2019 Canadian election log, IV : looking a Conservative minority government straight in the eye

Oct 12th, 2019 | By | Category: In Brief
The day after the 1979 Canadian federal election, when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals were briefly replaced by Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives.

[UPDATED OCTOBER 13]. In its UPDATED ON OCT 12, 2019 AT 9:21 AM ET edition Éric Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker is now predicting 140 seats in the elected Canadian parliament for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, with 32.6% of the cross-Canada popular vote, and only 135 seats (and 32.0% of the popular vote) for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals! [See October 13 update below!]

Neither party is close to the 170 seats needed for even a bare majority. But if these (or something very similar) are the numbers that prevail on Monday, October 21 then – on our view at any rate – the next public enterprise that will try to govern Canada will be a Scheer Conservative minority government.

Some will say that on these same numbers a Liberal minority government led by Justin Trudeau is still possible. M. Grenier’s October 12 Poll Tracker also gives 33 seats to the Bloc Québécois, 25 to the New Democrats, 4 to the Greens, and 1 to the People’s Party of Canada.

Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer, and Jagmeet Singh at Maclean’s/Citytv National Leaders Debate in Toronto, September 12, 2019.

On these exact October 12 CBC Poll Tracker numbers even a progressive Liberal minority government supported by both Jagmeet Singh’s NDP and Elizabeth May’s Greens would still be half a dozen seats shy of even a bare parliamentary majority. (Just do the math : 135 Libs + 25 NDP + 4 Greens = 164 “progressives” where 170 is the minimum.) A minority government of this sort that was also careful to please the Bloc Québécois from time to time, however, could arguably survive for more than a few months.

Yet especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan where the Canada-wide Conservative vote (and the modern Canadian oil and gas industry) is so concentrated, a co-operative progressive government of this sort would be terminally tainted by the hard fact that its largest party was not the party with the largest number of seats and the largest share of the Canada-wide popular vote.

In this context, and in the interests of both the future of Canada and his own political career, if the federal election on October 21 does bring something essentially the same as the October 12 CBC Poll Tracker numbers, Justin Trudeau ought to (and almost certainly will?) resign – and advise Governor General Julie Payette to ask Andrew Scheer to try to form a government.

Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, and Yves-François Blanchet in French language leaders debate at Gatineau, Quebec, October 10, 2019.

If Andrew Scheer were Stephen Harper, and if 2019 were more like 2006, a cleverly managed Conservative minority government might arguably also survive for more than a few months. (On the October 12 CBC numbers, eg, a Conservative minority government that could rely on 33 Bloc Québécois MPs, led by the Yves-François Blanchet who sounds somewhat like the current conservative premier of Quebec, could boast a parliamentary majority of 140+33=173 seats.)

In the real world of 2019 the best guess would seem to be that a Conservative minority government led by Mr. Scheer will likely enough not last very long. We will have to have another Canadian federal election soon, say at some point in 2020.

From the standpoint of the progressive values we see ourselves as standing up for here on this site, a short-lived Conservative minority government, while certainly disappointing, would at least be a better October 21 result than a Conservative majority government.

It would also raise a number of deep and possibly even troubling questions about the realistic progressive future in current Canadian politics. These questions were first raised by the almost 10-year history of Stephen Harper Conservative governments in Canada (only the 2011-2015 edition of which was a majority government, and even then with less than 40% of the cross-Canada popular vote). The ultimately somewhat surprising Liberal majority government won by Justin Trudeau in 2015 (also with less than 40% of the cross-Canada popular vote) set these questions aside.

Pierre Trudeau back when (1981 in fact) – who can ever really predict what the people of Canada will decide on election day?

All things considered in the global village today, we think a second Trudeau Liberal majority government would still be the best or at least the easiest and most stable progressive way ahead in 2019. But this seems increasingly unlikely at the moment. And we think a Liberal minority government (supported by the NDP as in Justin Trudeau’s father’s case in 1972) is the second best alternative. Yet it may be that progressive voters are finally going to reject either of these prospects in 2019 – and insist on looking the troubling questions about the realistic progressive future in current Canadian politics straight in the eye.

Meanwhile, as a concluding reminder that absolutely nothing is at all certain about October 21 at this point – just over a week away – P.J. Fournier’s alternative 338canada.com projections as of October 12 also have the Liberals and Conservatives effectively tied in cross-Canada popular vote. But they still give the Liberals 143 seats, and only 134 for the Conservatives. So of course, of course, stray tuned. It seems it really is going to be an exciting election a week this Monday (if that is quite the right word ??) …

UPDATE OCTOBER 13 : Today’s update of the CBC Poll Tracker still has the Conservatives slightly ahead of the Liberals in popular vote. But the Liberals are back ahead in the seat count : 141 to 134. (And a Liberal minority government supported by both New Democrats and Greens would have exactly 170 seats, for a bare parliamentary majority.) The week ahead should prove fascinating to Canadian political junkies everywhere. Meanwhile, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow (or the day after), up here in the far north where the leaves fall from the deciduous trees earlier.

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