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          Waiting For An Anti-Harper Avalanche


    NDP running stronger against Harper than Liberals,

             regional polls and seats analysis show.   


By Susanna Kelley

The Duffy scandal, the country in an official recession, the Syrian refugee crisis, the Leaders' debates ... to the surprise of some, these issues have not, so far, become the defining moment in this campaign.

But perhaps pundits have been looking at it incorrectly all along.   

There is certainly one common thread that goes through all of these and through this interminably long election campaign.

Rather, it seems that Mr. Harper himself is the defining issue of this election so far.

An overwhelming number of voters seem to be very clear on one thing: that they are either for Stephen Harper or against him.  

And the fact that the incumbent Conservatives cannot seem to get past the low 30 per cent mark in just about every poll but one is extremely telling. (EKOS had them over 35% a week go but that hasn't been confirmed by any other poll, and the fact, the nightly Nanos rolling polls are contradicting that, still having the Tories at 33 % as late as Monday.)

Contrary to what some pundits are saying, decided voters aren't struggling.  More than 65 per cent of them have made it crystal clear they don't want Mr. Harper's government back again.

Throwing Mr. Harper out, is, for the vast majority of Canadians, the issue of the campaign, and they haven't changed their minds since the election was called, lo those many excruciating weeks ago.

The only thing they have to decide is whether it's the NDP or the Liberals that they want to be the conduit for rejecting the Tories.

It is always possible, of course, that they have already decided, and will stay the course: a third preferring the Liberals, a third preferring the NDP.

But Canadians are very smart, and have become smarter voters as the years rolled on.

Many have figured out that the first-past-the-post system skews election results to a ridiculous extent, handing one party 100 per cent of the power despite getting only 40% or less of the vote.

So they're learning to bend themselves into pretzels to get around that undemocratic roadblock, and there is much talk of strategic voting.

Hence, the only question for many - and it's a big one - is which party has the best chance of knocking the Conservative leader off? 

On this, the national polls are actually misleading.  Canada-wide poll results are clouding which party has the better chance.  Here's why.

Most national polls have shown the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals all hovering around the 30 per cent mark and only trading places due to some minor statistical blips easily blamed on a margin of error. Any changes so far have not been sustained for more than a few days.

To really understand what's going on with the voters in this country, it's much more instructive to look at regional polls.

Then, to supplement that view, it's necessary to overlay those regional polls with the number of total seats available for each of those regions.

Once we do that, a clear picture emerges of which party is in first, second and third place.

And that order is, if an election were held today: the CPC are on track to form a minority government. The NDP would likely come in second, and the Liberals trail in third place.

How do we come up with that conclusion?

First, regional polls tell us the CPC is in a tight race in Ontario with the Liberals. They are fighting over 121 seats this time out - 15 of them new due to the recent riding redistribution.

Ontario polling released Monday by Nanos and last week by Mainstreet confirms that that theme - CPC vs. Liberals - holds up in virtually all regions of the province.   

A perusal of the 2011 election results shows there are 17 ridings in Ontario that were won by less than 2,000 votes four years ago, which means they are ripe for the picking this time out. 

Many of those were Conservative seats. The Tories won them with 44 per cent of the vote in Ontario while they polled 39.6 per cent nationally.

That's a far cry from the 30 to 33 per cent they're scoring in the national polls right now nationally, and they're six points down from that 44 per cent provincially - right now they're at 38 per cent in Ontario, according to both Nanos and Mainstreet.

According to one CPC source, national numbers in the low 30s mean a number of formerly Conservative seats in Ontario could easily change hands.  Seats in the 905 area code in Mississauga, Brampton, Markham and Pickering are all vulnerable. In South-western Ontario, seats in Welland, London and Kitchener-Waterloo are being targeted. And in the North, Nipissing-Timiskaming riding was only won by the Tories by 18 votes last time out!

So should they fall to the Liberals, that would certainly help Justin Trudeau in his quest.

But one of Ontario's most respected scribes - I'd venture to describe him as an expert on modern Ontario politics - says the fact that there's a two-way race going on in the province tells him the province is still very much in play.

"My guess is that it means that people in Ontario really haven't made up their minds at all ... I think the anti-Harper vote hasn't been decided yet and we certainly could see very definite movement in the next (few weeks). I think Ontario's still very volatile," says Tom Walkom, National Affairs columnist for the Toronto Star.

But when it comes to the Liberals, the only other region of the country that regional polls show them to be winning is Atlantic Canada.

And - this is crucial - Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI have only a small number of seats - 32 in total.

Even if Mr. Trudeau took half the seats in Ontario - say 61 - plus every seat in Atlantic Canada, and picked up some urban seats in the nation's cities, Mr. Trudeau would still have a hard time getting more than about 110 -115 seats.

Contrast that with a regional check of the NDP's numbers and the number of seats in the regions they are doing well in.

Mr. Mulcair's strength is in Quebec, BC and some urban seats in the larger cities as well. 

Quebec has 78 seats.  The NDP has ridden high in the polls in Quebec throughout the campaign, and though it has dipped a bit there in the last several days, we don't know if that is permanent or a temporary blip that will change to NDP strength once upcoming debates divert attention from the niqab, which has been important in Quebec.

The NDP has no significant rival in Quebec. No other party is anywhere near them in the polls - there is no equal split like there is between the Liberals and the CPC in Ontario.

BC, the other region where the NDP has done well, has 42 seats.  In that province, the Liberals are less of a factor - traditionally the political fights have been between right and left (the provincial Liberal government is more of a right wing party than centrist.)  Add to that some Toronto, Northern and South-western Ontario seats and the NDP is a significant force in this election.

But Quebec is certainly key in the national picture.  Should the NDP remain in first place in the Quebec polls and do well in their fight with the CPC in BC, Thomas Mulcair still has a better chance of coming second to a minority Conservative government than the Liberals do.

Again, that is because at this point, the NDP is not splitting the large number of Quebec seats evenly with any other party, as opposed to the fact that's what's happening to the Liberals in Ontario, who are running neck and neck and thus splitting that vote evenly with the CPC.

That is what the regional polls, overlaid with the number of seats each province has, tell us.

There are miles to go before the parties sleep when it comes to this election. October 19th is still three weeks away.

At the end of the day, the anti-Harper vote may well turn into an avalanche in the last two weeks or so. It remains to be seen which of the two parties - the NDP or the Liberals - that would be the beneficiary of all that pent-up anti-Harper anger.

A hard swing to one party is logical, says Mr. Walkom, but it's also possible there could be no vote tsunami.

"The one thing we've learned from the last few elections is that surprises happen and they often happen at the end," he says.

But as it stands right now, a hard reading of the regional numbers and the regional seat allocations indicates that despite national polls that show a three-way split, it is still actually the NDP, rather than the Liberals, that appears to have the best chance at coming in second to a Harper-led minority parliament.

And since both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair have said they will not support another government led by Mr. Harper, that may leave Mr. Mulcair sitting in a position of power the day after the election.









































About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : September 28, 2015

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