The federal budget will be presented tomorrow and almost evryone expects the government to be taken down by the opposition by the end of the week (whether it would be for the budget or the recent scandals is yet to be seen). So where do the political parties stand just before this budget and likely snap election?
The only poll released this week (so far) is the latest Nanos poll, conducted between March 12th and 15th. If we use only this poll, it gives the projections of this post (note: because Nanos groups Alberta, Sasktachewan and Manitoba together, and my model splits those three provinces in two, I used an average of the other recent polls to make the seat projections in those provinces. In any case, it shouldn't really matter as those three provinces are not the ones where a lot of changes are expected, especially Alberta). The Conservatives would make big gains in Atlantic and Ontario.
So, basically, if an election was to start today, the Conservatives would start this campaign with a virtual majority. Even when using the average of other recent polls, the projections always put the Tories around 150 seats or higher. So I think it's pretty safe to assume that Harper and his party want an election to happen now. Of course, a campaign is long and a lot of things can happen (ask Harper in 2006...), but the fact is that for the first time in a long time, we have a party that has a clear potential to get a majority. Even more impressive is the fact that this majority would be possible without any gains in Quebec. For the Tories, as long as they keep 8-10 seats in Quebec (and most of their seats are pretty safe), they can simply focus on Ontario, Atlantic and BC. For Ontario, polls have consistently shown a big lead for this party, in the range of 13-15 points, over the Liberals. In my opinion, such a big lead in a province with 106 seats would be enough to secure a majority. Then there is Atlantic Canada where the CPC did good last time, except in NFL. If the recent polls are to be trusted, it seems most of the ABC effect is gone and the CPC can expect to make some gains there. Finally, BC has become the source of many seats for this party over the year. I don't think this is a province where the CPC can expect to make a lot of gains, except maybe in the suburbs of Vancouver. But we are taking 2-3 seats, nothing compared to Ontario.
The Liberals are in bad shape. Not only would they start this election far behind the Tories, but there isn't much indication that Michael Ignatieff can expect to make a big come back. The leadership index of Iggy is usually always low, no matter which pollster asked the question. In many cases, Jack Layton is seen as being a better potential PM' which is really bad for the Liberals. Of course, we could have a surprise. Maybe Ignatieff could have a perfect campaign, win the debates and increase his level of supports substantially. But at the end, for the Liberal leader, I don't think getting back to power is really possible. The best bet for the Liberals would be to have a "loss" like the PQ in Quebec in 2008: yes you lose the election, but it's almost a moral win. In other terms, the Liberals should focus on gaining seats back and make sure Harper doesn't get his majority. From then, everything is possible. Harper would probably quit (or be forced to quit) and the Liberals could start getting ready for next time, where they could get the government back. But again, if the polls have to be trusted, it seems the main concern of Iggy will be to remain the official opposition! Looking at the Nanos poll, the Liberals don't even have the Atlantic as a safe source of seats anymore. And by being so far behind in Ontario, this party would be virtually wiped out of the map except in Montreal and Toronto.
The NDP is tricky. Polls have not been really nice to them recently, but this party is usually quite stable in elections. On top of that, their vote has become much more efficient the year, thus theirs seats are mostly safe. The downside of this is naturally that potential gains are difficult. I would say the NDP can expect to increase in Quebec (at least in term of percentages) and in BC. The latter is probably the best potential source of additional seats. Of course, with the Liberals so low and Iggy being impopular as he is, there is a slim chance to see the NDP actually becoming the main opposition to the Tories, at least in some provinces. If such a switch was to happen, the NDP could finally break the 20%-mark and become a real contender. But for that to happen, they need to make sure to remain stable in Ontario and the Prairies.
The Green party hasn't much to hope for. Yes we'll see other polls putting this party as high as 10% nationwide, and even in 2nd place in the Praries or Alberta some times, but at the end, on election day, they will likely get 6-7% max and maybe one seat.
Finally, the Bloc has an easy life as always. But an election could be costly for this party. In term of percentages, we could well see this party falling even more, to around 35%. Fortunately for them, unless one of the federalist parties increases a lot, they are safe in term of seats. With the Tories not focusing on Quebec anymore, the Bloc will try to play the card of "we are the only way to block a Tories majority", but this time, it seems not to be true. And let's not forget the possibility that the Tories will keep some key promises for Quebec for an election, such as the sale tax hamronization.
So here you go folks. We'll know by Friday if we have an election or not. It seems almost unavoidable but we never know. Forcing an election is never easy, but the key difference this time is that Harper likely wants to be defeated.
[Update] There is also a new Harris-Decima poll, but unfortunately, we don't have the provincial breakdown yet. Nationwide, the Tories stand at "only" 34%, 28% for the Liberals and 17% for the NDP. The Canadian Press uses the term "Deja vu", but I would like to see the numbers in Ontario before saying that. I'll update the latest projections as soon as I have access to those numbers.