NOTEBOOK: A first look at Canada’s next federal election battlegrounds

A man walks to a polling station in Toronto, on October 21 2019 to vote in the country's 43rd federal election. EPA/WARREN TODA

The Trudeau government will present a budget — the first-ever budget in this 30-month-old Parliament — on April 19 and all the buzz in the national capital is that this will be a budget that will provoke a federal general election in the midst of a pandemic.

Opinions are decidedly mixed as to whether we will actually see an election this spring.

Read more: Could gummed up bills in the House of Commons trigger a federal election?

In any event, all parties are on what is essentially an election footing and whenever a general election is called, each party will have slightly different goals.

The Trudeau Liberals want to move from minority rule to majority rule. The O’Toole Conservatives will be happy with any scenario in which they can move across the aisle of the House of Commons to the government benches.

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Trudeau, Liberals rising in popularity thanks in part to handling of COVID-19 pandemic: Ipsos poll – Mar 8, 2021

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP must surely know its most realistic goal is moving up to become Parliament’s third party and knocking the Bloc Quebecois from third to fourth spot in the House. The BQ, of course, can never win government and while it once was the Official Opposition, it cannot realistically hope to be so elevated again and so, under leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, it will seek to maintain and possibly strengthen its position as Parliament’s third party.

The Green Party has just three seats in a legislature where you need 12 seats to be recognized as an official party (and access financial and other resources available to officially recognized parties). Those close to new Green leader Annamie Paul have lofty ambitions of turning those orange NDP seats to green but, in the current environment, holding on to those three seats while getting leader Paul elected would surely be seen as an accomplishment by those partisans.

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So where do each of those parties hunt for the seats they need to accomplish their objectives?

The first place to look is the 2019 election to see where the close races were, where the runaways were, and where each party came a close second and might be expected to close the gap in the country’s 44th general election.

Read more: House of Commons committee urges Trudeau not to call election amid COVID-19

Let’s look first at the closest races from 2019.

You might make a couple of observations. First: The winning Liberals were involved in a lot of squeakers; and, second: they won a lot of them.

Here are the 25 closest races in the 2019 election. For all of the tables on this page, I give the margin of victory in terms of raw votes followed by the percentage points which separate the first-place finisher by the second-place finisher. So, in this first table, Conservative Nelly Shin was the narrowest of victors, beating her second-place finisher by 153 votes or 0.3 percentage points better than her runner-up.

Closest races in 2019

BCPort Moody–CoquitlamShin, Nelly (CPC)1530.3%
ONRichmond HillJowhari, Majid (LPC)2120.4%
QCQuebecDuclos, Jean-Yves (LPC)3250.6%
QCHochelagaMartinez Ferrada, Soraya (LPC)3280.6%
BCCoquitlam–Port CoquitlamMcKinnon, Ron (LPC)3900.7%
ONKitchener–ConestogaLouis, Tim (LPC)3650.7%
YTYukonBagnell, Larry (LPC)1530.7%
NSCumberland–ColchesterZann, Lenore (LPC)4531.0%
QCSherbrookeBriere, Elisabeth (LPC)6091.0%
NBMiramichi–Grand LakeFinnigan, Pat (LPC)3701.1%
ONWindsor–TecumsehKusmierczyk, Irek (LPC)6291.1%
BCSouth Okanagan–West KootenayCannings, Richard (NDP)7961.2%
QCChateauguay–LacolleShanahan, Brenda (LPC)6391.2%
QCArgenteuil–La Petite-NationLauzon, Stephane (LPC)7291.4%
QCSheffordLarouche, Andreanne (BQ)8981.4%
QCGaspesie–Les Iles-de-la-MadeleineLebouthillier, Diane (LPC)6371.6%
ONKing–VaughanSchulte, Deb (LPC)11411.8%
QCChicoutimi–Le FjordMartel, Richard (CPC)8341.9%
ONAurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond HillAlleslev, Leona (CPC)10602.0%
ONBay of QuinteEllis, Neil (LPC)14492.3%
QCTrois-RivieresCharbonneau, Louise (BQ)14662.4%
BCCloverdale–Langley CityJansen, Tamara (CPC)13942.5%
QCLongueuil–Charles-LeMoyneRomanado, Sherry (LPC)13202.5%
QCBerthier–MaskinongePerron, Yves (BQ)15022.6%
ONFlamborough–GlanbrookSweet, David (CPC)16522.6%
ONDavenportDzerowicz, Julie (LPC)14392.7%
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On the flip side of this are the 25 ‘laughers’ in 2019 — the races where the winner by the largest percentage margins. On this score, the Conservatives were triumphant, sweeping the list of the 25 biggest blowouts. It’s one reason why the Conservatives, under Andrew Scheer, won the popular vote, while the Liberals, under Justin Trudeau, won more seats.

