Weekly Writ for Oct. 18: Back to brinksmanship in Ottawa?
The NDP (and the Bloc's) incentives and disincentives for forcing an election, plus how Jagmeet Singh's leadership review score compares to other NDP leaders.
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.
The New Democrats left this past weekend’s party convention empowered to scrap their confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals if the government doesn’t come through with a fully public and universal pharmacare plan.
But is it a threat the Liberals need to take seriously?
The NDP has been at pains to point out that ending their agreement with the Liberals doesn’t mean that the government will fall. Instead, the NDP will decide on a vote-by-vote basis. In other words, we’ll go from today’s relative stability to an unpredictable brinksmanship that could result in sending the country to the polls. Anyone old enough to remember those minority days between 2004 and 2011 will recall just how exhausting that was.
Pulling out of the CASA is not much of a threat, however, unless the NDP is also willing to vote down the government. As it stands, the agreement isn’t all that more concrete than vote-by-vote support as the CASA can end at any moment. If the NDP decided to defeat the government tomorrow, nothing in the CASA stops them from doing that.
But do the New Democrats really want to pull the plug?
Let’s look at the electoral ramifications.
First, there’s the intangible. Lots can happen over a six-week campaign. Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives could get on a roll, crushing all the other parties in their wake — including the NDP. The campaign could instead become polarized between the Conservatives and the Liberals, squeezing the NDP vote, much as the Manitoba Liberals were squeezed out of that province’s polarizing campaign. Or, Trudeau’s Liberals could be the ones who collapse, propelling the NDP to another 2011-style finish.
Which of those three scenarios are the most likely in the current climate is up for debate, but I’d wager the probability of the first two playing out is far greater than the last one.
Second, there’s the tangible. Is the NDP ready for an election? Can it mount a fully-funded campaign? The latest fundraising figures and the annual filings don’t suggest a party flush with cash.
And then third, there’s the electoral map. If a campaign ended in a way that was similar to where the polls stand today, would that be a result the NDP would welcome?
At the macro level, the answer is no. The outcome would probably be a Conservative majority government implementing policies the NDP opposes, with the party’s influence in the House of Commons being reduced to virtually nil. The NDP is in a better position today than it could reasonably expect to be in after an election.
At the micro level, I’d say the answer is also no.
The Liberals’ steep drop in support in Atlantic Canada and Ontario opens up some opportunities for the New Democrats. On the east coast, they’d have a good shot at winning St. John’s East and Halifax, as well as possibly Dartmouth–Cole Harbour. In Ontario, the NDP would finally return to Toronto, taking seats like Davenport, Parkdale–High Park and maybe Toronto–Danforth. Picking up Hamilton Mountain would also be a possibility, and the national trends would suggest the Northwest Territories could also be in play for the NDP.
So, the NDP has an upside of picking up as many as eight seats and re-establishing itself in Atlantic Canada and Toronto. Not bad.
But the party also risks losing lots of ground to the Conservatives — maybe even more ground than they’d make up on the Liberals. In northern Ontario, Algoma–Manitoulin–Kapuskasing and Timmins–James Bay would be at risk (waiting until after April 2024, when the electoral map will change, would help save Charlie Angus).
In British Columbia, the NDP would risk losing their Interior seats of Skeena–Bulkley Valley and South Okanagan–West Kootenay, as well as being pushed out of northern Vancouver Island with the possible losses of Courtenay–Alberni, Cowichan–Malahat–Langford and North Island–Powell River. Port Moody–Coquitlam in the Lower Mainland and Edmonton Griesbach in Alberta could also flip to blue.
That’s nine potential losses against eight potential gains, but the symbolism of those losses might hurt more. Winning some seats in Atlantic Canada would be a good result, but taking a few seats in Toronto at the expense of a few seats in northern Ontario, as well as losing significant ground to the Conservatives in rural seats in British Columbia, would result in the NDP becoming more urban and eastern/central Canadian than it is today without any significant gains in its seat count.
That isn’t a trade-off the NDP should welcome. It’ll always be competitive in urban centres. Losing seats in its traditional heartlands — in areas that risk moving away from the NDP for good, as happened in rural Saskatchewan — might have longer-lasting consequences.
There’s always the matter of principle, of course, but I don’t see any incentive for the NDP to make good on their threats.
Philippe and I will discuss the NDP’s position, Jagmeet Singh’s leadership score and much more on this week’s episode of The Numbers. Get the podcast (and Les chiffres) a day early by joining our Patreon! You can sign-up here.
Before moving on, a short note on the role of the other party in the House of Commons with a balance of power: the Bloc Québécois.
They’re often omitted in these discussions. If Singh does pull his support away from the government an election isn’t inevitable. The Liberals could always go to Yves-François Blanchet instead.
The incentives for the Bloc to defeat the government are stronger, however. The Bloc doesn’t have the same interest in making a minority parliament work. If the Bloc can get results for Quebec, they’ll take them. But their voter base can also be motivated by grievances against the feds, so defeating the Liberal government because it wasn’t giving Quebec what the Bloc demanded has its advantages, too.
The polls have more upside than downside for the Bloc. The Liberals’ slide could put as many as eight seats up for grabs, primarily in the Eastern Townships and the Montérégie region south of Montreal.
The corresponding rise in Conservative support does put some pressure on the Bloc, but only in three or four ridings — a trade-off the Bloc could live with.
But the Bloc might not want to give the Conservatives the chance to grow their base in the province. They might also worry about being tarred as the cause of the Liberal government’s downfall, as Quebecers aren’t as dissatisfied with Trudeau as other Canadians are. The Conservatives’ numbers are up in Quebec, but Poilievre’s appeal in the province is still rather low. Both the NDP and the Bloc can’t dismiss the danger of blowback from their respective bases for bringing about a Prime Minister Pierre Poilievre.
Nevertheless, we might be about to return to an age of brinksmanship. But you can’t help but feel that Trudeau, Singh and even Blanchet would all be bluffing with a pair of twos.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News on Jagmeet Singh’s leadership review and how it compares to other NDP leaders, plus an election is called in the Northwest Territories and a new riding map does not seem to be on the way for Ontario.
Polls on federal and Ontario voting intentions and how Canadians view a number of foreign affairs issues, plus opinions on “parental rights”, a Liberal-NDP merger and a deeper dive into Toronto’s federal, provincial and municipal politics.
Teflon Doug back safely in majority territory in Ontario if the election were held today.
A B.C. Conservative target in this week’s riding profile.
Bernard Lord wins the NB PC leadership in the #EveryElectionProject.
François Legault, David Eby and Rachel Notley celebrate some milestones.