LILLEY: Federal election still a horse race as we head into summer

Government’s fortunes have fallen as winter turned into spring

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We’ve missed the deadline for the spring election that I predicted would have happened by now.

Earlier this year, before the third wave struck most of the country, it certainly looked like the Trudeau government wanted a vote right about now.

In fact, according to my sources, the preferred voting dates debated inside the prime minister’s office were either June 7 or June 14.

I lost that bet but the Trudeau government also likely dodged a bullet.

Back in January and February, when I was speculating about a spring election, the Trudeau Liberals were bouncing around 35% in the polls — sometimes as high as 40% voter support.

Meanwhile, Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives were hovering between 28% and 32% voter support.

It looked like a slam dunk for Justin Trudeau’s re-election bid — make sure cases are low, rollout the vaccination program, bring out a big spending budget and ask the people for a mandate to “build back better.” 


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Things didn’t go as planned.

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Trudeau’s failure on the border meant that the B.1.1.7/UK/Alpha variant found its way into this country.

In fact, until it started to be displaced by the newer B.1.617/Indian/Delta variant, the Alpha variant was responsible for the majority of cases — as much as 90% of all cases in Ontario.

The third wave, combined with an unstable vaccine rollout and a budget that was big spending but didn’t give the government a bump really changed the calculus on an election.

Now, instead of sitting well above O’Toole and the Conservatives, the Trudeau Liberals are just a few points ahead of them.

An Angus Reid poll released June 7 has the Liberals at 33%, the Conservatives at 30%, the NDP at 21%.

A Leger poll released the day before has near identical numbers as does an Abacus poll released May 28.


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At this point, there is no way that Trudeau could have won his coveted majority — not with these numbers.

The race has undoubtedly tightened and in a system like ours, it’s not just the national numbers that matter but the regional ones.

The Liberals continue to dominate in Atlantic Canada and do well enough in Quebec that they will retain much of their current seat count if not all of though the Bloc is trying to wedge in for those Quebec seats.

The Conservatives dominate in Alberta and Saskatchewan and will likely sweep those seats unless O’Toole’s carbon tax plan sees the upstart Maverick Party eat into their vote.

That leaves Ontario, Manitoba and BC.

None of the polling firms have the Liberals doing particularly well in Manitoba where the party currently holds four seats. They previously held seven before the last election and they are unlikely to get them back.


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In British Columbia, the province remains a fluid three-way race. Each polling firm has their own take on this but the province remains competitive for the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP with no runaway at this point.

That leaves Ontario once again.

The province gave Stephen Harper his majority in 2011 and then turned it over to Justin Trudeau in 2015. Ontario, specifically the suburban seats around Toronto, are the reason that Trudeau was able to eke out a minority in 2019 despite losing the popular vote by a wide margin.

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Now, Ontario is why the race is so close.

While Abacus gives the Liberals an 8 point lead, 40% to 32% over the Conservatives, Angus Reid and Leger have it much closer.

We won’t head to the polls until at least the fall now, possibly not until next year, but suffice to say that we can’t declare a winner yet.

In the winter it looked like a slam dunk for Trudeau, now it is tight.

Writing off O’Toole and the Conservatives at this point would be as foolish as saying the Liberals won’t win a majority.

The race is tight and voters are not decided.

A week is a lifetime in politics and we have plenty of weeks left to change this story many more times before voting day.


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