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Liberal dreams of majority…not so fast

Posted by padams under All, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

Paul Adams will be blogging the federal Liberal convention in Vancouver this week.

Today’s LaPresse/CROP poll is a wonderful gift to Michael Ignatieff as he arrives for this weekend’s party convention in Vancouver. It shows the federal Liberals in Quebec at 37%, six percentage points ahead of the Bloc Québécois, and an amazing 22 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives.

It isn’t Christmas, but it will set sugar-plums dancing in the heads of Liberals. More specifically, it will get them thinking about the days of Liberal majorities past.

But hang on. As impressive as the Liberal surge in Quebec is, it would likely mean fewer than 30 seats for the party in the province, still behind the BQ, because of the way in which Liberal votes are concentrated geographically.

If you look at national seat projections based on recent polls prior to the release of these new CROP numbers for Quebec, they range from a two-seat edge for the Liberals over the Tories suggested by the Laurier Institute for Public Opinion, to a roughly twenty seat margin projected by tcnorris based on two recent polls, to a high of about thirty seats ahead of the Tories projected by EKOS Research Associates (with whom I am associated) whose recent national poll is the outlier on the high side for the Liberals.

If you substituted these most recent CROP numbers for Quebec into these seat projections, you’d still see the Liberals failing to get into majority territory. Doing a back of the envelope calculation, we are looking at a range of between, say, 112 and 136 seats for the Liberals nationally — well short of the 155 you need for a majority.

For the Liberals to be seriously thinking of a majority, they would need to increase their existing, already substantial, lead over the Conservatives in Ontario, or start expanding their base elsewhere.

It is possible that the Liberals will get a lift elsewhere in the country, particularly if they are perceived to be more competitive in Quebec than they were in the 2008 election. It is also possible that we are seeing a delayed “honeymoon” for Michael Ignatieff — delayed because his accession to the leadership came as such an anti-climax last December after the election and the “coalition crisis” that ensued. And honeymoons don’t last forever.

The arithmetic of majority is extremely difficult in the current four- or five-party configuration of Canadian politics. Liberals can always dream, but if they are serious about governing again they should also be thinking seriously about how to govern with a minority, which remains a much more realistic prospect — and still a very uncertain one at that.

Paul Adams, a former political correspondent for the CBC and Globe and Mail, is a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty and executive director of EKOS Research Associates. He is researching a book on the Liberal Party.