the numbers guy

Trudeau Liberals could pose serious threat to Tories in Ontario and NDP in Québec

Posted on: September 30, 2012

Canadian federal politics got rather more exciting this week, as Papineau MP Justin Trudeau confirmed that he will enter the Liberal leadership race. Mr Trudeau will formally announce his entry at an event in his riding on Tuesday, and he is already the prohibitive favourite to win the leadership next April.

Forum Research have been in the field to ascertain the potential impact of a Trudeau-led Liberal Party on the Canadian federal scene. The remarkable results of their opinion poll will surely have alarm bells sounding among NDP and Conservative strategists – according to Forum, a Trudeau-led Liberal Party would win 39% of the vote, the Conservatives 32%, and the NDP just 20%.

Now this is just one poll, taken at a time when it’s simply too early to tell what impact Mr Trudeau will have on federal politics should he win the leadership next April. For example, Mr Trudeau is already facing pressure to set out his stall more clearly on major national issues – and it may be that, when he does so, his support levels decrease.

That said, while we should never read too much into a single yet-to-be-corroborated poll, a possible swing of this magnitude – with the Liberals being catapulted from a distant third to a strong first place – is really quite remarkable.

Instinctively, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that, with this much smoke there’s surely a fire out there somewhere. Perhaps the potential Liberal swing won’t be quite so large as this Forum poll suggests, but I would be surprised if future polls do not confirm at least some increase in Liberal support under a future Trudeau leadership.

I ran a seat projection based on the Forum poll to get a better idea of the potential impact a Trudeau-led Liberal party would have on the future shape of the House of Commons:

Forum’s headline party support figures of Liberals 39%, Conservatives 32% and NDP 20% would completely transform the shape of the House. An election contested on the existing 308 ridings would result in a likely Liberal minority government – with the Liberals winning 130 seats (+96 seats from 2011), the Conservatives 115 (-51), the NDP 56 (-47), the Bloc 5 (+1), and Others 2 (+1 – Elizabeth May and André Arthur).

Broken down by province, the Liberals would win big in Ontario, taking 64 seats (+53) to the Conservative’s 33 seats (-40) and the NDP’s 9 (-13). In Québec the NDP lead with 36 seats (-23) to the Liberal’s 25 (+18), the Conservative’s 8 (+3), the Bloc’s 5 (+1) and Others 1 (+1).

Elsewhere the Conservatives retain the lion’s share of the seats west of Ontario – taking 67 seats (-5 from 2011) to the Liberals’ 16 (+12) and the NDP’s 8 (-7). In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals would take 22 seats (+10) to the Conservative’s 7 (-7) and the NDP’s 3 (-3).

The overall projection assumed a uniform national swing, so the projected provincial results should be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, these results run counter to the commonly held view that a Trudeau-led Liberals would be a greater danger to the NDP in Québec than to the Conservatives in Ontario.

These numbers suggest that Mr Trudeau poses a very serious threat to the Conservatives in Ontario, which is shaping up as the key battleground – particularly given that Ontario will have 15 extra seats by the time the next federal election rolls round in 2015. Conservatives tempted to rub their hands in glee at the prospect of a Liberal -v- NDP slugfest in Québec should think again – their majority depends on holding their ground in Ontario where their position looks really quite precarious.

I look forward to seeing whether future opinion polls corroborate the results of this Forum survey – we could be in for a fascinating couple of years in Canadian federal politics.

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