Signs and Signals for Tomorrow Night

The big day is nearly here! Tomorrow, millions of Canadians will go to the polls to elect their new House of Commons, who will in turn decide who will form government for the next four years (assuming the person they choose as Prime Minister respects the length of that mandate, of course).

Poll closing times across Canada

As usual, there will be a series of rolling poll closures across the country, from Newfoundland and Labrador in the east to British Columbia in the west. Even though polls in most ridings close at the later end of the spectrum, we can pick up some clues earlier on that will help us to figure out what the new House of Commons will look like, and who will form the next Government of Canada.

This analysis is based on the regional polling averages released up to Friday afternoon (Eastern Time).

Atlantic Canada

With the exception of one Québec riding that is partly in the Atlantic time zone, there will be a two-hour period where the only ridings we’ll hear from are the four provinces in Atlantic Canada, which have 32 ridings between them. Even though this represents less than 10% of the House of Commons, we can start to pick up some signs from these ridings of where the election could be going.

So let’s look at what we’d need to see in three scenarios: a Liberal majority, a Conservative minority, and a Conservative majority. (I’m not explicitly calling out a Liberal minority, as that’s the status quo.)

What the Liberals need in Atlantic Canada to be on track for a majority

The Liberals finished with around 41% of the vote in Atlantic Canada in 2019, and while there’s a slim chance that they could get a majority with that Atlantic vote share, they’ll realistically want to see a figure closer to 45–46% to be confident about majority government prospects.

They will need to win the seat of West Nova from the Conservatives, and hold onto the seat of Fredericton which they gained when Jenica Atwin came over from the Green Party. If they miss in either of those seats, then their majority prospects will be slim.

St. John’s East might be in play because of the retirement of the NDP’s Jack Harris, but apart from that, given they already won 26 of the 32 seats in 2019, any other Liberal gains may be the first sign that they’re on route to a majority.

What the Conservatives need in Atlantic Canada to be on track for a minority

The Liberals usually perform better in Atlantic Canada than in the country as a whole, and so the Conservatives can afford to be somewhat behind the Liberals here and still form government. The Conservatives trailed the Liberals by 12% in Atlantic Canada, which they’ll want to cut in half if they are to become the largest party in the House of Commons.

Their path to a minority government would see them needing to take five Atlantic seats from the Liberals. These are likely to be across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but a couple of seats in PEI and Newfoundland could be within reach to help the Conservatives become the largest party.

What the Conservatives need in Atlantic Canada to be on track for a majority

The Conservatives finished just under 30% in Atlantic Canada in 2019. This is around 10% down from what Stephen Harper achieved when he won his majority government a decade ago, and the Conservatives will need to bring themselves back up to this level to reach a majority again this time.

The first signs of a Conservative majority will come particularly from Newfoundland and Labrador, where they haven’t held a seat since the 2015 dissolution. If they can pick up three or four seats in this province, then things will look very promising for the Conservatives forming a majority government for the first time in a decade.

Outside the Atlantic Region

More than three-quarters of Canada’s ridings all close their polls at the same time, and results start to flood in very quickly thereafter. At that point, popular vote becomes a less important indicator and we can start looking at more of the individual seats.

Here are the seats I’ll be trying to keep an eye on in various parts of the country.

Seats the Liberals need to win in order to win a majority

If the Liberals want to get a majority, they’ll need to make substantial gains in two regions in particular: Québec and the Prairies. In Québec, they will have to take as many as eight seats from the Bloc Québécois. Meanwhile, they’ll have to pick up a similar number of seats from the Conservatives across the prairie provinces, including taking back Regina — Wascana (once held by Ralph Goodale), and winning seats in Edmonton and Calgary.

The Liberals’ achilles heel is going to be in Ontario, where polls show a larger swing away from the Liberals than in other provinces. Therefore, the path to a Liberal majority will simply involve holding onto the seats they already have, particularly against threats from the NDP. In BC, the Liberals will want to make sure they pick up a couple of seats from the Conservatives to offset what they’d lose to the NDP.

Seats the Conservatives need to win in order to win a minority

Polls show a story of two halves for the Conservatives. They appear to be gaining votes from the Liberals in the eastern half of the country, while losing votes to the People’s Party in the west.

For the Conservatives to become the largest party, they will need to pick up more than a dozen seats in Ontario from the Liberals, with places like Newmarket — Aurora, Kitchener South — Hespeler, and Oakville among the seats on the must-win list. A few gains in Québec and British Columbia will also be needed to offset an expected loss or two in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Seats the Conservatives need to win in order to win a majority

The Conservatives need to gain 49 seats from other parties to win a majority government. Two-thirds of those seats will be in Ontario, and this will include multiple gains in the city of Toronto (where they currently have no seats) and the surrounding suburbs (particularly in Halton and York Regions).

A Conservative majority would also see seats gained in BC, including that of the Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan in Vancouver South, while it would see them simply holding onto what they have as they hold in the Prairies off a challenge to the People’s Party.

How quickly will we know the result?

It’s difficult to say, as it depends on how close to some of these borderlines it will be, and how much extra time is required as a result of Covid protocols. There may also be a handful of seats where postal votes could decide the winner.

There are two calls that are made on election night: which party finishes with the most seats, and whether or not there will be a single-party majority. There will almost certainly be enough of the vote coming in to make one of these calls, and the provincial elections we’ve seen over the past year suggest that we could have enough to make the second call as well. But it could be a late night tomorrow, so make sure you have your coffee ready.

Canada’s 44th federal election will be held on Monday, September 20, 2021. Polls will be open for 12 hours in all 338 ridings, with opening hours determined by the time zone of the riding.