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Political scientist talks polls and projections

A political scientist with the College of the Rockies spoke with about election projections and the possibility of back-to-back minority governments.

Marcel Dirk, a political science instructor at the college said opinion polling may not always be trustworthy when talking about election predictions.

“Projections are always dangerous to do, I think the unreliability of polls. I think the last provincial election in Nova Scotia demonstrated that,” said Dirk. “There are lots of examples where polling is taking a very hard hit.”

Elections Nova Scotia said the Progressive Conservatives won by a large margin in August’s provincial election. The win came after polls predicted a Liberal majority government leading up to election day.

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Locally, Dirk explained there are a number of possibilities that could point to different outcomes.

“Certainly the benefit of an incumbency suggests that the conservative candidate has a leg up in that. People often talk about name recognition and incumbency giving sitting candidates an advantage in being re-elected,” explained Dirk. “Given the candidates running in the local constituency that have run in the past, that gives all of them a leg up in terms of name recognition, whether that can overcome the sitting member’s advantage, I’m not certain.”

Dirk said he is not sure which party will get the most seats, but he feels that the election will not result in a majority government.

“I haven’t been watching the polls too closely, but it certainly appears as if we’re heading towards a minority government,” said Dirk.

In the event of a back-to-back minority government, the party in charge may invoke a little-known rule that could allow them to stay in power.

“The convention is that the sitting government remains a government until it is unable to maintain the confidence of the house. That would mean, in a situation where the polls are looking like there would be a minority government formed, you would have the sitting government before the election, which is the Trudeau Liberals, would have an opportunity to face the house. That is to say, they could try to form a government even though they have fewer seats than a majority and the other parties combined. They would have an opportunity to face the house to test whether they could hold a vote on a confidence motion,” said Dirk. “Depending on whether they could muster the support of the other parties, they would then be able to continue as a government.”

Dirk noted that a minority government is not necessarily an undesirable outcome.

“Minority government in Canada really tend to produce solid legislation. Many of the hallmarks of what Canadians believe are very important, I’m thinking of medicare, the Canadian flag, those sorts of things, came out of minority governments,” explained Dirk. “Political science studies show that electors in Canada really like the fact that, under minority governments, parties cooperate more than under a majority government.”

Voting day is scheduled on September 20th, with early polling open until Monday.

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