Over the summer, Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided his party needed to go to the electorate as soon as possible to give the Conservatives their best possible shot at a majority government. Political expedience trumped the PM’s own fixed election date legislation.
The public opinion polls hadn’t really changed much in the 2.5 years he had been in office. The Liberals were poised to win at least three by-elections in September. The economic outlook was less than rosy, and economic downturns tend to hurt incumbent governments in election campaigns.
Also, the prospect of steering an already overextended minority government through another year of a divided parliament offered little political upside.
So, the decision was made. Then somebody looked at a calendar.
They couldn’t begin an election campaign before Labour Day. And they couldn’t schedule a campaign that coincided with this year’s Francophonie Summit in Quebec City, which begins this coming weekend.
That left very little wiggle room on fixing a date to replace the fixed date.
So after one election campaign and one holiday weekend, Canadians are going to the polls tomorrow, even though tomorrow also happens to be a day that some Canadians are celebrating a religious holiday.
(When asked about the decision to go to the polls on Sukkot, one government official said “you have to be practical about these things,” suggested that any date they picked was bound to conflict with someone’s holiday and advised Jewish voters they could “always vote in advance polls” – not exactly a stellar campaign strategy to win over the big-L-Liberal-leaning Jewish vote).
So… did the PM’s politically expedient gamble pay off? We won’t know until tomorrow, of course. But none of the final public opinion polls released today put the Conservatives in majority territory (although a substantial number of undecided voters late in the campaign and the unknown variable of a vote the day after a long weekend could result in some undetected last-minute shifts in voting intentions).
This site, usually good at predicting seat counts in various Canadian elections, shows a result very similar to the last election in 2006.
At the beginning of this campaign, I wrote that Central Canada would determine the outcome of the vote. The Tories pinned their majority hopes on picking up a number of Quebec seats from a collapsing Bloc Québecois. A few self-inflicted wounds into the campaign, those hopes seemed dashed.
In the absence of a breakthrough in the Conservative-less fortress of Toronto, Ontario never held as much promise as Quebec as a source of new government MPs. Also, Ontario tends to follow Quebec’s lead in federal elections. Traditionally, Ontarians don’t get too comfy with any electoral change until they sense that Quebec is okay with it. In that sense, Harper’s political ball-dropping in La Belle Province may have set his party back even more than originally thought.
Again, we’ll see what happens tomorrow night. But if the predictions hold true, the status quo holds, and the PM’s politically expedient gamble didn’t pay off … in the short term, at least. In fact, many of the seat projections suggest a more regionally divided country and a more pizza-like parliament than before.
Which also suggests that we’ll be going to the polls yet again before the next fixed election date kicks in.
UPDATE: Election night cheat sheet here.
UPDATE 2: Election post-mortem here