Manitoba is looking blue. Saskatchewan, even bluer. But Alberta, oh Alberta — it’s bluer than ever before, hoisting Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives into the driver’s seat as it rounds on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau with every oil-fired cylinder.
And back east? Overwhelmingly, the climate threat is emerging as the top election issue in the centrist pockets Scheer will need to triumph on election night.
Fully 72 per cent of Ontarians and 78 per cent of Quebecers now identify climate action foremost among their policy desires, according to the national polling firm Mainstreet Research – numbers that suggest Scheer’s path to victory is narrowing in central Canada, if not blocked outright.
Pollsters have been closely watching Canada’s worsening regional polarity for months. But as the Oct. 21 election draws nearer, the national difference of opinion is growing ever more acute.
“It really is two worlds out there. Two Canadas,” Mainstreet president and CEO Quito Maggi told the Star as he pored over a trove of fresh polling data showing Alberta’s intensifying shift rightward.
“The Conservatives now are pushing close to 70 per cent in Alberta and close to 60 per cent in Saskatchewan and rural Manitoba, according to our latest three-night rolling sample – and the surge is continuing,” said Maggi.
“For a single party to get 70 per cent support in any one province — I don’t recall it ever before, not in my lifetime. Piling up such big, big leads on the Prairies doesn’t give the Conservatives more seats — but it drives up the national numbers, making the election appear closer than it is.”
That’s horse-race talk, the who’s-up-who’s-down banter common to politicos so inundated with survey numbers. But Maggi and some of his surveying peers have begun sounding alarms about the mess the horses will leave behind, regardless of who ends up first past the post.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney left little doubt of the unity stakes during a weekend stumping in Ontario on behalf of Team Scheer, where he warned of the threat a renewed Liberal government represents. “This is existential for Alberta,” he said.
Frank Graves, President of EKOS Research Associates, is closely tracking the geographic disconnect. He notes that overwhelming Conservative support in Saskatchewan and Alberta is driven by “near consensual dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and its federal government.
“I think the anger and fear in Alberta and Saskatchewan are real and rooted in some of the authoritarian populism we have seen at work in the U.S. and U.K.,” Graves wrote in an email to the Star. “We should not treat it lightly at all and whatever the outcome this election (it) will leave one of the two Canadas deeply unhappy.”
Yet Graves offers a cautionary note as well, saying, “Without discounting the reality of this bleak fault line I would not trot out the ‘crisis’ term, nor buy the argument that voting for any other choice but the CPC is a recipe for national unity disarray.
“Unlike in Quebec, which has actually come within a whisker of separating, in Alberta this is largely sabre-rattling at this stage, without much real consideration of how landlocked Alberta and Saskatchewan would fare in a world that is shifting away from carbon,” said Graves.
Maggi’s concern is for the day after the election. With the latest Mainstreet data suggesting that some rural ridings in Alberta are likely to be 90 per cent Conservative — and if that turns out not to be enough to ensure an Scheer-led government — what happens next? “If the Liberals form the next government, minority or majority, how will the Prairies react? Do Jason Kenney and the other western premiers just double down and say, ‘No, we’re not going to work with you?’ It’s just that polarized.”
Maggi also offers caveats to the gloomy forecast of national disunity. Breaking down what he describes as “a very strange election,” he actually sees two distinct battles — “a sort of gold-medal game between the Liberals and Conservatives to decide which one will form a government and the bronze-medal game, where the NDP and the Greens keep missing opportunities and handing each other the third-place spot, back and forth.”
Both games, he notes, have been hijacked by distraction — unanticipated shocks, from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s penchant for blackface to Scheer’s previously unknown U.S. citizenship. Each diverts attention from issues like climate, which poll respondents in Ontario, Quebec and beyond say ranks foremost.
“This was supposed to be the climate change election — and it still might be. But along the way it digressed into a contest of, you know, ‘Who’s the least racist?’ or some variation thereof.”
Mainstreet Research latest data, says Maggi, suggests a Liberal rebound in Atlantic Canada but increasing headwinds in Quebec, where the Conservatives and Liberals alike are losing ground to the Bloc Québécois in ways that could ultimately determine the difference between a majority and minority government.
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But the bigger swing, he said, is taking hold in southern Ontario, where he anticipates Liberal dominance throughout the 416 area code and — barring a major shock in the final two weeks of campaigning — enough Liberal victories in 905 electoral districts to put Trudeau in the position of being invited to form Canada’s next government.
“At this point, when people wake up on Oct. 22, I don’t see them waking up to an Andrew Scheer government. It doesn’t seem a likely scenario based on what we see today.
“And I can’t help but wonder what Alberta voters are going to be feeling that day.”