Justin Trudeau, left, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh. (CP)

Spotlight on B.C.: Liberals need at least 10 B.C. ridings to take the election

Black Press Media presents a four-part series into how B.C. will affect the federal election outcome

By Bruce Cameron

Two friends of mine who were born and raised in Eastern Canada, but who now live in Western Canada (one in Calgary and the other in Kelowna), lamented the choices they face in this election.

“Do I vote for the guy I’m not sure about, to keep the guy I don’t like from becoming prime minister?” one said. The other complained, “I wish I could finally vote for someone I want, rather than against who I definitely don’t want.”

On Oct. 21, many Canadians face such a “no-win situation.”

Traditional polling methodologies can accurately measure popularity and approval ratings for party leaders.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is slightly ahead of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as preferred PM, while the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh trended upward a bit since the English-language debate.

However, “horse race” polling questions, such as who will you vote for, are far less accurate in assessing the no-win trade-offs that are on the ballot Monday.

In a close election, regions like the suburbs of Toronto or the Greater Vancouver area become crucial battlegrounds to determine the outcome.

From the outset of the campaign, pollsters have argued about which party is leading in one crucial area: the 905 belt of suburban ridings surrounding Toronto.

Some argue that, due to the unpopularity of Scheer ally and fellow Conservative, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the Liberals lead there. Others, who have measured a positive reaction to Scheer’s tax policies, refute that.

One thing all pollsters can agree on, however, is that Canada is likely to have a minority government.

Electoral forecast models have consistently shown the Liberals leading the Conservatives because they can more easily convert their voter support (roughly equal between the two main parties as of Oct. 17) into enough seats to form government.

Although the Liberals maintain an edge in many of those forecasts, the late surge by the Bloc Quebecois and the slight rise in NDP support have eroded that theoretical Liberal lead.

Another factor working against the Conservatives throughout this campaign is leadership. Despite Trudeau’s missteps, at no time has Scheer ever led polling on the question of who would make the best prime minister.

If, as I expect, the Conservatives fall short of forming government Oct. 21, much of the blame for failing to seize the opportunity will be placed at Scheer’s feet.

Two events shaping the B.C. political landscape, and therefore the outcome of the federal election, are the late bump in polling support for Singh, and the inability of the Green Party, led by Elizabeth May, to build momentum as the third-party alternative.

Most seat projection models expect the Conservatives to pick up seats in B.C., adding to the 10 they currently hold. But could they double their seat count here? Not if the NDP rise in support makes them unexpectedly competitive in ridings like Kootenay–Columbia.

READ MORE: Have Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Furthermore, given the uninspired campaign run by the Greens, formerly safe Conservative seats like Courtenay–Alberni , which the NDP won in 2015, may remain in the New Democrat column.

As for the Liberals, remember that they unexpectedly won some seats in Greater Vancouver in 2015, despite being heavily outspent by NDP and Conservative opponents.

With the Liberals raising and spending much more money in 2019 in ridings like Coquitlam–Port Coquitlam and Burnaby North–Seymour, they hope to retain at least 10 and perhaps up to a dozen B.C. seats.

But the party will need more than just money to hold onto government. It might be so close on election night that the final result hinges on whether the Liberals can fend off independent challenger, former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, in Vancouver Granville.

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In a no-win situation, which many Canadians feel they are in at the moment, the outcome appears “too close to call.” But I will venture out on a limb and call it: The Liberals will win more seats than the Conservatives, requiring NDP or Green support to govern.

For that to happen, the Liberals need to win at least 10 seats in B.C., and the NDP must retain some seats initially thought vulnerable to the Conservatives or Greens at the outset of the campaign began.

Campaign predictions can be subject to frequent change. This piece was published on Oct. 18, 2019.

Bruce Cameron, Black Press Media’s polling analyst, is the founder of Return On Insight. Follow him on Twitter @roitweets

Read our other stories in this series:

Spotlight on B.C.: How will the province affect the federal election?

Spotlight on B.C.: Setting the agenda on key election issues

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