There has been a lot of discussion about the need for the Liberals and New Democrats to co-operate in the next federal election to prevent another Conservative victory. The latest federal poll, however, suggests there is no need for the opposition to worry.
A new survey by Abacus Data, conducted last week for the QMI Agency, shows the Conservatives in a close race with the New Democrats. The Tories have a slight edge with the support of 32 per cent of decided voters to 31 per cent for the NDP, while 24 per cent of respondents support the Liberals. Another 8 per cent opt for the Greens.
This is the fifth consecutive national poll to peg Conservative support at 32 per cent or lower. But with crushing leads in Alberta and the Prairies, and a sizeable margin over the two main opposition parties in Ontario, the Tories would be able to win the most seats even with this close result. However, it would reduce them to a minority government and hand the Liberals and New Democrats the majority of seats in the House of Commons.
If that happened, the two opposition parties could easily combine to oust the Conservatives from power. They could then use the opportunity to reform the electoral system, inject more proportional representation or adopt a ranked ballot, as boosters of co-operation hope.
But this makes their urgency somewhat misplaced. Even if Conservatives were not at 32 per cent support, the opposition parties would only need to decrease the Tory vote by one or two percentage points from their 2011 electoral result to reduce the party to a minority that could be toppled. They are currently eight points below their 2011 level.
With the Bloc Québécois no longer a major force in federal politics, it is much easier for the Liberals and NDP to combine for a majority of seats than it was prior to 2011. The Abacus Data poll suggests the New Democrats are still doing very well in Quebec, with 40 per cent support. The Liberals are second with 21 per cent, while the Bloc is at only 19 per cent support and Tories trail with 15 per cent.
The new seats that will be added to the electoral map do not automatically give the Conservatives the hegemony that some have argued, either. The seats that will be added to Alberta will almost certainly vote Conservative, but they are off-set by the boundary changes in Saskatchewan that could cost the party a few seats. British Columbia’s new seats will be hotly contested (the NDP narrowly polled ahead of Tories in the Abacus poll in B.C. with 33 to 32 per cent), and the new suburban seats in Ontario will be the first to flip over to the Liberals if Justin Trudeau boosts the party’s numbers in the province, as other polls suggest he might.
The Conservatives are down significantly in the polls. Though the division to their left does give them the advantage in seats, they are far from being in a position to be re-elected to a majority government. A post-election co-operation agreement would be far less complicated for the NDP and Liberals than some sort of pre-election deal that would undoubtedly be contested by some of the parties’ riding associations. The opposition does not necessarily have to team-up before the next election to defeat Stephen Harper — they might just have to bide their time.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.