“Only those who have the guts to make predictions, make the wrong ones sometimes”
(Legendary Italian football commentator Gianni Brera, notorious for his consistently off-target score predictions)
What outcome do I expect for tomorrow’s federal election ? Most polls concur in that the Conservative Party of outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper will retain the relative majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons, but will fall short of garnering an outright majority thereof. Indeed, it is quite plausible that the next House, in terms of seat assignments, will be very similar to the one in place until the end of Summer.
Such a scenario would suggest that Canada will be governed by another (the same ?) minority cabinet, headed by Stephen Harper. If that were the case, in many respects one could argue that it would be as if this election had not been held at all, in a sense confirming the doubts that many of us have harbored all along about both the motives and the wisdom of calling an election at this time (I suspect that Mr. Harper himself is going to wish, in the end, that he could turn the clock back and act differently).
There are reasons, however, that lead me to believe that the “obvious” scenario will not take place.
First of all, I do not expect the Conservatives to make significant inroads, and I would actually not be surprised if they ended up with fewer seats than they had two months ago. Actually, my prediction is that there will be no movement greater than ten seats, in either direction, for any of the four major parties, and that the Green Party will, alas, find itself once again with no seats as a result of the unfairness of the electoral system, something which I continue to believe will have to change at some point (hopefully soon).
I expect to see some erosion of support for the Liberals, mostly in favor of the New Democratic Party (NDP), but nothing major — again, of the order of a handful of seats. There are, in my view, at least two important dynamics which will ultimately limit the extent of such a shift.
In 2006, many long time supporters of the Liberals decided to jump ship, mostly out of discontent with the Liberals themselves than because of a real change of heart. I predict that many of those who “defected” (almost) three years ago [e.g., casting a vote for the NDP] will go back to voting for the Liberals this time around, also (not only) in order to limit the amount of splitting of the center-left vote, which would ultimately benefit the conservatives. I expect the Tories to lose a substantial number of those seats which were highly contested in 2006, and were won by them largely as a result of votes being funneled away from the Liberals in directions other than the conservative party itself.
I also think that strategic voting will take place to a greater extent tomorrow than it did in 2006. Thus, while the NDP is projected to increase its share of popular vote, in the end many an NDP supporter will think long and hard before casting a vote which, in many a riding, may well have the result of favoring the election of a conservative. After all, although the NDP substantially increased its representation in 2006, the party and its leader Jack Layton were relegated to a rather minor role, as their votes were never really crucial to the passage of a major piece of legislation. Conversely, Layton had enjoyed a far more influential position (albeit with almost half as many seats) over the previous minority government headed by Liberal Paul Martin. I would be very surprised if the NDP ended up with more than 40 seats, and even this seems very optimistic.
But… if nothing much is going to change, why should one not simply expect a continuation of the outgoing conservative minority government ? Why could Harper not simply go back, and pick up right where he left ? I regard that outcome as very unlikely. Here is why.
The outgoing Prime Minister made the request of the Governor General two months ago, that the House be dissolved and a general election be called, ostensibly for the impossibility of obtaining any kind of consensus on any major legislative initiative. How can he now go back to trying to do what he deemed “impossible” just two months ago, with an essentially unchanged House ? And with what credibility ? How long would he last facing, if anything, even more hostile a House ? Presumably even less than two years. What would be the point of such an exercise ?
And what about the other three parties, which have repeatedly denounced, during the campaign, Harper’s failed leadership, warning the electorate about the danger of handing the Tories a majority ? Could they simply now go back to propping a largely ineffective Tory government, increasing the chances of a conservative majority at the next election, whenever that is held (possibly in less than a year) ? It would be a strategic mistake. I am quite sure that the leaders of the Liberal party, of the NDP and of the Bloc Québécois all realize that what they really need soon, is get Harper out of the Prime Minister seat, a position which he has for the most part used skillfully over the past two years, significantly improving his political standing. Indeed, his only tactical mistake may have been calling for an election now.
I predict that the next government will be a Liberal-NDP coalition, headed either by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion or by Jack Layton himself; this coalition government will be propped by the Bloc Québécois. The most important piece of legislation that I wish to see enacted is electoral reform, in the direction of proportional representation. After all, if it has to be a minority government or a coalition, the Prime Minister might as well be dealing with a House that is as close as possible a representation of the ideological landscape of the country.
If my prediction turns out to be wrong… well, I shall get it right next time. In the meantime, I shall for the first time exercise my right to vote as a Canadian citizen.