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                      Does Ontario Have Special Interests 

               In A Post-Election Federal Liberal-NDP Deal?

 

 

By Randall White

Some say everything will finally change this week, and worrying about minority government will fade. 

But remarks recently by both New Democratic leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have clarified a few potential sub-plots in the great cross-Canada mystery also known as the 2015 Canadian federal election. 

Ontario may have a few special interests here as well.

More exactly, Mr. Mulcair has now spelled out that there is not “a snowball's chance in hell” the federal New Democrats will support a minority Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

The day before Justin Trudeau had already declared: “There are no circumstances in which I would support Stephen Harper to continue being prime minister of this country.”  

The state of the polling to which these remarks seem especially addressed was summarized by Eric Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker recently.

Daily poll results may be bouncing around a bit but it's clear at this point no party is in majority territory.

For example, if the election had been held on September 24 the Harper Conservatives would have won 123 seats in the Canadian House of Commons, with 30.7% of the cross-Canada popular vote.   

The Trudeau Liberals would have won 108 seats with 30.8% of the vote. And the Mulcair New Democrats would have won 106 seats with 29.1% of the vote.

Note that 170 seats constitute even the barest majority in the new 338-member House. And this is 47 more than the 123 seats the CBC Poll Tracker gave the Conservatives.

What Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have finally made very clear is that if the election results on October 19 are at all like Mr. Grenier’s polling averages recently, neither the NDP nor the Liberals will support any resulting Conservative minority government. 

Two practical implications spring immediately to mind. 

First, it’s essentially majority government or bust for the Harper Conservatives in 2015.

Second, the September 24 Poll Tracker numbers gave a total of 214 seats to the Liberals and New Democrats combined — well above the majority government minimum of 170. And these two parties together had 59.9% of the cross-Canada popular vote.  

In such circumstances, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have also now effectively confirmed, the NDP and Liberals would co-operate to secure some version of the more progressive regime in Ottawa the majority of the electorate actually voted for. 

The prospects for this kind of Liberal-New Democrat joint action after October 19 have been gaining some media profile lately. This past Friday Susan Delacourt wrote in the Toronto Star about “Two women who could forge a Liberal-NDP deal” — NDP campaign chief Anne McGrath and her Liberal counterpart, Katie Telford.  

Does Ontario have special interests in all this?  Two further examples spring immediately to mind here.    

First, the 73 out of 106 Ontario seats the Harper Conservatives took in 2011 had a lot to do with the majority government they finally won then. With majority government or bust in 2015, they have incentives to lean hard on Ontario again. 

Yet when you dig deeper into Eric Grenier’s numbers, even if the Conservatives finally did as well in Ontario in 2015 as in 2011, they would still fall 19 seats short of a second majority government.

Second, if the Harper Conservatives do fail to win a second majority government in 2015, Ontario is also the home of a provincial precedent in Liberal-NDP parliamentary co-operation that might finally prove useful. 

While Mr. Mulcair seems open to almost any workable arrangement, Mr. Trudeau is still drawing the line at “a formal coalition.”

The Liberal-NDP Accord of 1985 in Ontario allowed David Peterson’s Liberals to take over from the 42-year-old PC dynasty with the assured support of Bob Rae’s New Democrats — even though Frank Miller’s Conservatives had technically won a minority government, with four more seats than the Liberals. (The seat numbers in this case were Conservatives 52, Liberals 48, and NDP 25.)

The 1985 Ontario Accord did not involve any formal coalition. But it did spell out, in writing, various Liberal commitments on policy issues important to New Democrats, in exchange for written New Democratic support of a Liberal minority government over a two-year period.  

In Ottawa in 2015, some arrangement of this sort would appear to meet Mr. Trudeau’s criteria for Liberal-NDP co-operation, while still providing a strong, transparent framework for stable and predictable progressive government over an assured period of time.   

On the other hand, maybe everything really is going to finally change this week, and worrying about minority government will fade. There were at least hints of all this in the cross-Canada Nanos Nightly Tracking Poll released at 6 AM on Monday, September 28 (Conservatives 33%, Liberals 32%, New Democrats 27%). 

And this past spring David Cameron’s Conservatives finally won a slender majority government in the United Kingdom with less than 37% of the popular vote!

 

 

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 : September 29, 2015

View all of Randall White's columns
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