The odds of a fall federal election have seemingly ticked up with each passing day. There is now a sense of inevitability blanketing the House of Commons and political punditry. But why would the governing Liberals pull the plug? What are the risks with an early election call? And most importantly, would the Prime Minister have to walk all the way to the Supreme Court?
Recent polling would suggest the time to go is now. Sure, polls can change quickly, especially during such a topsy-turvy time like a pandemic. But the Liberal advantage has been pretty constant for several months now. Indeed, in a head-to-head match up, Trudeau outperforms O’Toole by a wide margin, as the Conservative leader struggles to become a household name with Canadians.
And while the numbers don’t quite show a clear path to a majority government, it’s fair to assume the Liberals could see a post-COVID bounce with improving vaccination rates and, as a result, strengthening economic conditions. This, factored with a ‘normal’ school year expected in September (or at least close to it), the mood of Canadians is likely to be bordering on giddy. That buoyancy and post-pandemic glow won’t be completely attributable to the work of the federal government, but the Liberals will certainly do everything they can to convince Canadians it is.
Meanwhile, a crumbling Green Party may present an opportunity for the Liberals to gain some seats. They’ve already been able to take one away even before the election starting gun has been fired, much to the chagrin of Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. The emerging Conservative split in Western Canada could also be to their benefit. Securing Alberta Premier Jason Kenny’s support was meant to be a coup for O’Toole. His recent trip-ups and poor poll numbers have made him more of a liability than anyone could have anticipated.
But, even with all of this sunshine in the forecast, a fall election, two years earlier than scheduled, still possesses significant risks. First, lurking behind some of the more positive poll numbers for the Liberals is a sharp rise in NDP support. Traditionally, the closer the NDP gets to 20% support (or above, like in this Abacus poll) the less likely it is that the Liberals form a majority government. Which, to be clear, is the party’s unmistakable objective for the next election. Minority governments very quickly lose their appeal as Parliament tends to descend into bitter partisan bickering, making it difficult to move on one’s policy agenda.
And while the government can claim that it has passed some big, important bills in the past two years, especially those focused on the COVID response, it’s also fair to say this hasn’t been the most productive minority government from a legislative standpoint. A good portion of the Liberals’ legislative agenda was also geared towards Quebec – which plays an outsized role in any Liberal majority. In the absence of getting these big legislative wins for Quebec, appeasing Quebec voters on a variety of close-to-home issues seems to be how the government is trying to show Quebecers their love now.
Ultimately, polls have suggested it’s better to be in power during a pandemic than not. Just ask a few of Canada’s premiers. You are in the news, you generally control the agenda, and, as we see today, you can take credit when things improve. Post-pandemic political rules are yet untested. And there are some significant receipts that will need to be reconciled. So to get out ahead of those inevitable challenges, and to avoid campaigning when inflation fears are even higher, it’s a safe bet that soon after going back to school, Canadians will be going back to the polls.