As I'm writing this, a funny thing is happening across our nation. When this election campaign started, the Conservatives held an insurmountable lead in public opinion and flirted with majority territory for a period of time. Harper even courted the majority vote, openly asking Canadians to give him and his party the majority they have long sought after since 2004; and some would argue back further when the party was still split between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform/Canadian Alliance.
And then something happened. With all the talk of the 'two great leaders' (Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff) telling Canadians that the choice was either a Liberal Government or a Conservative Government, Canadians seemed to wake up and realize that they weren't being told the whole truth.
And with that, the NDP has seen a meteoric rise in public support numbers. For the first time in history, the NDP is beating the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties as the number one choice within Quebec.
For the first time in history, the NDP is beating the Liberals by a staggering 8 percentage points and cementing themselves as the second place party.
But is it stopping there?
The Conservatives started this campaign with about 39% of the popular support, in some polls that number was even higher; but recent polls suggest that they have plummeted down as low as 33 - 36%. That's within striking distance of the NDP wave that is moving across this country that saw the NDP rise from a campaign low of around 15% to a new high of 30%.
Throughout the election speculation in Canada, people have hummed and hawed and mused over what the outcome of the looming federal election would be. Even I did this awhile back, where I outlined 3 possible outcomes.
The first outcome was a Conservative majority, before the contempt and fighter jets really began to raise their heads, but that option seems all but impossible now; rumour has it even some Tory insiders are beginning to admit this.
The second outcome was another Conservative minority, propped up yet again by a weakened Liberal Party. As the polls stand, this is still the option that seems the most likely. At least, in the beginning.
The third option was a Liberal-NDP coalition; though the poll numbers now suggest it would be a NDP-Liberal coalition.
So, what is going to happen come election day?
Right now, there is a chance that Canadians may continue their exodus from the 'major' political parties and find themselves giving the NDP a chance to change the way things work in Ottawa. As such, the possibility of a minority NDP Government being elected flat out does exist, but it is a long shot as it stands.
Even as a die-hard NDP supporter, I never foresaw myself typing that sentence in this election. Don't get me wrong, it's a sentence I am more than glad to type.
But, let's assume for a moment that the Conservatives manage to hold onto their 3 - 6 point lead over the NDP. That means another Conservative minority government will be elected, but it will be one that has LOST seats, rather than gained them.
While Conservatives are looking to pick up some seats, they're also looking to lose others. And the result will be a net loss, as opposed to a net gain, with them likely having somewhere between 130 - 135 seats. (-13 to -8 seats).
The Bloc will have the most spectacular loss out of all the parties, with estimates saying they could be decimated to just 14 seats in the House of Commons, a loss of 35 seats. While the Liberals are estimated to be in the low 60s, a loss of around 14 seats or so.
So, what does this implication mean?
There's going to be a shake up, no doubt about it. Duceppe, who briefly left the BQ to attempt a PQ leadership bid, will likely be turfed as a leader over the miserable performance of the Bloc in this election. A loss of 35 seats, or more, could not be defended and the Bloc leader will likely find himself stepping down, for real this time.
The Liberals will face this problem as well. After Dion led them to their worst electoral showing in decades, he barely survived a few months as leader before effectively stepping down and being thrown to the side at the same time. Ignatieff may face the same call to step aside, with surviving Liberal members looking around to see who is still in the House from previous leadership bids...
Or there could be the unelected factor (high profile Liberals like Frank McKenna) finally coming out of their self-imposed exile in politics to champion themselves as the next great leader of the party.
However, there's also a chance that Ignatieff could stay on a Liberal Leader. After all, a Liberal campaign against a NDP government would be to suggest that they would stay on similar social terms, but find more 'cost effective' measures of putting these programs forward. (It's a false tag line, but it's one the Liberals are using as I type this.)
Without Harper's focus of character assassination on Ignatieff come the next election, the Liberal leader will actually have a chance to spend time defining himself and his vision of Canada. As such, Ignatieff may simply survive as a leader because the party would see it as a chance to do some rebuilding while the Conservatives focus all of their vitriol against the NDP.
And then we come to the NDP.
Truth be told, I had expected a shake up in the NDP leadership after this election. But I think that's out of the cards now. Layton has achieved what many people have said was unachievable for the NDP, a complete surge in the polls that could continue until the party finds themselves in first place.
