Election 101

Canadians will head to the polls on Monday, October 19th, as the four-year election cycle draws to a close and a new parliament will be formed following the 42nd general election in Canadian history.

What to Watch

Long and Expensive – When Prime Minister Harper met with Governor General David Johnston on Sunday, August 2nd to dissolve Parliament, it kicked off a 78-day, 11-week long election period, the longest since 1872.


Courtesy of CTV


This election will also see the highest spending limits available for parties (approximately $50 million each), and, for individual candidates (averaging about $200,000 per riding). Both amounts nearly double what was available in 2011, due to the extended campaign period this time.

During a standard 37-day campaign, all three major parties (Conservatives, Liberals and NDP) would have contested an election on a level $25-million playing field.  However by doubling the length of time of the writ period, this doubles the national spending limit to $50-million. The Conservatives (who already have close to that amount available to them), will have a massive financial advantage to use during the campaign.  As this advantage can be used at any point during the writ period, expect to see an unmatchable advertising blitz during the final weeks of the campaign by the Tories.

The Road to 155 170 With electoral redistribution taking place, the House of Commons will increase in size, adding 30 new seats and going from 308 MPs to 338. These additional seats have been added to Ontario (15), British Columbia (6), Alberta (6) and Quebec (3), as well as having significant boundary adjustments in a majority of ridings across the country.  This also sets a new target for any party looking to form a majority government in 2015, with 170 seats as the new magic number.

What does the redistribution mean in terms of support for each party?  Using the 2011 poll-by-poll results, here is what the last election would have looked like under the newly redistributed setup.

Seat Distribution
How Low Can It Go? – The turnout for the 2011 Federal Election was 61.1 per cent, which marked the third lowest in Canadian history, although an improvement from the rock bottom status reached in 2008 at 58.8 per cent. With no major issues engaging the imagination of the electorate as yet, federal parties will have to ensure their resources are well placed with Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaigns to ensure their supporters show up on election day.

Pollsters are speculating that as little as 35 per cent support could bring the governing Conservatives another majority government, and if the turnout numbers stay consistent with the last election, we could see a result where one in five Canadians determine the election result.

Majority or Bust – Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada have been on a positive roll ever since becoming leader in 2003, increasing their seat count in all four elections he has contested as leader. Having achieved majority status in 2011, the party is now in the difficult situation of having a high bar set nine years into its mandate. Anything short of another majority government will be seen not only as a loss by supporters, but could end up being a loss in the House of Commons if the opposition parties combine forces in some manner to turf the Tories from office.

The NDP in the Frontrunner Position – Canada’s perennial third (or lower) party exploded out of the gate during the last election, riding Jack Layton’s personal popularity across Quebec and in other regions of the country to 103 seats and Official Opposition status. Going into the federal campaign the NDP have soared to new heights, assisted in some way by the surprising provincial results in Alberta, and now find themselves as the true “government-in-waiting” for many Canadians.  With a beachhead in Quebec and British Columbia, is the “Orange Crush” set to bring #TM4PM?

How Far Can the Red Tide Roll? –2011 was a wakeup call for Canada’s “Natural Governing” party. Reduced to 34 seats and under 20 per cent in national support, the Liberal Party is hoping to have found a savior with the election of Justin Trudeau as leader.  Since being elected to Leader, Mr. Trudeau had surpassed both the NDP and governing Conservatives in terms of popular support, but as the campaign gets underway, the Liberals have slipped back into a strong third place. However, as Rome wasn’t built in a day, even tripling the Liberal seat count in the next election will not necessarily guarantee Mr. Trudeau the keys to 24 Sussex Drive in 2015, and might find them on the short end of a three-way race.

Life on the Fringes – It takes 12 seats in the House of Commons to gain official party status, and although it is hard to imagine any of the three minor parties with seats in Parliament to reach that mark, any additional seat gains are a step in the right direction.  The Bloc Quebecois, once the Official Opposition party, fell to just four seats in 2011 and currently has two MPs, although the return of former leader Gilles Duceppe has buoyed their fortunes, at least temporarily.  A newcomer to the federal scene, Forces et Démocratie, also has two MPs in the House (courtesy of defections from the Bloc and NDP) and are planning on running candidates across Quebec as an alternative to the Bloc.  And the Green Party, having elected leader Elizabeth May for the first time in 2011, and adding former NDP MP Bruce Hyer, also have two seats in the House with the opportunity to increase their seats count with strong polling numbers in British Columbia.

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