Because there has been so little change in the public opinion polls since the Ontario election campaign officially began early this month, I think it is possible to speculate about various outcomes. The Conservatives have consistently polled around 35 percent of the popular vote, the Liberals 27 percent, NDP 23 percent, Greens 6 percent, and right-wing populist parties around 6 percent.
No Surprises or Momentum
In addition to the polls holding steady, there have been none of the surprises that move public opinion and create momentum for one party or another. The debate didn’t create momentum for any of the four leaders. There have been no scandalous revelations or external events that reinforce or undercut party narratives. The Conservatives have not moved back to the 40 percent of the vote they received in 2018. Steven Del Duca is better known now, but the Liberals haven’t been able to move up to the 30 percent in the polls that would indicate some momentum in their favour.
The last week of 2018 campaign was very different, with the Conservatives gaining and NDP losing momentum. In part it was the result of the Conservatives attacking the leftist bona fides of some NDP candidates. Kathleen Wynne’s dramatic admission that she would not return as premier and urgent plea to Liberal voters to save their party also cut into the NDP vote.
The Limits of Strategic Voting
I’m sure the Liberal and NDP parties both think strategic voting is a good idea, as long as it’s the other party’s base that is doing it.
I was recently explaining strategic voting in a multi-party first-past-the-post system to an American friend, who asked a very thoughtful question. Why don’t the Liberal and NDP parties, before the election, recommend strategic voting on a constituency-by-constituency basis? So in a constituency in which the NDP has the strongest chance of defeating the Conservative, the Liberal Party would tell its voters to back the NDP candidate, and vice versa.
Here are three reasons this doesn’t happen.
First, as a former NDP candidate told me, there is considerable rivalry, if not enmity between the Liberals and NDP. Call it an example of the antagonism of small differences. Likely the NDP is still angry that Kathleen Wynne, knowing she couldn’t win, didn’t endorse the NDP.
A second reason is that individual candidates invest a lot of their time and some of their money in running. If the party was willing to cut some candidates loose by endorsing their opponent, it would be difficult to recruit candidates in future elections.
A third reason is that parties receive per-vote subsidies (currently $2.54 per voter for parties receiving over 2 percent of the total vote or 5 percent of the vote in constituencies in which they run a candidate), so recommending strategic voting would cut the subsidy.
As discussed in previous blogs, there are groups advising progressive voters on how to vote strategically, but they will not be receiving any blessing from the progressive parties.
Strategic voting works to benefit a party that has momentum. In this election neither the Liberals nor NDP have momentum, and the lack of momentum may also reduce strategic voting.
A Conservative Majority
If the Conservatives win a majority, Doug Ford will appoint a new cabinet, call the legislature to pass the budget, and then go to the cottage for the rest of the summer.
Life will be more challenging for the opposition parties. After four elections, with her performance in the fourth not matching the third, Andrea Horwath will resign as leader. Steven Del Duca’s fate depends on whether he wins in Vaughan-Woodbridge, a contest The Toronto Star’s vote aggregator predicts as likely to go Conservative. Losing that seat in 2018 and failing to regain it in 2022 will end his leadership. The party will thank him for putting the party on a sounder footing and increasing its aggregate vote and seat count. The new Liberal caucus will have some strong members – a topic for another post – and more than a few will be thinking of themselves as leader. If Del Duca can win the seat, then he can make a case for staying on as leader.
A Minority Government: Who Rules?
The polls predict that the Conservatives will win more seats and a significantly larger share of the vote that the other parties. If they fall short of a majority, it will likely be by just a handful of seats. I expect Ford would appeal to public opinion claiming the right to govern, quickly meet the Legislature, and treat the vote on the budget as a vote of confidence. It might work. If either the Liberals or NDP or both are leaderless, they might agree to support the Conservatives until they choose a new leader.
An alternative scenario would be negotiations between the Liberals and NDP for one to form a government the other would support. These talks could be difficult if, as The Toronto Star’s vote aggregator predicts, the NDP have more seats, but the Liberals have a larger share of the vote. The NDP’s claim to pre-eminence would be strengthened if Del Duca does not win a seat. A coalition government, likely also including the Greens, would be a remote possibility.
My overall prediction is, therefore, paradoxical. A dull and unsurprising election campaign will be followed by considerable political drama.