There’s an old adage in military planning: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. It works just as well with election campaigns — certainly with any plans the parties might have drawn up when this election year began.
The Liberals and Conservatives have one target in October: 170. That’s the number of seats needed to form a majority government. But the paths of least resistance leading each party to that number look very different today than they did six months ago.
In early February, the Liberals enjoyed a comfortable lead over the Conservatives in the polls. How that support broke down across the country put the party in a good position to be re-elected with a majority, even if it was reduced in size.
The thinking at the time was that the Liberals would be able to compensate for losses in places like Ontario, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia with gains in Quebec — at least enough to put them over the 170-seat mark.
But then the SNC-Lavalin affair blew those plans up. The Liberals have been trailing the Conservatives in the polls — and the seat projections — ever since. Both parties have had to draw up new plans as the front line has shifted.
So what do the paths to a majority government look like now?
The CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker makes it possible to map out the path of least resistance for each party to reach 170 seats, and how that path has changed over the last six months. The seat projections currently put both the Liberals and Conservatives in minority territory — so to find the path to 170, we merely need to add seats in places where each party is estimated to be trailing by the smallest margins.
In other words, this projection tells us which 170 seats are likely to be the easiest for each party to win, based on where they stand in the polls today.
The Poll Tracker update of Feb. 12 was the last to include only the polls that were conducted before the Globe and Mail broke the SNC-Lavalin story.
On that day, the path to a Liberal majority government was quite different from the one the party had taken in 2015. In that election, of the seats won by the Liberals by the biggest margins, 75 were in Ontario and 37 were in Quebec.
But by early February, things had flipped. The path of least resistance for the Liberals included 59 seats in Quebec and only 57 in Ontario.
In addition to those seats, the Liberal path to 170 included 27 seats in Atlantic Canada, 14 in British Columbia, 11 in the Prairies and in the North, and two in Alberta.
But with the Conservatives being hamstrung in Ontario by the unpopularity of Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, the calculations for the Liberals to reach 170 have reverted to banking on Ontario.