Where Conservatives won, they tended to run up the score. But this is a problem for the Conservatives because whenever you see a poll with a “national number” for the Conservatives, you have to consider how overweight the party is in Alberta and Saskatchewan. This is what is known as having an inefficient vote. Because the support for other parties is spread out more evenly across the country, a small boost in the national polling number could translate into real gains in the number of ridings won. But the Conservatives need a much bigger boost in their national polling number because their support is more concentrated.

Here’s the list of the biggest wins, by percentage margin over the second-place finisher, in the 2019 election:

Biggest wins in 2019

ABBattle River–CrowfootKurek, Damien CPC5012479.9%
ABBow RiverShields, Martin CPC4310677.8%
ABLakelandStubbs, Shannon CPC4458677.2%
ABGrande Prairie–MackenzieWarkentin, Chris CPC4695376.6%
SKSouris–Moose MountainKitchen, Robert CPC3185376.5%
ABFoothillsBarlow, John CPC5001675.9%
ABYellowheadSoroka, Gerald CPC4206674.8%
ABRed Deer–Mountain ViewDreeshen, Earl CPC4981972.8%
ABPeace River–WestlockViersen, Arnold CPC3777372.6%
SKCypress Hills–GrasslandsPatzer, Jeremy CPC2747471.0%
ABRed Deer–LacombeCalkins, Blaine CPC4783170.6%
ABMedicine Hat–Cardston–WarnerMotz, Glen CPC3740670.1%
ABFort McMurray–Cold LakeYurdiga, David CPC3585870.0%
ABSturgeon River–ParklandLloyd, Dane CPC4629567.1%
SKBattlefords–LloydminsterFalk, Rosemarie CPC2393266.3%
SKCarlton Trail–Eagle CreekBlock, Kelly CPC2977865.9%
ABCalgary ShepardKmiec, Tom CPC4997063.6%
SKYorkton–MelvilleWagantall, Cathay CPC2477663.4%
ABCalgary MidnaporeKusie, Stephanie CPC4305262.9%
ABSherwood Park–
Fort Saskatchewan
Genuis, Garnett CPC4473361.0%
ABBanff–AirdrieRichards, Blake CPC4707960.0%
ABEdmonton–WetaskiwinLake, Mike CPC5254459.8%
MBPortage–LisgarBergen, Candice CPC2682159.7%
BCPrince George–Peace River
–Northern Rockies
Zimmer, Bob CPC3208257.9%
ABCalgary HeritageBenzen, Bob CPC3276056.5%
ABCalgary Signal HillLiepert, Ron CPC3469954.5%
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So now let’s break things down by party.

First, it probably makes sense for a party to target ridings where its candidate finished second in 2019. And then the party might look for the closest second-place finishes for a decent high-priority list of ridings at which to aim.

The governing Liberals have 154 seats right now (though it won 157 in 2019) in the 338-seat legislature. It needs to hold on to everything it won in 2019 — including all those close races — and then pick up 15 seats to win its majority.

In 2019, the Liberal candidate finished second:

  • 117 times in the 181 ridings it did not win. That’s a 1st-or-2nd finish rate of 81 per cent. (Only the BQ had a higher rate)
  • Liberals finished second to a Conservative 77 times.
  • Liberals finished second to the BQ 27 times.
  • Liberals finished second to the NDP 12 times.
  • Liberals finished second to one Independent candidate (Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver Granville)

So, here are the 25 closest second-place finishes the Liberals had in 2019:

