Turning Points, Tipping Points

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There are eighteen days to go until the Canadian election; the past seven weeks have been mere prologue. For the most part, elections are decided in the final two weeks and so it shall be with this one.

Current polls are showing the Conservatives rising slightly with either the Liberals or the NDP losing ground (the polls are hardly consistent on this). The size of the lead is either significant or barely there. Seat projections suggest the Conservatives will win a plurality of seats but not a majority.

This is bad news for all involved. Stephen Harper needs a majority to remain Prime Minister. Both opposition parties say they will not support him in a minority. If he had significantly more seats than the second place party, he will undoubtedly insist on meeting Parliament where he will produce a Throne Speech which will be hard for one party or the other to vote against. Like all Throne Speeches it will mean very little. But still…

If the Liberals and NDP vote against it, things get tricky. The Governor General should then ask the second party to try to win the confidence of the house, which they will likely do.

However, Harper could insist on another election. But to do so is also a risk. If he is seen to be the one pushing for another vote – and he might because only his party has enough in the bank to afford it – he risks being punished by the electorate, already sick of this interminable campaign. He could fall from first to third in 36 days.

Of course, things are simpler if another party gets more seats than the Conservatives. The path to that result is difficult. One party has to rise and the other has to fall. But which one can be most successful?

A rise in the NDP vote is likely more efficient. Despite their large number of seats in Quebec, their vote is generally more efficient. More NDP votes will definitely lead to more seats. The Liberals, whose support is heavily concentrated in urban areas need a greater rise in raw votes to achieve the same result as the NDP and, especially, to overcome the Conservatives.

On that basis it would seem progressives should rally around the NDP.

However, if the Liberals fall too far, the Conservatives will almost certainly win a majority, possibly with as little as 37% of the vote. That is because while the second choice of New Democrats is overwhelmingly Liberal or Green, nearly 30% of Liberal voters prefer the Conservatives as their second choice. A dramatic fall in Liberal support may be enough to put the Conservatives into majority territory.

So, on that basis, progressives should rally around the Liberals.

It all might be clearer if Mulcair didn’t seem to be campaigning from the centre while Trudeau is occupying the centre left.

All I can hope is that the strategists don’t start focusing on finishing second and lose sight of the main prize. Stopping Harper.

And that’s ten minutes.

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