Amid the turmoil, Canada heads for another hung Parliament

Amid the turmoil, Canada heads for another hung Parliament

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Jack Peterson looks at the world’s ninth-largest economy ahead of Tuesday’s election

On Monday September 29, as the campaign reached its halfway point, Conservative PM Stephen Harper had reason to be satisfied with his party’s progress towards a majority government. A slew of negative advertisements had succeeded in portraying Liberal leader Stéphane Dion as a weak and indecisive figure, whose flagship Green Shift tax plan posed a threat to economic growth and national unity. As Conservative poll numbers approached the 40% mark, the Liberals were shedding voters to the left-wing NDP and Green Party, whilst the weakness of the separatist Bloc Québécois suggested that the Conservatives might gain up to 20 seats in Quebec.

    Since the end of September, the campaign has been turned on its head by a series of Conservative misjudgments and by Dion’s use of the economic turmoil to revive his flagging party. Conservative proposals to cut funding for the arts and to introduce adult sentences for teenage offenders proved wildly unpopular in Quebec, destroying Harper’s hopes of making large gains there and reviving the Bloc’s fortunes. Liberal foreign affairs spokesman Bob Rae produced evidence that Harper had plagiarised John Howard in a 2003 speech supporting the Iraq invasion; and Dion followed this up by unveiling a five-point plan to deal with the economic crisis.

When Harper suggested that record falls on the Toronto stock exchange offered voters a good chance to pick up some bargain shares, Liberals gleefully seized on his comments as further evidence that the Prime Minister was out of touch with the economic realities of ordinary Canadians. However, the embarrassing Dion interview has stopped the Liberals’ momentum in English Canada, with one or two polls now showing the Conservative lead in double digits. Another Harper minority is now extremely likely, with an outside chance of a majority if the Liberal vote (notably in Ontario) evaporates on the day.

Going into the last two days, the Conservatives thus have an average 7-8 point national poll lead over the Liberals, but the two parties are closer in the seat-rich battleground of Ontario, and the Liberals are now the main challengers to the Bloc in Quebec. Seat-by-seat analyses by the non-partisan Election Prediction Project and Democratic Space suggest that relatively few Conservative-held seats are vulnerable to Liberal challenges, but Canada’s multi-party system makes constituency results unusually volatile, and national-level projection tools such as the Hill and Knowlton Election Predictor suggested that the Liberals could have ended up just a few seats behind the Conservatives if pre-interview trends continued. The NDP seems likely to make a clutch of gains in northern Ontario, but only the party’s most optimistic supporters retain hopes of breaking the 40-seat barrier this time around.

What, then, are the post-election scenarios? A Conservative minority is the best bet, not only because the government has a comfortable poll lead but also because Dion’s efforts to demonstrate his orthodox economic credentials have reduced his room for manoeuvre: the Liberal leader has promised that no government led by him will allow the federal budget to fall into deficit, and has declared that the NDP’s flagship proposal to increase corporate taxes constitutes a deal-breaker in any coalition arrangement. Even so, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe has hinted that his party might support a Liberal government on an issue-by-issue basis, whilst Dion might decide that concessions to the NDP are preferable to his own political mortality.

Jack Peterson is a regular poster and has been following Canada for PB

PB will be covering the election results from Canada early Wednesday morning

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