Canadians Head To The Polls

It's Election Day in Canada and the outcome is far from certain.

Our neighbor to the north heads to the polls today in their 43rd Federal Election with control of Parliament and the Prime Ministership up for grabs in an election that could end up being a nail biter:

Montreal (CNN)Nasty. It is not a word associated much with Canada — except perhaps with the winters here. But during this election campaign, nastiness has been one of the only unifying themes, as parties trade insults and dig up scandals from coast to coast to coast.

Montreal (CNN)Nasty. It is not a word associated much with Canada — except perhaps with the winters here. But during this election campaign, nastiness has been one of the only unifying themes, as parties trade insults and dig up scandals from coast to coast to coast.

Canada votes in a general election on Monday, and the campaign rhetoric to this date has been toxic and “a desert from a public policy point of view,” says veteran Canadian pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research. All that has undeniably turned off Canada’s voters, and added another layer of complexity to one of the most unpredictable Canadian elections in recent history.

The two top contenders are Liberal leader and incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Through it all, they’ve been tangled in a virtual tie for the popular vote. Neither has a clear path to governing in Canada’s parliamentary system. “If people were to describe the election, it would be ‘Indecision 2019’,” says Nanos.

Polls and Google search rates indicate healthcare is the top election issue for many Canadians although the climate crisis is not far behind. Taxes, education and the legalization of cannabis are other issues Canadians are wanting to hear more about. The Conservative party is perceived to have a more aggressive stand on cutting taxes while many voters believe Scheer will do less than other leaders on climate.

But there is a reason some Canadians are calling this the ‘Seinfeld’ election, or the election about nothing. There isn’t one single issue that has engaged voters and that pollsters believe can swing the vote significantly towards one party or leader.

Canada’s election takes place in 338 ridings or seats across the country, and preliminary results should be announced around 8pm on election night. One hundred and seventy seats are needed to be able to form a majority government, and polls show neither Trudeau nor Scheer are anywhere near that threshold.

Forming a minority government (with the support of other parties) will also be complicated. The sitting Prime Minister — Trudeau, in this case — is usually granted the first crack at forming a government, even if he wins fewer seats than his opponents. That means that an opposition politician who wins the popular vote might have the most seats in parliament — but still not get the chance to form a government.

“We could have the Conservative Party win the popular vote by one or two percentage points but not be able to form a government and the Liberals forming the government” says Nanos adding, “Buckle up! It’s possible for the winner to be the loser and the loser to be the winner in the Canadian election!”

More from The Globe and Mail :

Major federal party leaders wrapped up their last day of campaigning in the key battleground province of British Columbia on Sunday, as voters prepare to cast their ballots after a deeply divisive election.

The Liberals and Conservatives still appear deadlocked in support according to polling by Nanos Research released Sunday, the 40th day of a political race that has produced no clear front-runner.

Among the biggest developments in this 43rd general election campaign, where Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was forced to confront a history of wearing racist makeup, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was discovered to have kept quiet about holding American citizenship, were the resurgence of support in polls for both the New Democratic Party under Leader Jagmeet Singh and the separatist Bloc Québécois under chief Yves-François Blanchet.

Speaking to supporters in Port Moody, B.C., Mr. Trudeau called on voters to unite behind the Liberals, particularly in his home province of Quebec, by raising the spectre of separatism should the Bloc Québécois have a large haul of seats. The gains in support for the Bloc threaten the opportunities in Quebec for their political rivals.

Mr. Scheer issued a similar warning about the rise of the Bloc while campaigning in Vancouver, suggesting a vote for the Bloc is nothing short of a vote for a referendum on separation.

Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives have used considerable energy during their campaign to try to woo voters in Quebec, but polling data from Nanos Research suggested the Tories still trail the Liberals and the Bloc in the province.

Mr. Trudeau is seeking a second mandate after his party secured a sweeping majority in the 2015 election – a feat made possible, in large part, because the party picked up 40 seats in Quebec last time.

“Canadians need to come together,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I am a proud grandson of B.C., but I’m also a son of Quebec and we are going to fight hard together to focus on the big fight that we all have against climate change and building a better future for everyone.”

Speaking to reporters during a campaign stop in Laval, Que., the Bloc’s Mr. Blanchet accused Mr. Trudeau of misleading voters regarding his party. He said separatism wasn’t a priority for his party, nor was a referendum on the matter imminent.

“I told my own people yesterday night that they have to understand this is not our mandate this time. I am absolutely certain that Mr. Trudeau knows it and that he is purposely lying to the Canadians,” Mr. Blanchet told reporters.

Mr. Singh also targeted the Bloc on Sunday, articulating the differences between New Democrats and the party whose rise could threaten the political fate of many of his Quebec MPs.

The NDP currently has 14 seats in Quebec. “I say to Quebeckers if you want somebody who’s going to fight climate crisis it can’t be the Bloc because they’re not going to be able to work with the rest of Canada,” he said.

Mr. Singh also raised the prospect of an election outcome that results in a minority government and said Canadians shouldn’t be afraid of this.

Mr. Singh said Liberals “do not deserve a majority … because they’ve let you down,” and that Conservatives are not the option, either. He pointed to British Columbia where an NDP minority government led by John Horgan has functioned since 2017 with the support of the Green Party.

“I want to be the prime minister of Canada because I believe New Democrats will make life better for Canadians, we’re going to fight the climate crisis like we want to win it, but Premier Horgan pointed out that minorities are a good thing – yes they are,” Mr. Singh said.