QCSheffordLarouche, Andreanne (BQ)-898-1.4%
ONAurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond HillAlleslev, Leona (CPC)-1060-2.0%
QCTrois-RivieresCharbonneau, Louise (BQ)-1466-2.4%
BCCloverdale–Langley CityJansen, Tamara (CPC)-1394-2.5%
ONFlamborough–GlanbrookSweet, David (CPC)-1652-2.6%
NSWest Novad’Entremont, Chris (CPC)-1365-2.9%
ONNiagara FallsBaldinelli, Tony (CPC)-2061-2.9%
ONNorthumberland–Peterborough SouthLawrence, Philip (CPC)-2408-3.5%
ONWindsor WestMasse, Brian (NDP)-1922-3.7%
ONKenoraMelillo, Eric (CPC)-1110-4.0%
ONHastings–Lennox and AddingtonSloan, Derek (CPC)-2247-4.2%
QCLongueuil–Saint-HubertTrudel, Denis (BQ)-2590-4.3%
QCRiviere-des-Mille-IlesDesilets, Luc (BQ)-2620-4.4%
BCSouth Surrey–White RockFindlay, Kerry-Lynne (CPC)-2618-4.5%
QCLa PrairieTherrien, Alain (BQ)-3203-5.1%
MBCharleswood–St. James–Assiniboia–HeadingleyMorantz, Marty (CPC)-2417-5.2%
ONHamilton MountainDuvall, Scott (NDP)-3078-5.8%
QCTherese-De BlainvilleChabot, Louise (BQ)-3498-5.9%
BCVancouver GranvilleWilson-Raybould, Jody Independent-3177-6.0%
BCPitt Meadows–Maple RidgeDalton, Marc (CPC)-3525-6.5%
BCSteveston–Richmond EastChiu, Kenny (CPC)-2747-6.5%
QCMontarvilleBergeron, Stephane (BQ)-4305-7.2%
MBWinnipeg CentreGazan, Leah (NDP)-2369-7.4%
QCAbitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–EeyouBerube, Sylvie (BQ)-2469-7.6%
ONBarrie–Springwater–Oro-MedonteShipley, Doug (CPC)-4176-7.7%
ONCarletonPoilievre, Pierre (CPC)-5629-8.1%
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How about the Conservatives? That party won 121 seats in 2019 and now holds 120. Winning a majority means holding everything from 2019 and adding at least 49 more seats — not impossible but a pretty tall order. Still, the Conservatives could possibly form a minority government if it took another 20-25 seats.

The Conservatives finished second:

  • 113 times in the 217 ridings it did not win. So it had a 1st-or-2nd ratio of: 69 per cent.
  • 98 times to the Liberals.
  • 10 times to the NDP
  • 3 times to all three Green Party winners.
  • 2 times to the Bloc Quebecois.

And here are the 25 closest 2nd place finishes for the Conservatives in 2019:

ONRichmond HillJowhari, Majid (LPC)-212-0.4%
BCCoquitlam–Port CoquitlamMcKinnon, Ron (LPC)-390-0.7%
ONKitchener–ConestogaLouis, Tim (LPC)-365-0.7%
YTYukonBagnell, Larry (LPC)-153-0.7%
NSCumberland–ColchesterZann, Lenore (LPC)-453-1.0%
NBMiramichi–Grand LakeFinnigan, Pat (LPC)-370-1.1%
BCSouth Okanagan–West KootenayCannings, Richard (NDP)-796-1.2%
ONKing–VaughanSchulte, Deb (LPC)-1141-1.8%
ONBay of QuinteEllis, Neil (LPC)-1449-2.3%
NSSydney–VictoriaBattiste, Jaime (LPC)-1309-3.2%
NBFrederictonAtwin, Jenica (Green Party)-1629-3.3%
MBWinnipeg SouthDuguid, Terry (LPC)-1645-3.4%
NBSaint John–RothesayLong, Wayne (LPC)-1437-3.5%
QCBeauport–LimoilouVignola, Julie (BQ)-1964-3.8%
BCFleetwood–Port KellsHardie, Ken (LPC)-1883-3.8%
ONNiagara CentreBadawey, Vance (LPC)-2305-3.9%
NSCape Breton–CansoKelloway, Mike (LPC)-1873-4.3%
ONPeterborough–KawarthaMonsef, Maryam (LPC)-3043-4.3%
ONNewmarket–AuroraVan Bynen, Tony (LPC)-3236-5.2%
BCNorth Island–Powell RiverBlaney, Rachel (NDP)-3332-5.3%
PEEgmontMorrissey, Bobby (LPC)-1082-5.3%
ONThunder Bay–Rainy RiverPowlowski, Marcus (LPC)-2459-5.9%
NLBonavista–Burin–TrinityRogers, Churence (LPC)-2010-6.1%
QCBeauport-Cote-de-Beaupre-Ile d’Orleans-CharlevoixDesbiens, Caroline (BQ)-3363-6.5%
ONKanata–CarletonMcCrimmon, Karen (LPC)-4385-6.5%
ONKitchener South–HespelerTabbara, Marwan (IND)-3506-6.7%
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Now the Bloc Québecois is not, of course, going to ever form a government but it might like to improve its parliamentary position of 32 seats by picking off a few more.

