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     Are The Mulcair New Democrats Really Ahead in Ontario?

 

 By Randall White

This past Friday, two days before the first throne speech from Rachel Notley’s surprising NDP majority government in Alberta, a new EKOS poll suggested that the Thomas Mulcair New Democrats have now taken an equally surprising lead in Ontario in the fall federal election race. 

Based on a sample of more than 2,400 voters taken June 3 to 9, the EKOS poll showed the Mulcair New Democrats with 34% support Canada-wide. The Harper Conservatives had 27%, the Trudeau Liberals 23%, and Ms. May’s Green Party 7%.   

These Canada-wide results were not unprecedented. EKOS first showed the federal NDP marginally ahead of both the Liberals and Conservatives in the middle of May, not long after the Alberta provincial election.  

The day before the latest EKOS poll, even the conservative pundit John Ibbitson was writing “Mulcair poised for clear shot at becoming prime minister as NDP surges in polls.”

What nonetheless remains very surprising is the strong lead the June 3–9 EKOS poll suggests for the federal New Democrats in Canada’s most populous province.

Here in Ontario EKOS reports the Mulcair NDP sitting with 36% support. The Liberals and Conservatives are effectively tied at 26% each, and the Greens have 8%. On this reading the New Democrats are now a full 10 points ahead of their leading rivals in a province with 121 out of 338 seats in Ottawa!

If this is even close to what finally happens on election day in October — still some four months away — it no doubt has dramatic implications. 

For one thing, an NDP lead this big would put an end to any serious hopes for a second Harper Conservative majority government. 

In fact, the latest EKOS results imply an NDP minority government, with 146 New Democrat seats Canada-wide to 102 for the Conservatives and 85 for the Liberals. 

Other polls still hold out prospects for a Conservative minority government. But yet another recent study suggests that close to 6-in-10 Canadians would support a coalition of Liberals and New Democrats if no party wins a majority of seats. 

Put another way, there is not a lot of recent good polling news for the Harper Conservatives — or the Trudeau Liberals! And if the latest EKOS poll is right, the Mulcair New Democrats are on track to winning the most votes in Ontario, and at least a minority government in Ottawa.

But is the latest EKOS poll right? A June 3–5 Forum Research poll does not have the NDP leading in Ontario. It has the Trudeau Liberals slightly ahead with 33% support, followed by a tie between the Conservatives and NDP at 31% each. 

EKOS president Frank Graves has conceded that his firm’s latest surprising survey still requires confirmation by subsequent polls. And some of its other June 3–9 regional results seem odd. (In the most egregious case they suggest the Greens have 23% in Saskatchewan.)

So what does the NDP’s 36% support in Canada’s most populous province really mean?

Mr. Graves himself admits “at this point we have no clear idea of what might happen in Ontario ... All of this has changed over the past month. It can all change again.”

Yet a few glances backwards at the New Democrats’ Ontario performance in previous Canadian federal elections do suggest that we could be on the edge of some kind of sea change.

There are precedents for 36% NDP support in Ontario in two previous provincial elections. Bob Rae’s New Democrats won almost 38% of the popular vote in the 1990 provincial election. And the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) predecessor of today’s NDP won 32% of the popular vote in the Ontario provincial election of 1943.  

But still, this kind of New Democrat support in Ontario has been unusual in provincial politics. And it has been totally unprecedented in federal politics. 

In the 17 federal elections since the establishment of the modern New Democratic Party in the summer of 1961, the party’s average share of the Ontario popular vote has been 18–19%. Its greatest share was in the last election in 2011 at 26%. Before that, it had flirted with highs close to 22% in 1965, 1972, and 1980, and a low of 6% in 1993.

So ... if Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats come up with anything like 36% of the Ontario popular vote this fall, that probably will amount to a sea change in Canadian politics of at least equal weight and heft to the New Democrat surprise in Alberta last month.

Harper Conservative partisans may still point to the also surprising British election just two days after the Alberta election — when the Cameron Conservatives won a slight but workable majority government, despite polls predicting a much worse fate. 

Whatever finally happens, it seems clearer than ever that we can probably look forward to a very interesting Canadian federal election four months from now.  

 

 

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 : May 27, 2015

View all of Randall White's columns
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