Recent federal polling might remind those with long political memories of the January 23, 2006 election, that first brought Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada to power in Ottawa.
To indulge briefly in a few too many numbers, take the January 22, 2023 update for the 338Canada opinion poll projections.
In a 338-seat Canadian House of Commons it gives Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives 152 seats with 35% of the Canada-wide popular vote. The Trudeau Liberals are assigned 129 seats with 30% of the vote. (In the minor but still numerically important leagues the New Democrats are given 25 seats with 21%. And the Bloc Québécois has 30 with 7%.)
Going back almost exactly 17 years to the real-world Canadian federal election on January 23, 2006 (with a 308-seat House) the Harper Conservatives won 124 seats with 36% of the popular vote. The Liberals took 103 seats with 30%. (The New Democrats here won 29 seats with 18% and the Bloc 51 with 11%.)
In both cases — the real-world 2006 and the polling-based 2023 — Conservatives won the most seats, but not enough for a majority government.
In 2006 a bare majority was 155 seats (170 in 2023) : Stephen Harper’s party had only 124. And the consequences 17 years ago arguably haunt the prospects for a federal election in 2023.
The January 23, 2006 “snap election” became inevitable when Jack Layton’s New Democrats finally joined the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois in seeking the end of Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government, in late November 2005.
Yet New Democrats could not be expected to keep a Stephen Harper Conservative minority government in office. (And in any case in 2006 Conservative and NDP seats combined were still not quite enough for even a bare majority.)
The Liberals could similarly hardly prop up a Conservative minority government. The reality of the House bequeathed by the Canadian people in late January 2006 inevitably pointed the Harper Conservatives towards Gilles Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the consummate political strategist, may have been more prepared to work with M. Duceppe than some of his fellow Conservative MPs.
There was also nothing between Conservatives and Bloquistes in 2006 (or later) remotely like the formal supply and confidence agreement between Liberals and New Democrats in 2023.
Stephen Harper, however, did work with Gilles Duceppe after the 2006 election. The zenith of the resulting symbiosis arguably came on November 27, 2006, when the Canadian House of Commons voted on a motion advanced by Prime Minister Harper.
The motion read: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” It passed by an overwhelming majority of 266 to 16.
Going back (or ahead) to the January 22, 2023 update for the 338Canada opinion poll projections, if a Canadian federal election were held today, the Conservatives would once again win the most seats but not enough for a majority government.
As back in 2006, neither Liberals nor New Democrats could realistically be expected to support a Poilievre Conservative minority government. Once again to remain in office any length of time the Conservatives would have to work with the Bloc (now led by Yves-François Blanchet).
What price, some might ask, would the Bloc demand this time? What further motion on the Québécois nation in a united Canada might loom in the Ottawa political air? And would this be a good thing? (As the November 2006 motion arguably enough was — and still is today!)
Questions of this sort may have lingered at the back of some minds during Pierre Poilievre’s recent Quebec tour.
As for Jagmeet Singh’s pulling the plug on the Justin Trudeau Liberals, as Jack Layton did in 2006, the New Democrats are at a healthy 21% of the popular vote in the latest 338Canada projection (compared with 18% in 2006). The March 2022 Liberal-NDP supply and confidence agreement is arguably working for the NDP.
Moreover, for the Canadian people at large the Liberals and New Democrats together, even on 338Canada’s latest Conservative friendly numbers, also have a 51% majority of the Canadian popular vote — as well as a majority of seats bequeathed by the latest 2021 federal election.
Diverse observers who do remember 2006 in Canadian federal politics might see several good reasons why it should not and in any case cannot quite be repeated (or even rhymed) in 2023.