Do the Greens have what it takes to pass the NDP?

In this week’s Canada Votes newsletter: is the battle for third place heating up between the NDP and the Greens? Also: How exactly does the Poll Tracker calculate a party’s probability of winning?

The Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21.

New Democrats and Greens battle it out 

Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics

"The NDP," Stockwell Day told CBC's Power Panel last week, "is toast."

The statement was somewhat surprising coming from the former Conservative cabinet minister, who had been defending NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's political potential for months. Not that surprising, though, given the number of people writing off the New Democrats these days.

Even Charlie Angus admitted a few days ago he's been reading his party's obituary for a long time. Angus insisted that obit isn't ready to be printed, but his counter-argument was all about the kind of power New Democrats could enjoy in a minority government — one led by another party.

Singh himself all but acknowledged recently how low the party is setting its sights in 2019 when he ripped into Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer over his 2005 comments on same-sex marriage. He said the NDP would not support a Conservative minority. But why would he even talk about a minority government at this point? Singh is supposed to be running to form a government of his own — not to prop one up (or knock one down).

I don't like to write any party off. I remember how many people (in the media and outside of it) used to say it would be a cold day in hell before Justin Trudeau ever became prime minister. (Prior to the last election, you'll remember, the Liberals were polling a distant third.)

The campaign changed things. That's what campaigns do. I think just about anything could happen in the coming campaign as well.

But it's pretty bleak out there for the Dippers right now: not a lot of cash in the coffers, polling below the Greens in Quebec (the single most important province for the party) and nowhere near a full slate of candidates in the days before the real campaign begins.

The natural heir to whatever ground the New Democrats have lost would appear to be the Green Party. But that isn't a given.

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May speaks in Toronto during a fireside chat about the climate. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Take a look at the events of the past week. (Stay with me — it's complicated.)

First came an announcement that 14 New Democrats in New Brunswick, all provincial save for one member of the federal executive, were defecting to the Green Party because they didn't like their chances as NDP candidates.

Then, one of the defectors told The Canadian Press and CBC Radio's As It Happens he's talked to people in the province who are uncomfortable with Singh's religion.

A day went by and the NDP started calling around newsrooms, saying not all the people on the defectors' list are actually leaving for the Greens. A handful came out publicly to say they're sticking with the NDP. Singh said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May "has a lot to answer for."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May released a statement. "I won't attack (Singh)," she says —  after attacking him at length, accusing him of blowing off New Brunswick and reminding him that "being a federal party leader is hard work." All of which should tell you that Trudeau and Scheer are quite right when they predict the coming campaign will be "nasty."

The defectors story is complicated and weird. Does it point to organizational problems for the Greens and the NDP? Probably.

If the Greens orchestrated this regional coup, they need to work on their coup-making skills. Some of the people on the initial list of defectors reportedly thought they were simply talking about a merger with the Greens. Others said they didn't even know they'd been added to the list. (One Green candidate in the Maritimes gulped when I called to ask about this week's events, calling them "embarrassing.")

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Greens are accustomed to being questioned about their organizational competence. In election after election, they're dogged by the question of whether they can turn their popular support into actual seats. (They also don't like it when you ask that question; May once told me she's "over it.")

David Chernushenko is a former deputy leader of the Greens and a failed leadership candidate. He said the party's lack of a ground game was always a problem.

"I left the party 10 years ago and my main critique was that the focus was all about the leader," he said.

"No question, people expect that and the symbolism of that is really important, but you have to build a party. The infrastructure has to be there … good, plain organization is what's needed."

That shambles in New Brunswick didn't exactly reflect well on the NDP either. Singh's critics are right: he's never once visited New Brunswick since becoming leader — not once during an entire (official) tour of the country. Not one of the New Democrats I spoke to last week thinks that was anything but a huge mistake.

There is a feeling in party circles that Singh is starting to hit his campaign groove now, that he's more comfortable leading the charge. Too late? "It's way, way, way too late," one NDP MP told me recently.

In the end, if the polls are right and the NDP is toast, the Greens may not be in a position to capitalize. 

Voters — especially those still undecided — care more about climate change now than they ever did before, but that isn't just a NDP/Green battle. The Liberals will be fighting for those votes too — and in Quebec right now, polls show they've got a lot of them.

