Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Can Mulcair become Prime Minister?

It’s spring 2015. After weeks of rumours Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary-Southwest, AB) calls a federal election after passing his tenth budget. The Conservative government has a slight lead in the polls, and the budget was packed full of goodies to campaign on. The Liberals and New Democrats viciously attack the budget for being a crash political exercise to grab votes. The mainstream media agrees, but also states that it was good politics.

The election is incredibly contentious as the NDP and Conservatives spend the whole election in a virtual tie and a great number of Canadians sit on the sidelines, undecided. On the night of the election pundits are deeply uncertain of the results and predictions range from majority to minority for the two leading parties. And then the votes were counted...

And? Then what happened?

In three years when this scenario plays out it will be tough to know the outcome, especially since who knows what will happen in international, or national events, or the public opinion of the Canadian people. However, there are some structural challenges that face all of the political parties that deserve some note. Watching the polls many New Democrats have been dreaming that their time will come in 2015 and usher in their first government after the Canadian people have gotten tired of nearly ten years of Harper rule. When I read the polls and consider the electoral map I wonder if the NDP are confronting a ceiling that will block them from achieving power.

When the next election will be called there will be 338 ridings across Canada (up from the current 308). The thirty seats being added fall in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. The new ridings are largely needed to deal with the swelling suburban populations in the first three provinces. Suburban ridings have been typically out of the reach of New Democrats.

To win a majority government the NDP will need to win 170 seats for the barest of majorities. The party currently holds 101, though won 103 in the 2011 federal election. Where can these 70 seats come from?

The East?

Atlantic Canada is pretty friendly territory for the NDP. With a government in Nova Scotia and seats in every province except for PEI they are well positioned for future growth... sort of. New Brunswick is a more conservative province thanone might initially assume. The urban ridings such as Saint John and Fredericton are ringed by suburban and rural areas that are friendly to Conservative candidates. Even in areas where the left does well the Liberals and NDP tend to split the vote allowing Conservatives to win. In the best case scenario the NDP might win two more seats in New Brunswick. In Nova Scotia prospects are about the same. The NDP were successful in Nova Scotia in the last election winning 3 of 11 seats. If there’s an orange tide in Nova Scotia Halifax West and South Shore-St. Margaret’s could flip to the NDP.

As I said, I think PEI is out of reach. In a good circumstance they might snag Charlottetown, so there’s one more. Newfoundland probably offers the most growth for the NDP, in my opinion. Within the last week a poll came out showing the Newfoundland NDP leading in the provincial polls. It’s possible the NDP could see growth on the island in the next election. The province traditionally is Liberal-friendly though. The NDP may be able to pick up the two ridings of Long Range Mountains and Bay D’Espoir Central-Notre Damein western-central Newfoundland along with their St. John’s seats.

So, for the East, that’s 7. Only 63 more to find.


The NDP has a ceiling of support in Quebec of about 45%. As far as I can remember they have never breached that. That is a very respectable number, and a real domination over a province of that size. In the last election 59 MPs came out of Quebec for the NDP. If the NDP are poised to form government they are probably going to be flying high in Quebec. 65 is probably a reasonable ceiling for a number of seats out of the 78. Certain regions of Quebec favour other parties so a clean sweep will be very challenging.

Looking at the last election results I can see five seats that could topple to the NDP in the next vote. But remember those rookie NDP MPs are vulnerable themselves.  

So, there’s 7 more seats bringing us to 14.

British Columbia?

BC received six new seats, and brings it to 42. Despite BCs reputation in Canada as being a somewhat of a lefty paradise it has very Conservative parts of the province.

Vancouver Island will be getting an additional seat, but many of the ridings on theisland will be competitive between the NDP and Conservatives. The NDP have a chance to sweep the island if they are doing well, or lose the whole thing (except for probably Victoria) if things are sliding. So, let’s give the party the three seats on Vancouver Island they need.

According to Earl Washburn at Canadian Elections Atlas, with Vancouver’s new seat there will be a good chance for the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats to win two seats a piece. The rest of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland is tough going for the NDP. So, one more for the NDP.

In the rest of BC there was only one other seat close for the New Dems, that brings the possible added total to 5 and our overall total to 19.


Yeah, I know. While the NDP looks for new seats in Alberta I’ll begin my search for air on the Moon. But, the NDP already have a seat in Edmonton, Edmonton-Strathcona. In the most recent provincial election the Alberta NDP elected four MLAs. Mr. Washburn’s analysis suggests that the NDP will becompetitive in one new seat

That brings us to 20. 50 to go.

The Prairies?

Aside from Elmwood-Transcona, it appears the NDP have won all the reachable seats in Manitoba. Saskatchewan offers a lot more possibilities. The NDP in the last election won nearly a third of the votes and zero seats. New Democrats have stated that if the boundaries of the ridings were different there would be several MPs from the province. With the ridings are as they are (their new boundaries have not been released), the NDP could win 2, maybe 3 seats.

4 more from the Prairies.

The North?

The North is small and tends to favour incumbents. I don’t imagine that they will switch parties unless something pushes that region one way or the other.


Here’s the big question. With fifteen new ridings coming to Ontario and no map of where they might be going, it is difficult to make any sort of prediction at all. The ridings in Brampton, Mississauga, and York region are guaranteed to be split to make new ones. Toronto will see growth, and rearrangement as well. Most of Ontario’s growth has been in the suburbs around the GTA, which is a traditional Liberal-Conservative battleground. The Conservatives have unquestionably won the battleground for the moment.

The NDP elected its first MPP in Peel in the last provincial election, and in both the federal and provincial elections in 2011 won seats previously out of reach. Still, 21 and 17 seats out of the over 100 seats in Ontario is not enough. From the last election results I can imagine four Ontario seats falling to the NDP without too much trouble.

From my estimates that is 28 seats, well short of the 170 needed, and probably not enough to form a minority government unless the Liberals revive and form a coalition with the NDP.

The problem for the NDP and the biggest hurdle to overcome is Ontario. Most of the province’s ridings are competitive between Liberals and Conservatives, but the NDP have very little tradition outside of Toronto, Hamilton, union towns and the North, especially on the federal level.

Today’s story is about the possibility of a by-election in Etobicoke Centre. In that race the NDP will probably not be a factor. During the Orange Wave the NDP didn’t break 15%. While seat is slightly more conservative, this is the sort of seat the NDP will have to find a way to be competitive in. If the party wants to form government it must win seats across the GTA in small cities and in the suburbs.

The NDP cannot rely upon stealing from the Liberals either. If the NDP wins every Liberal seat in Ontario (and elsewhere) we would still have a majority Conservative government. The New Democrats have to defeat Conservative MPs if they hope to name Thomas Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) prime minister.

The NDP faces structural problems. They need to develop candidates and campaigns that can win in the suburbs, like Jagmeet Singh, or rural areas, to get the other 70 seats they need.

There is some hope though New Democrats. Given the peculiarities of First-Past-the-Post a small shift in the popular vote could mean dozens of unexpected seats going orange. The Quebec Orange Wave tells us just how uncertain politics is, and predictions that are sound can turn to dust on an election night. Lately the federal NDP have been polling a few points ahead ofthe Conservatives, in the mid-to-high 30s. Still, the road to power for the NDP could be a very difficult one. A breakthrough needn’t happen overnight, as Mr. Harper has shown us.

If you have any comments about this analysis, please feel free to share. I hope you like the new aesthetic changes I have made to the blog as well.

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