Election 2015 Seat Projections: What Happens If Tories Win A Minority?

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It's time to talk about what will happen after Oct. 19.

It's especially so since the 42nd general federal election could well give us a very complicated and unstable situation. Indeed, based on the most recent polls, the Conservatives are hugely favoured to win the most seats but would be unable to secure another majority.

Given that both Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have said very clearly that they would not support another government led by Stephen Harper, one might wonder what will happen in this situation. The best answer we can provide is: We don't really know.

The Conservatives are currently enjoying some gains in the polls. They are back in first place in Ontario and possibly in British Columbia.

The NDP is dropping slowly but surely by a little bit everywhere, including in Quebec. The New Democrats are also definitely in third place in Ontario — the three-way tie of mid-August is long gone. While the drop in Quebec is too small to cost the party a significant number of seats (especially with the Bloc below 20 per cent), there is no denying that the trend is negative pretty much everywhere.

The probability of Mulcair's becoming prime minister is, accordingly, decreasing quickly. His performance at the French-language debate may have been better than during the first two English debates, but it's too early to tell if this will help. Especially since Duceppe did well, too.

As for the Liberals, the rise observed since the beginning seems to have stopped. In Ontario — a province absolutely crucial for Trudeau — in particular, the poll average now puts the Conservatives ahead.

Riding polls have also not been very kind to the Liberals, although it could simply be that Environics — who provides most of the polls — has a methodology that leads to lower Liberal numbers.

Based on the current polls, we obtain the following projections. The calculations use past election results as well as the current polls (both national and riding ones) to predict the winner in the 338 ridings. They include regional and incumbency effects. The confidence intervals and the chance of winning are obtained through the use of 5,000 simulations that account for the uncertainty of the polls as well as for the distribution of the vote and the electoral system. In other words, these simulations try to include every possible scenario, given the information we currently have.

september 26 projections

You can find more details and graphics on the permanent election page.

While Harper's party is clearly the favourite to win the most seats, he isn't in majority territory right now. The absolute maximum for the Tories currently is 159 seats, still 10 short of a majority.

Nevertheless, the most recent Ekos numbers give the party a lead big enough that 169 seats is a possibility. But Ekos is currently alone in showing such a situation, with some other pollsters even putting the Tories in third place.

Trudeau, Mulcair have said they won't support Harper minority

Aside from the volatility in the polls, the question is really: What happens if the Tories win a minority? Harper is no stranger to this situation, having had to deal with the opposition parties after the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Things are, however, quite different this time. Both the Liberals and NDP have a chance at close to or more than 100 seats. The Bloc Québecois is also likely to, at best, win a few seats. In order to pass legislation, Harper would need the support of either the NDP or Liberals — and both have made it clear they aren't interested.

One may think it thus means the two opposition parties will agree to some sort of deal (coalition, etc) and that the Tories will have to settle for being the Official Opposition. Except it's not that simple.

First of all, Trudeau has said quite clearly that he isn't interested in a coalition and that whoever wins the most seats should get the "first shot" at governing. On the other hand, Mulcair seems slightly more open to the idea.

While a full coalition — with ministers coming from both parties — is unlikely (and unusual in Canadian politics), we could imagine a simple arrangement in which one party agrees not to defeat the government for, say, two years in exchange for some concessions (most likely the introduction of policies in the budget).

Even if such a deal could be made, there is no certainty the Governor General would give the key to power to Mulcair or Trudeau. Our system is such that the incumbent prime minister gets asked first if he can form a government that can win the confidence of the House of Commons. Were Harper to win 130 seats or more (and win the popular vote), there is no doubt in our minds that he would at least try. He'd then most likely fail to get the Throne Speech passed and thus lose the confidence right away.

This is where things get really muddy, because almost nothing is written clearly anywhere.

Multiple scenarios are then possible. Harper would most likely ask Governor General David Johnston for another election. Would he get it? Maybe.

The Governor General could also ask the opposition leaders if either of their parties can form the government. There are precedents for this, especially right after a general election. We believe, however, that David Johnston would most likely require some sort of agreement between the Liberals and NDP.

Let's be clear here, nobody can predict for sure how things would turn out.

It'd be similar to the crisis in 2008 with the attempted coalition between Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc. Parties would spend as much time arguing about the Constitution as they would trying to convince public opinion of the democratic merits of their solution. The truth is that both sides would have valid arguments.

There is also the possibility that Harper would wait a couple of weeks or months before presenting a Throne Speech. The wait could allow him time to try to persuade one opposition party to support him. It'd also make another general election — if he were to fail to pass the Throne Speech — more likely.

And if you believe this wouldn't make any difference, remember that a couple of months is an eternity in politics. Just remember the prorogation of 2008.

Ultimately, no party is currently in a position to win a majority, and none has been since the election campaign started. The Conservatives are the closest right now and seem to have some momentum.

At the same time, however, a Conservative minority government would probably be the most unstable situation, so if Harper's party were to win a plurality on election day, we'd not be able to state unequivocally who would form the next government or how long it would last.


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