Vassy Kapelos is host of Power & Politics, weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

Power Lines

The Power & Politics Power Panelists on where the big parties will be focused this week

Amanda Alvaro  president and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance
The Liberals are framing their position and theme for the election campaign in the ramp up to the writ being dropped. With the tagline, 'Choose Forward,' expect Justin Trudeau to use every opportunity to contrast the progress that's been made for Canadians under his leadership with the risk of slipping backward under the Conservatives. 

Rachel Curran senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will be focused next week on detailing his plans to help Canadians get ahead, including making maternity benefits tax-free (worth up to $4,000) and offering a Green Homes Tax Credit of up to $2,850 to help homeowners increase the energy-efficiency of their homes. 

Kathleen Monk principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will kick off the party's federal election tour in Toronto Sunday with Olivia Chow and Mike Layton. In the days following, Singh will join candidates Andrew Cash (Davenport) and Matthew Green (Hamilton Centre) promising, that with a strong team in Ottawa, New Democrats will address the housing crisis in Canada after successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed.   

Poll Tracker Takeaway 

Éric Grenier's weekly look at key numbers in the political public opinion polls. 

A fight for third place is not the fight the New Democrats want.

And yet, here they are.

The defection of a group of New Brunswick New Democrats to the Greens (a group that turned out to be not as big as originally claimed) highlights something that's becoming increasingly obvious in the polls:

In some parts of the country, including Atlantic Canada, it's the Greens who are in third place.

But could the New Democrats end up in fourth nationwide?

At this stage, the chances that the NDP will fall behind the Greens at the national level look relatively slim. The Poll Tracker puts the NDP ahead of the Greens by about three percentage points. Most pollsters put the NDP solidly in third place and the Green Party has consistently failed to match its polling numbers at the ballot box.

Green Leader Elizabeth May certainly will have the opportunity to surpass the New Democrats if the campaign takes a negative turn for Jagmeet Singh, especially since she'll be sharing the debate stage with him. But for now, the Greens' potential is just that: potential.

There is, however, a decent chance that the New Democrats could find themselves finishing in fourth place in the House of Commons - behind the Bloc Québécois

For the Bloc this would be a revival of fortunes; it had the third-largest Commons caucus between the 1997 and 2011 federal elections.

The Poll Tracker puts the NDP and Bloc neck-and-neck in projected seat counts. If the New Democrats continue to struggle in the polls, the Bloc might be able to beat them in seats. Plucking those vulnerable NDP seats in Quebec would help it do that.

It makes for a challenging election campaign ahead for Singh. It's hard to credibly run for gold when your main problem is simply making it to the podium.

Tap here to go to the full poll tracker 

(Eric Grenier/CBC)

Ask us

We want to know what YOU want to know. 

Kaya Raby asks us via email: Looking at the seat projections, how can [the Liberals'] percentage chances for "winning a majority" be higher than "winning the most seats but not a majority"?

I can see why this could be confusing. The Sept. 5 update projected 163 seats for the Liberals, short of the 170 seats needed for a majority government. It also projected a 38 per cent chance of a Liberal majority vs. only a 27 per cent chance of the Liberals winning the most seats but not a majority. How come?

Okay, strap in.

The seat projection range for the Liberals was between 104 and 218 seats,

So, the window for the Liberals to win a majority is pretty big: 170 to 218. 

On the other hand, the window for them to win the most seats but NOT a majority is relatively small.

That's because as soon as they start falling below around 150 seats, the Conservatives are probably winning more than them. Which makes the range where the Liberals win a plurality but not a majority around 150 to 169 seats.

Smaller window, smaller chance of it happening.

The seat range takes into account the potential for error in the seat projection model and in the polls.

Think of it this way. If the Liberals out-perform the projection, one thing is likely to happen: they win a majority. If they under-perform the projection, there are two possible outcomes: ending up with the most seats in a minority Parliament, or ending up behind the Conservatives.

— Éric Grenier CBC Polls Analyst

Have a question about the October election? About where the federal parties stand on a particular issue? Or about the facts of a key controversy on the federal scene? Email us your questions and we'll answer one in the next Canada Votes newsletter.

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Thanks for reading. If you've got questions, criticisms or story tips, please email us at politics@cbc.ca

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