What lies beneath: 3 things to watch for in the election results

The federal election outcome seems uncertain, but the forces that will shape the results are clear enough.

Finding meaning in a mixed-bag federal election

A sign in Ottawa urges people to cast a ballot in the 2019 federal election. But making sense of Monday's results might be an ongoing challenge. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Forty-one days.

It was the length of the latest tour of 80's rockers Tears for Fears. And the purported duration of a religiously-motivated fast by a Nigerian University student. (He ended up in hospital.)

It's exactly how long a Florida man spent in custody after a sheriff's deputy mistook a baggy of laundry detergent for heroin.

It's also the gestation period of a domestic ferret and — if the polls are to be believed — a Canadian minority government.

A lot has happened in the almost six weeks since the 2019 election campaign officially kicked off. Photo and video evidence of three occasions when a younger Justin Trudeau dressed up in blackface and brownface costumes. Questions about Andrew Scheer's resumé and dual Canadian-American citizenship. The unmasking of the unwise and intolerant online pasts of candidates from every major party.

There have been duelling promises of tax cuts and tax hikes. A growing divide between those who fear the dangers of climate change and those who worry about the cost of fighting it. And a plethora of ambitious and expensive plans for pharmacare, dentacare, and whatever-other-care voters might want.

And after all that, how the results will break down on Monday night remains anybody's guess.

But here are three things to watch for in what promises to be an unusually tight federal election.


An estimated 4.7 million Canadians already have cast their ballots in advance, a 29 per cent increase from 2015. Some of that is surely due to the fact that Elections Canada opened 1,100 more polling stations than it did in 2015, and extended the early-voting hours.

But there's also the possibility that the close race is driving turnout, which could have big implications. The Conservatives usually have the easiest time getting their supporters to the polls because they tend to be part of the older, and most dedicated, voting demographic.

So the key to the Liberal majority victory four years ago was a sharp spike in the overall voting rate, with 69 per cent of all those eligible casting a ballot — the highest percentage since 1993. Turnout among young Canadians went up by 18 points compared to 2011. And there was a 14 per cent increase in the number of on-reserve Indigenous voters

Daniel Rubenson, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, said he'll be watching the youth vote again on Monday.

"It will be interesting to see if they are a bit turned off by some of the things they've heard about the Liberals, or whether that might be offset by the idea that their vote might count for more because the race is so close," he said.

Turnout also can be affected by the weather, but beyond forecasts calling for some rain in B.C.'s Lower Mainland and parts of Northern Ontario, things looks pretty calm for late October.

The biggest factor might end up being enthusiasm. In recent days, the CBC's Poll Tracker has shown flat or slightly declining support for both the Conservatives and the Liberals. And while Jagmeet Singh and the NDP appear to have the most national momentum, the party could still end up in fourth place in terms of seats, behind the surging Bloc Québécois.

"2015 maybe felt a little more exciting," said Rubenson. "This time it feels more like we're having an election because we have to."


We already know that Canada's next prime minister will be faced with one major challenge: balancing demands from Alberta and Saskatchewan for new oil pipelines with growing national worries over climate change.

An Ipsos poll earlier this month found that the health care system remains the number one concern for voters, with 35 per cent of them citing it as their top issue. But the climate crisis has now moved into second spot, with 29 per cent of Canadians ranking the fight against global warming as a pressing concern.

On a more practical level, if Andrew Scheer wins a minority on Oct. 21, he will find little support among the four other major parties for what he says will be his biggest legislative priority: rolling back the Liberals' carbon tax before Jan. 1

And if Justin Trudeau hangs on as the leader of a hung Parliament, he will be similarly hard-pressed to convince the NDP, Greens or Bloc to sign off on his promise to expand the now government-owned Trans Mountain pipeline.

The only certainty is that there will be outrage — especially in the oil patch.

University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper said Western sentiment has already surpassed alienation and is heading straight toward separatism.

"Alberta and Saskatchewan have been labouring under the misconception that we are equal provinces that have contributed an enormous amount to the welfare of the country," he said. "While 'Laurentian Canada' just seems to think we're there to be exploited."

Cooper said a Conservative victory would lessen the anger — but only temporarily, if new pipelines continue to be stymied. 

"It's not Liberal or Conservative, it's really economic and regional," said Cooper. "It has to do with the interests of the provinces, and they are tied to the oil patch."


For all the talk of coalitions and alliances during the final week of the campaign, a minority Parliament would be every bit as fractious and poisonous as a majority one.

"If anything, a minority government makes people even more partisan," said Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University's School of Public Administration. "It's not about coming together in a cooperative, transformative dialogue way."

The negativity and mudslinging that have dominated the election campaign will continue in and outside of the House, she said. And the policies the government puts forward will be hyper-focused on its own short-term survival, rather than the greater good of the country.

The opinion polls suggest that the next Parliament will have deep regional divisions: Atlantic Canada will remain largely Liberal, while the Tories might sweep Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the separatist Bloc could again command the most seats in Quebec.

It's a recipe for turmoil, but not necessarily another election. At least, not immediately.

Turnbull noted that minority governments in Canada are usually pretty durable, lasting 18 to 24 months. And a more formal arrangement, like the 'confidence and supply' agreement that has kept the U.K. Conservative Party in power since 2017, might last even longer.

"The parties don't want another election. They have no money," said Turnbull. "And the public isn't interested in one either. They don't even want to vote now."


Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.

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