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Analysis

                       THE VOTERS OF ONTARIO: 

A BIG PLAYER TO WATCH IN THE 2015 FEDERAL ELECTION 


By Randall White

The biggest political event in Canada this year is the federal election that will probably, if not certainly, take place on Monday, October 19.

One of the biggest political players to watch for in 2015 will be the people of Ontario - or at least those who decide to vote.

Ontario has more than 38% of the Canadian population today. And in the past three federal elections there has been a strong relationship between support for Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party in Canada’s most populous province, and the prospects for a Conservative majority government in Ottawa. 

In 2006 the Harper Conservatives won more than a third of Ontario’s 106 federal seats. That was only good enough for a precarious minority government -124 of 308 federal seats coast to coast to coast, and 36% of the popular vote. (At least 155 seats would have been required for even a bare majority.)   

In 2008 the Harper Conservatives won almost half Ontario’s federal seats. That stiffened their second minority government, with 143 seats Canada-wide and 38% of the cross-country vote.

In 2011 the Conservatives very impressively won more than two-thirds of Ontario’s seats - 73 of 106. And that went a long way to giving them a comfortable majority government of 166 seats, with 40% of the Canada-wide vote.  

It seems unlikely that Stephen Harper’s party will be able to repeat its 2011 performance in 2015.

As one indication, about half the current Ontario Conservative seats in Ottawa are held provincially by the recently victorious Kathleen Wynne Liberals.

At the same time, there will be 15 new Ontario seats in the 2015 federal election, to keep pace with population growth. On certain assumptions, the Harper Conservatives are likely to win more of these new seats than anyone else.

Similarly, an Abacus poll released just before Christmas suggests the Conservatives are just slightly ahead of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals but still at only 34% Canada-wide. The same poll gives the Tories “an eight percentage point lead in vote-rich Ontario.”

Other recent polling analysis, however, have not been as kind to Mr. Harper’s party.

Eric Grenier’s averaging of public polling data for 2014 is still showing the Trudeau Liberals with a five and a half percentage point lead in Ontario. 

Then there is the Wynne factor. There are a number of differing opinions as to the role the Liberal Premier will play in the federal election.

Some say she is bound to take a combative approach to the current federal government in the campaign. 

Some point out that CNN in the United States put Kathleen Wynne on its year-end “long list” of “outstanding women” in 2014.

But others speculate that Ms. Wynne, who won a majority government herself this past June, may already be antagonizing crucial currents of Ontario opinion. 

Some observers also point to Ontario voters' historical tendency to prefer one party in Ottawa and another at Queen’s Park. Yet there have also been several periods in the life of Ontario since 1867 when the same party was in office federally and provincially.

Then there is the regional factor. To some, Canada won't be having one general election in 2015, but rather, five regional elections.

Already it seems clear that the Harper Conservatives are going to do very badly in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and very well in the prairie provinces (especially Alberta and Saskatchewan).

Matters appear murkier in Ontario and BC. 

As the new year begins, the people of this province are just beginning to start thinking about the 2015 Canadian federal election. Polling data is probably not going to provide much serious intelligence for some time yet.

Right now no one really knows just what the electorally active Ontario people may finally decide. And Ontario today is a quite different place from what it was just 25 years ago in 1990, to say nothing of another 25 years before that in 1965.

But there is an argument that the Harper government has been friendlier to the new energy-based resource economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan than it has to the older industrial economies of Ontario and Quebec.

If this argument were ever to gain some real popular traction in Ontario, that would be very bad news for Prime Minister Harper. 

For if the Conservatives don’t do well in Canada’s most populous province, they don’t stand much of a chance of winning a second majority government.

And that probably does have someone worried already.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : January 06, 2015

View all of Randall White's columns
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