Canada Catchup: Breathe, Keep Breathing

Reflections On The Past And A 2021 Update

The election that I have been the most confident in forecasting in my life was the 2019 UK General Election, for one very simple reason; I hate Boris Johnson. I despise him, I despise Brexit, I despise the brand of Toryism he was running on, and I hate that the entire reason he sought the Prime Ministership was a pissing contest with David Cameron, because that seems like a great reason for seeking public office in a democracy, definitely. The reason it was easy was there was no moment where I worried I was inserting bias into my analysis, because never in my right mind would I want Boris to win the kind of huge majority I said for months he’d get. It was clear cut analysis, unbothered by any risk of bias, and it was easy to be clear headed about the decisions - both analytical, and rhetorical - I was making at the time, because of the contempt for the party I was saying was going to win.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of Canada this week, as PJ Fournier’s site has had the Conservatives winning the most seats and smart people who have been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive have been positing that this is the Conservatives’ election to lose at this point. I’m no fan of the Prime Minister, having written that he should resign after WE, given the disgraceful nature of his ethical standards and his allergy to proper apologies. I do think we would be better off with a different Prime Minister, and the Liberals - who received my vote in 2015, and whose Member of Parliament I used to work for - will not be the party I vote for. That all said, I want them to win, for the dual reasons of preferring them to the Conservatives as a citizen of this country, but also because I’m the guy who said the Tories can’t win the next election in January of 2020. I’m stuck, in a sense, and I’m thoroughly aware that there is a risk that I am, in effect, looking for a result and finding it. And I fully understand the risk of that after 2020, when I bought all the way in on polls that I should have known were bullshit in the US, all because they agreed with my priors. I’ve been tossing all of this around in my head, trying to figure out how to make sense of this campaign, but at the end of the day, this is a campaign about math, seats, and votes.

And for the life of me I cannot find a Tory government.

The Liberals and NDP won a combined 181 seats at the last election, 11 more than the threshold for a Parliamentary majority. If you assume that the Greens would probably support such a government if strictly necessary, the notional “left-wing” parties had 184 seats. Here’s the thing; even with all the panic, that majority is still strong. I’ve got the Liberals and NDP at 190 seats combined, the Mainstreet seat projection has them at 180, and TooCloseToCall has them at 181. The big cause of the panic, of course, is PJ Fournier, whose site has had the Conservatives ahead most of this week and who called his shot in a Macleans article this week. The problem is, I have no idea how Fournier is getting the results he’s getting.

Let’s go through all of this very clearly: the Liberal lead in Quebec is bigger than their lead in 2019, and if you believe the trackers - including a Nanos number which is so good for the Liberals as to be unbelievable in the literal number - the Bloc are on the slide, mostly to the Conservatives benefit. If that’s true, the Conservatives are probably favoured to win 3 seats - Trois-Rivières and both Beauport seats - but the Liberals will make some gains in the areas around Montreal that I wrote about before, so both parties gain from the Bloc slide. Head to Ontario, and the polls have stabilized around a small Liberal lead, which would be both a sizable swing to the CPC since 2019 but also not enough to deliver more than 8 Liberal seats to them - and that doesn’t count the fact that Kenora and Essex would probably go back to the NDP. I don’t think the Tories would make that many gains, but let’s say they get 11 out of Central Canada, on top of their 121 from last time, so they’re at 132 seats, notionally.

They’re losing Charleswood to the Liberals and Saskatoon West to the NDP, and they’re down 13% in a Mainstreet seat poll of Edmonton Centre. Throw in the chances they lose Greisbach to the NDP or one or both of Edmonton Mill Woods and Calgary Skyview to the Liberals, and two Conservative losses in Alberta is a fairly pro-Tory estimate. Combined, they’re down to 128, again, with a fairly pro-Tory set of assumptions. BC is all over the place, but the Tories beat the Liberals in the province last time by 8%, and while some polls show a bigger lead than that, the fact remains that Abacus and Leger both had Liberal leads there, and Ipsos and EKOS both have that gap sub-8%. You can argue the Tories won’t lose seats in BC, but no average of the polls would suggest they’re on track to gain any, either, so call BC a wash.

Oh, wait, we forgot Atlantic Canada, I can already hear people saying. Here’s the thing about polls which suggest the Liberals are going to suddenly lose Atlantic Canada - they’re not believable. I get the case that some are making - Atlantic Canada is less educated than the nation at large, older than the nation at large, and the Liberals win there to the extent that they do by winning rural votes, which given everything we know about demographics and the realignment and all the things I write about all the time should mean it’s prime territory for a Conservative advance. And, I get that case. What I don’t believe for exactly one second is that Atlantic Canada is suddenly going to swing 20%+ against the Liberals, especially given two facts. One, Upstate New York and New England saw some of Biden’s best results in 2020 compared to Hillary, showing that rural, secular whites can still vote for a party of the left, and secondly, the polls in the Atlantic aren’t uniformly showing any trend. Ipsos and Abacus are both showing huge, bigger than 2019 Liberal leads in Atlantic Canada, and EKOS and Mainstreet have both shown Liberal leads, after huge swings to the Tories. At some point, there needs to be a basic smell test applied to these polls, and “the Conservatives are suddenly winning Atlantic Canada by 10%” doesn’t pass that smell test. At most they’ll gain 5 seats, meaning even under the most charitable assumptions, they’ll get to 133, which isn’t nearly enough for government unless the Bloc somehow gain 5 seats from last time. (Spoiler: they won’t.)

Remember how I started this column by saying I got caught in 2020 believing polls that made absolutely no sense? I did, I got caught bad, and everyone who knows my work can list off the litany of failures because I bought a narrative and didn’t check it against any set of observable reality. That’s what the Liberal doomers are doing, and the fact that the argument for how Erin O’Toole wins this election were always as risible as me saying Lindsay Graham was losing didn’t matter. The Liberals will win again, because the math has never been there for anything other than a Liberal government.

The headline of this piece comes from Radiohead’s Exit Music (For A Film), one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s beautiful and haunting and perfect, both as a piece of music and as a recommendation to the bedwetters and doomers. But as I write this, Buckley’s Hallelujah plays on a loop, the greatest piece of music ever produced. In some ways, listening to it isn’t about listening to music, it’s listening to something more, something almost spiritual for me. “I've been here before/I know this room and I've walked this floor” plays as I write this, and it’s fitting, I have been here before, entirely sure a government would be reelected while utterly miserable about that fact. That night, I was vindicated entirely.

Breathe, keep breathing, and don’t lose your nerve. There remains no path to a Conservative government, and the Liberals will win once again.