You may have heard that the latest public opinion poll from a major Canadian firm shows Justin Trudeau and his Liberals recovering ground they lost in the days and weeks after his trip to India. While Trudeau’s Punjabi Pratfall may be fading from the memory of voters, the divide he is developing in this country is all too real.
The latest numbers from Ipsos show Trudeau’s Liberals have regained the lead nationally at 36%, the Conservatives are at 35% and the NDP is at 20%. It’s not the national numbers that interest me as much as the deep divide in this country that is driven by geography.
What we are witnessing, in ways that I have not seen before, is the development of two Canadas, divided you might say by the Ottawa River that separates Ontario from Quebec.
From the Quebec side of the Ottawa River to the far shores of Newfoundland, Justin Trudeau and his Liberals hold sway in the hearts and minds of voters. In Ontario, Trudeau’s Liberals and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives do battle and are currently tied in terms of voter support.
West of Ontario though, it is a land mostly dominated by Scheer and the Conservatives.
Reading this poll nationally, while taking regional breakdowns into consideration, either party could win a majority and if they did, they would do so while effectively being ignored by half the country.
This isn’t good.
I’ve been working with the guys at Ipsos since 2005 when I moved to Parliament Hill to be the Ottawa Bureau Chief for Newstalk 1010 in Toronto and CJAD in Montreal. At one point, during the Harper minority years, I covered their polls on a sometimes weekly basis. I never remember a divide as stark as this.
In the last election Trudeau and his Liberals not only took half the seats in Manitoba, they scored four seats in Alberta and several in the British Columbia interior, in the Okanagan and other areas outside of Vancouver. There was a time when you could count the Liberals between say, London, Ontario and Vancouver, on one hand. Trudeau changed that.
I’m not sure it would stay that way if an election were held today. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trudeau were to lose seats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. never mind an annihilation in Alberta.
Meanwhile, Scheer and the Conservatives would remain shut out, or damn near shut out in Atlantic Canada, retain their seats in the Quebec City region but not really breakthrough otherwise in the rest of Quebec.
The whole election would come down to Ontario with East and West staring at each other across the most populous province shaking their respective fists at each other.
This is no way to run a country and will only lead to greater divides.
Darrell Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs agrees there is a divide.
“There is this new Canada and there is an older Canada,” Bricker said. “The new Canada is the place that is really being fueled by growth and immigration and economic prosperity.”
Bricker describes the new Canada as the suburbs around Toronto and moving west to Vancouver.
“Then you’ve got kind of old Canada that exists east of the Ottawa River in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.”
Bricker points to past divides in Canadian politics, claiming this is nothing new. In some senses he is correct, Jean Chretien swept Ontario to secure his majorities, In Pierre Trudeau’s day the actual internal slogan was, “Screw the West, we’ll take the rest.”
Yet now seems different, starker, entrenched.
I remember when Stephen Harper was prime minister with a strong showing from the West, solid support in Ontario and decent support in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Yet we were told by our media masters of the day that Harper didn’t run a truly national government because it was too weighted in Western Canada.
Right now, Trudeau’s majority relies on Quebec and Atlantic Canada with support from Ontario. If an election were held tomorrow, Trudeau would lose support everywhere west of the Ottawa River. Perhaps he could retain power but it would be with a government that relies on one main area for all of it’s support.
If Scheer were to win at this point it would be much the same, only reversed.
Whether Trudeau is PM or Scheer takes over, having a government built on one half of the country while ignoring the other is not healthy for democracy.
What the answer is, I don’t know.