In 2019, the BQ finished second:

  • In 32 of the 32 ridings it did not win for a 1st-or-2nd finish rate of 82 per cent.
  • to the Liberals 23 times.
  • to the Conservatives 10 times.

And so here’s the 10 closest 2nd place finishes for the BQ in 2019 that one might expect would form the basis of the party’s target list in 2020. Note that this list includes four cabinet ministers: Duclos, Lebouthillier, Champagne and Bibeau.

QCQuebecDuclos, Jean-Yves (LPC)-325-0.6%
QCHochelagaMartinez Ferrada, Soraya (LPC)-328-0.6%
QCChateauguay–LacolleShanahan, Brenda (LPC)-639-1.2%
QCArgenteuil–La Petite-NationLauzon, Stephane (LPC)-729-1.4%
QCGaspesie–Les Iles-de-la-MadeleineLebouthillier, Diane (LPC)-637-1.6%
QCChicoutimi–Le FjordMartel, Richard Conservative-834-1.9%
QCLongueuil–Charles-LeMoyneRomanado, Sherry (LPC)-1320-2.5%
QCBrome–MissisquoiBessette, Lyne (LPC)-2298-3.7%
QCSaint-Maurice–ChamplainChampagne, Francois-Philippe (LPC)-3154-5.3%
QCCompton–StansteadBibeau, Marie-Claude (LPC)-3160-5.3%

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP would seem, at this point, to be an impossible long shot to become the Official Opposition but if things go Singh’s way, maybe the NDP can leapfrog the BQ to become Parliament’s third party.

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In 2019, the NDP finished second:

  • 68 times in the 314 ridings it did not win for a 1st-or-2nd finish rate of 27 per cent.
  • to the Conservatives 34 times.
  • to the Liberals 31 times.
  • to the Bloc Quebecois 3 times.

So here’s the NDP 10 closest 2nd place finishes, races it must win if it hopes to move the next level:

BCPort Moody–CoquitlamShin, Nelly (CPC)-153-0.3%
QCSherbrookeBriere, Elisabeth (LPC)-609-1.0%
ONWindsor–TecumsehKusmierczyk, Irek (LPC)-629-1.1%
QCBerthier–MaskinongePerron, Yves (BQ)-1502-2.6%
ONDavenportDzerowicz, Julie (LPC)-1439-2.7%
BCBurnaby North–SeymourBeech, Terry (LPC)-1585-3.1%
ONEssexLewis, Chris (CPC)-4671-6.8%
ONNickel BeltSerre, Marc G (LPC)-3390-6.9%
SKSaskatoon WestRedekopp, Brad (CPC)-2889-7.3%
QCRimouski-Neigette–Temiscouata–Les BasquesBlanchette-Joncas, Maxime (BQ)-4264-9.2%

And, finally, the Green Party is really looking just to become an officially recognized party in Parliament for which it must win 12 ridings. It currently holds three. But even winning the next nine could be a steep climb.

The Green Party finished second:

  • Just 7 times in the 335 ridings it did not win for a 1st-or-2nd finish rate of 2.96 per cent.
  • to the Liberals five times.
  • to the NDP twice.

Now, in a 2020 by-election in the riding of Toronto Centre, the current Green Party leader Annamie Paul finished second to the Liberal winner Marci Ien and Paul’s finish was a huge improvement on her  fourth-place finish in the 2019 general election. Still, in the by-election, Ien beat Paul by more than nine percentage points.

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Our data analysis, though, is based only on 2019 general elections results and so, here are all of the Green Party’s second-place finishes from 2019:

BCVictoriaCollins, Laurel (NDP)-2382-3.3%
BCEsquimalt–Saanich–SookeGarrison, Randall (NDP)-5381-7.6%
ONKitchener CentreSaini, Raj (LPC)-5922-10.6%
PEMalpequeEaster, Wayne (LPC)-3430-14.7%
ONGuelphLongfield, Lloyd (LPC)-11261-14.8%
NBBeausejourDominic Leblanc (LPC)-10643-19.7%
PECharlottetownhSean Casey (LPC)-4164-20.6%

David Akin is the Chief Political Correspondent for Global News. He has covered six federal elections and 20 provincial elections.

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