Uncertain voters were reassured by Justin Trudeau’s pledge to participate in a don’t-call-it-a-coalition with the NDP, unlocking a wave of pent-up support for Trudeau, easily the most liked of the leadership candidates.
NDP boss Tom Mulcair has been struggling to play the front-runner as the Conservatives injected devastating xenophobia into the race in Québec. Polls have shown some sobering softening to the NDP’s numbers in the province as Mulcair has stood up too quietly for tolerance in the face of racist backlash against a court ruling against a headscarf ban at citizenship ceremonies.
The net result of this is a surge for the Liberal Party in the polls, which counter-intuitively could mean victory for the Conservatives. Where votes are split between Liberals and the NDP, the Tories come up the middle, and the projections now imply a 123-seat minority Conservative Caucus, the first time they have been in striking distance of governing during this campaign, but still well under the combined totals for the NDP and Liberals.
Stephen Harper’s rallying cry against a joint NDP/Liberal government is a lack of democratic legitimacy, claiming a coalition is unprecedented in Canadian politics, and short of overt campaigning for a coalition no NDP or Liberal leader can claim to be Prime Minister. In order to agree with this view of history, you would need to overlook a number of minority governments tided over with third party support, and forget that the first job of the Prime Minister is to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons.
Harper has had no qualms governing against the wishes of the majority of voting Canadians before, but as it is today, the election is set to go down that worst possible road, where the Tories will finish behind in the votes but a weak first in the seats. Harper has pledged not to resign in such a case, but would be easily forced out, and more than prepared to sow the seeds of discontent over the next 10 years, hypocritically incensed that his party was defeated by parliamentary tricks.