As is typically the case, this Canadian campaign, which began in mid-September when Trudeau announced the date as required by law, has not gotten very much coverage here in the United States. The one news item out of the campaign that has gotten attention here came early in the campaign when it was revealed that Trudeau had donned blackface — or as they apparently call it in Canada “brownface — as part of talent shows when he was a college student. Trudeau immediately apologized for the incident, and to a large degree, it isn’t clear that it has much of a significant impact on the race itself. Instead, Trudeau and his party have been more weighed down by a scandal that became evident earlier in the year regarding interventions that Trudeau and several of his top deputies made on behalf of a Canadian company facing Federal investigation. Additionally, reports from Canadian media have indicated that health care and the state of the country’s health care system have dominated the race

With everything over but the voting, the outcome of the race remains exceedingly uncertain. The last poll from the Globe and Mail had the Conservatives and Liberals locked in what amounts to a statistical dead heat, with each party getting roughly 32% of the vote nationwide. The New Democrats, which are to the left of the Liberals and could play an important role in the formation of a government, are pulling around 20% of the national vote. Up next is the Bloc Quebec which is garnering roughly 7.2% of the nationwide vote, but of course, that is all inside Quebec itself. Despite this, the performance of the Bloc could be important because of this impact it may having on the number of Ridings (Districts) that Conservatives or Liberals win in the province. This is most important to the Liberals since it was a better-than-expected performance in Quebec that helped give them a majority in the 2015 elections. The final party with a notable appearance in the polls in the Green Party, which could also play a role in the formation of a government should neither majority party win enough seats to form a majority.

The Canadian Broadcast Corporations poll of polls, meanwhile, gives the Liberals a small lead with 32.1% support, following by the Conservatives at 31.6%, the New Democrats at 18.3%, the Green Party at 7.5%, and Bloc Quebecois at 7.0%, followed by a handful of minor parties below 2%. In terms of likely outcomes, the CBC projects that the most likely outcome is a minority Liberal government (48.1%), followed by a 37% likelihood for a minority Conservative government (37%). Less likely are an outright Liberal majority (13%) or an outright conservative government (2%).

If the outcome does end up in a situation where neither party has sufficient seats for a majority, this seems likely to inure to the benefit of the Liberals, at least initially. Even if the Conservatives end up with a plurality of seats in the House of Commons, the custom in Canada is for the sitting government to be given the first opportunity to form a government. Trudeau has the advantage here it seems because it is far more likely the New Democrats would be willing to talk to Liberals about supporting a minority government. Additionally, Trudeau could also look to the Green Party to get his government majority. By contrast, the Conservatives have few prospective partners to look to in the event they want to try to form a minority government. The ideological differences between the Conservatives and the New Democrats would seemingly make any kind of coalition unlikely if not impossible. The same goes for the Greens. That leaves Bloc Quebecois, but that would potentially require Conservatives to make concessions on the Quebec question that Canadian Conservatives have long been opposed to.

In any case, depending on the outcome, and given the fact that Canada is a continental nation with several time zones, it will likely not be until late into the evening on the East Coast before there’s an idea of what the outcome might be. At the same time, the most significant battlegrounds for the election are likely to be in Ontario and Quebec. The Atlantic Provinces (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, etc) are generally low population, while British Columbia is likely to be a place where the Liberals perform well. The middle part of the country, meanwhile, which consists of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, are largely seen as Conservative-leaning but are also responsible for a smaller number of seats in Parliament.

So, we’ll see what happens.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Alex says:

    You are incorrect about this: “British Columbia is likely to be a place where the Liberals perform well.”

    According to the final CBC polling average, the Liberals are in third place in BC, with the Conservatives in first place and the NDP enjoying a last-minute surge into second place. So while it’s correct to say that BC is majority small-L liberal, an awful lot of those lefty voters are going with either the NDP or the Greens (who are guaranteed at least one seat – the one belonging to Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader – and perhaps one or two more).

  2. Pylon says:

    If anyone’s watching, pay little attention to national polls. Heck, even provincial polls can mislead (I can think of fewer more contrasted votes inside a province than interior versus coastal BC).

    Watch how Ontario goes to see who gets the most seats. Watch how Quebec goes to see who holds the balance of power in a minority government.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This entire election has been run in not time at all.
    Tell me again why we have to have elections that begin right after the previous election?

    Trudeau has had his problems…but Sheer would be a nightmare for Canada.

  4. R.Dave says:

    It’s always struck me as a bit bizarre in parliamentary systems that minority/coalition governments are almost always formed by one of the main centrist parties aligning with one or more of the small parties off on their ideological flank instead of with the other centrist party. I mean, I get the power politics of it and the whole “narcissism of small differences” psychology, but in terms of actual policy preferences, I suspect the majority of center-left and center-right voters are actually a lot closer to each other than they are to their supposed ideological allies out on the far left and far right. In Canada, for example, I suspect the policies of a Liberal/PC coalition would better reflect Canadian voters’ preferences than Liberal/XYZ or PC/XYZ coalition.

  5. Pylon says:

    @R.Dave: In years past maybe. Not with the more recent iterations of the Conservative party (not longer the PC party). Scheer, for example, is a farther right politician than Conservative PMs of the past like Mulroney and Clark. His policies are not a whole lot different than Trump’s on immigration, avoidance of clashes with certain oppressive countries, reliance on religion and an unspoken alignment with the anti-abortion crowd and evangelicals.

  6. David S. says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: The same reason Christmas starts at the end of October. Money.