As such, Layton's not going to stand down and deliver the NDP to new hands after the hard work he's put in. And rightfully so, as he does deserve the credit and the boons for getting the NDP to these historic highs.
Now, these are the 3 scenarios:
1.) A reduced Conservative minority: The Conservatives will lose their 8 - 13 seats, and be left licking their wounds after election day. Harper may put off calling Parliament to session longer than usual as a battle plan is forged.
That battle plan will be one of two things:
1.) Harper will step down as leader and Prime Minister; this is a potential plan because we all know Harper is one of the main reasons why the Conservatives can't cede any ground or form any compromise with the other parties in the House of Commons. As such, there may be push within the party to get Harper out in order to keep the Conservatives in power.
2.) Harper will woo the Liberals into an unofficial coalition; much like he's done since 2006. The Liberals lost their backbone in 2006, and a dismal result here will likely dishearten them again. So we'll see more Liberal abstentions, approval and plain just not showing up to allow government bills to pass through the House of Commons.
Now the problems.
Situation one suggests that Harper would give up power in order for his party to stay in power, but that doesn't sound like the Harper we've come to know. This option is not likely unless the push to remove Harper comes from within his own caucus (by MPs with leadership ambitions like Peter McKay or Tony Clement). The daggers are out there, but whether or not they're ready to be pushed in is another thing.
The second situation is a problem because it would be the last death knell of the Liberal Party. With Ignatieff spending two-thirds of the campaign focusing on the contrast between Conservative and Liberal, the Liberals would lose a lot of face to turn around after election day and then throw support to a Conservative minority.
Since a deal with the devil would destroy the Liberal Party, it is unlikely that the Liberals could afford to prop up a Conservative minority.
2.) A NDP - Liberal Coalition: The NDP and Liberals could have 160+ seats between them, and a coalition could create a lasting government. Furthermore, by the decimation of the Bloc, the 'separatists' (as Harper likes to call them) would not have their hands on any of the reigns of power.
This option is likely, especially if the Harper Government falls early or fails to gain the confidence of the House of Commons with the throne speech. The main reason why its a boon is that it actually helps both parties. The Liberals have attacked the NDP as inexperienced (which is not true, but hey, let them believe what they like) and by having Liberal members in Cabinet that claim is suddenly gone.
And secondly, by having a stable government, the Liberals have more time to rebuild their party. It's a bit of a win-win for them, given that they'll have some power and also be able to take some credit for good programs under a NDP-Liberal government.
The problem with this though is sour grapes. My gut reaction to a NDP-Liberal coalition is one where the Liberals try to punch above their weight and demand more than they deserve out of a coalition deal. By which I mean, they will demand a better share or full split of Cabinet placement and demand that at least one or two high profile ministries fall under their purview.
(Such as demanding that a Liberal be Finance Minister and Health Minister, etc.)
This arrogance could lead to a coalition being a non-starter, especially if the Liberals think they are entitled to hold the more 'important' cabinet positions because some of their members have held those posts before and would not be happy with becoming a junior minister within the department.
And finally the third option, a NDP minority government with no coalition deal.
This is the hardest press of the options. The Liberals and Bloc are going to have some sore words for the NDP, given that their losses came at the NDP's gain. As such, there's a chance that the Liberals and Bloc will be resistant to bring down a Conservative minority simply because they want to keep the NDP from power.
But if the NDP, it could happen, actually forges ahead of the Conservatives and gets the first crack at forming government...There's a chance the opposition will defeat them in much the same way it seems the opposition would defeat a re-elected Harper Government.
In my opinion, those are the situations we're looking at. I do believe that if the Conservatives are re-elected, they will be defeated and the NDP will be asked to form the first Federal NDP Government in Canadian history, even if it relies on a coalition with the Liberals.
The Liberals could take that opportunity to rebuild and rebrand themselves, not to mention give themselves a way to weasel in on good measures passed by the NDP Government, while blaming the NDP faction for any problems of the coalition. It's a win, but also a potential loss for the Liberals, as the people may very well open up to continuing voting NDP in future elections.
These are the questions the parties are going to consider, and ultimately, this election will be decided not by the people of Canada, but by the Liberal Party. They will decide whether they lacklusterly prop up a Conservative minority, but risk destroying what is left of their party to do so. OR to prop up Canada's first NDP government, and risk showing a capable NDP at the reigns of power, firmly establishing them as the alternative to the Liberals for centrist Canadians.