OTTAWA–The Conservatives weren’t exactly banking on the New Democrats backing an Andrew Scheer-led minority government this October.
But NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s decision this week to close the door on any co-operation with the Conservatives makes Scheer’s path to power more difficult to game out.
“Majority or bust” is the way three senior Conservative sources characterized it to the Star on Friday, speaking on the condition they not be named. By that, they mean a majority government is the only way that Scheer can become prime minister after this fall’s election.
While the Liberals’ come-from-behind victory in 2015 — not to mention Donald Trump’s election in 2016 — may have left political watchers leery of making predictions, polling suggests neither Scheer’s Conservatives nor Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party would win a majority if the federal election were held today.
Conservative strategists privately admit that if Scheer falls short of a majority, it’s difficult to see how his party could summon enough support to take power — even if it held more seats than any other party.
The Conservatives are no strangers to lacking natural allies in the House of Commons, where three of the other four established parties — the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens — sit left of centre on the political spectrum. (The separatist agenda of Bloc Québécois — which is also a left-of-centre party — makes it a highly unlikely partner.)
“The Conservatives, in my view, are further right under Andrew Scheer than they have been before. The other parties are further to the left. We are polarizing along left and right lines, not to the same degree as is happening in the U.S., but we’re still moving a little bit more to the extremes,” a senior Conservative source who is not affiliated with the Scheer campaign told the Star.
Under former prime minister Stephen Harper, the source said, the Conservatives “were able to negotiate support for budgets and things like that … I’m trying to imagine that happening with the current iteration of the CPC, the current iteration of the NDP and the Greens. It’s just much more difficult.”
Singh announced Thursday that the NDP would not support a Conservative minority led by Scheer, after the Liberals resurfaced a 2005 speech in which Scheer suggested same-sex couples could not be considered married because they could not “naturally procreate.”
“This is exactly why, if Canadians deliver a minority government in October, I will not prop up Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives,” Singh said, accusing the Conservative leader of “disgusting prejudice.”
It was a savvy, low-cost move by Singh, reassuring progressive voters that voting for the NDP will not result in a Scheer government.
But Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said the NDP could have a difficult decision on its hands if Singh does end up holding the balance of power.
“There’s what you talk about during the election campaign and then there’s the reality of trying to form a government afterwards, and they can be two different things,” Bricker said.
Ginny Roth, a former Ontario Progressive Conservative organizer who now works for Crestview Strategy, said Scheer’s campaign has to remain focused on winning as many seats as it can, and should leave the post-election math and strategizing to a separate team.
“Any consideration of what the vote split leads to, and how many seats the Greens may or may not pick up, or the NDP may or not pick up, or the Liberals might be reduced to, is a fool’s errand,” Roth said in an interview.
“It won’t change your strategy … It’s frankly why you can’t have the same people thinking about transition (to government) as you have thinking about the campaign, because they have very different motivations.”
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But while the stakes for the Conservatives are high, the stakes for Scheer’s leadership are even higher. Numerous sources said the expectations in the Conservative movement for this campaign are high. Scheer will face an automatic leadership review at the party’s next national convention in Toronto next April.
If those expectations aren’t met, the Conservative leader could be in for another fight in 2020 — this time within his own party.