberals.
So, the Liberals can still eke out a minority government even when trailing the Conservatives by as much as 3.3 points. A majority government, going by the same calculations, becomes achievable for the Liberals with a lead of just 3.8 points over the Conservatives.
With two debates and two weeks to go, it is completely plausible to imagine either the Conservatives or the Liberals putting themselves about four points ahead in the polls. That means, theoretically at least, everything from a Conservative plurality to a Liberal majority is still in the cards. But considering where the trends are headed, I think I know where I’d put my money if I had to.