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Summertime blues: Liberal base wearing thin
Back to back polls last week gave the CPC a clear advantage over the Liberals, including in seat-rich Ontario
With all eyes riveted on the cabinet shuffle in Ottawa last week, the release of two national polls giving the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) a clear lead in voting intentions across the country flew somewhat under the radar. Polls from Léger and Abacus Data measured the CPC ahead in voting intentions by nine and ten points respectively over the governing Liberals.
While the next federal election isn't scheduled until October 2025, the Liberals' minority government is hanging on by a thread named Jagmeet Singh of the NDP. How long before either party pulls the plug on the Confidence and Supply agreement keeping Parliament stable remains subject of much speculation. An early/snap election could therefore be called at any time - hence the importance of keeping an eye on voters' pulse.
According to the latest Léger poll (conducted July 7-10, 2023), if the election had been held in July, the CPC would have garnered the support of 37% of Canadian voters, a nine-point lead over the Liberal Party, which slipped to 28%. This is the largest lead for the CPC over the LPC in a Léger poll since before the last federal election, in September 2021.
The New Democratic Party, meanwhile, is treading water with 17% support (one point below its 2021 result).
Abacus Data's national numbers (fielded from July 20 to 25) are almost identical to Léger's: 38% for the Conservative Party versus just 28% for the Liberals (and 18% for the NDP).
Two consecutive polls by reputable firms measuring similar trends? Not likely to be mere statistical fluctuations.
So, how do these latest polls change the political picture of recent months? Some readers might argue that the Conservatives have been leading in voting intentions since January. However, winter and spring polls generally gave the CPC a modest lead somewhere between one and five points - not nine or ten points. And if the Liberals could once convince themselves that they were still in good shape thanks to their strong support in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, these two latest polls show that the LPC is now in trouble in both regions.
In Atlantic Canada, both polls show the Liberals and Conservatives in a statistical tie. And in seat-rich Ontario? Both give the CPC the lead. According to Abacus Data, the Conservatives lead Ontarians by six points. Léger puts the lead at nine points.
Such numbers would completely undermine the famous "effectiveness" of the Liberal vote (the LPC having won a plurality of seats across the country in the 2019 and 2021 elections, even though it lost the popular vote in both instances). In fact, we estimate these levels of support could potentially swing somewhere between thirty to forty seats to the Conservatives.
Taking these new data into account, the latest 338Canada federal update puts the CPC at an average of 162 seats - just below the 170-seat threshold needed for a majority in the House of Commons. As for the LPC, the projection gives it an average of just 117 seats.
In such a scenario, the sum of LPC and NDP seats would not reach the majority threshold (or even surpass the CPC total). It would thus be virtually impossible for Justin Trudeau to remain in power, since in addition to having to rely on the support of the NDP, the survival of the “Non-Conservative coalition” would also depend on... the Bloc Québécois.
There is a recent precedent in Canadian politics for such an experiment, and the outcome is not a happy one for the Liberals. Observers of Canadian politics may recall the failed coalition attempt between Stéphane Dion's Liberals and Jack Layton's NDP after the 2008 federal election, in which Stephen Harper had won a plurality of seats, but not a majority.
The attempted coalition's demise was mostly caused because it depended on the support of Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Québécois (which had won 49 seats that fall). Before this three-headed coalition could bring the Harper government down in a vote of confidence in the Commons, the Prime Minister hammered home the message that Canadians had not voted for a coalition whose survival depended on "separatists" bent on breaking up Canada. Public opinion moved radically, and support for the Conservative Party soared to over 40% in the polls. The coalition sank before it even reached port.
All this to say that, if the above scenario were to materialize, Justin Trudeau wouldn’t (and couldn’t) count on the Bloc for stable support.
All the more likely that the current LPC-NDP agreement could last through, since this arrangement ensures the survival of the government in Ottawa and gives Trudeau the luxury of time. The next federal election isn't due until October 2025, so a lot of water will be flowing under the bridge before then.
It should also be noted that the figures from Léger and Abacus Data were taken before last week's cabinet reshuffle. While it's doubtful that such a summer reshuffle will change the mood of Canadians in the short term, it could bring in some new blood and breathe new life into a government that has had an eventful spring, to say the least.