Everything can change in 72 hours

The final days of what was—and felt like—the longest election campaign in Canadian history are finally upon us. Policy announcements are over, all platforms have been released and at this point, we don’t expect any bombshells—except maybe negative stories of the shameless vote-grabbing kind.

Parties have now engaged in the final stage of the campaign: getting out the vote. Advanced polls have seen an astonishing increase in voter participation. Elections Canada reports that, according to preliminary figures, 3.6 million Canadians have voted already—a 71-per-cent increase in voter turnout to advanced polls from the 2011 federal election—with Friday and Monday representing the two busiest days of advance voting ever. Elections Canada speculates that this increase may be due to an additional fourth day of advance voting. The long weekend and fatigue from the lengthy campaign may have also played a role.

In Quebec, polls show that Mulcair is losing support to the benefit of Trudeau’s Liberals. The anti-Harper sentiment remains high and many speculate that Québécois—strategic voting in mind—may wait to have a sense of what others will choose before they make a decision. Polls in vote-rich Ontario—where leaders will undoubtedly focus their last-ditch efforts to garner support this weekend—show the province currently favouring Liberals. Though, leaders’ weekend tours will give a good indication of where they think opportunities lie.

In some ridings, however, the NDP remains very relevant; in Edmonton, for example, it’s estimated the party will win two seats in addition to incumbent Linda Duncan’s Edmonton–Stratcona. Liberals are also expected to make two or three seat gains in Calgary, chipping away at the Conservatives’ stronghold, Alberta.

When all is said and done, not much has changed since the campaign first began on August 2. All three major parties remain competitive and it’s equally difficult to predict this election’s outcome today as it was on the first day of the campaign. There are a several unknowns to watch for on Election Day: vote splitting in Quebec, Liberal gains in the GTA and NDP losses in manufacturing-rich ridings. Though, it’s important to note that there remains a large block of undecided voters who will help to determine the election outcome on Monday.

So, what’s next?

At this point, we can’t tell what the next parliament will look like, except that it will probably be a minority government. This creates three foreseeable possible scenarios:

  1. A Liberal minority. In this situation, the New Democrats have indicated they would work with the minority government to create plurality. An NDP minority government is also possible, though unlikely.
  2. A strong Harper minority. Which, can only be defeated by a combination of the NDP, Liberals, Greens and the Bloc. In this scenario, Harper could stay on as prime minister, so long as he secures a coalition or affiliation with another party.
  3. A weak Harper minority. If Liberals and NDP combined hold a majority of seats, both parties have already agreed they would not support a minority Conservative government. This could mean a raucous start to a short-lived minority government.

What we do know is that whoever our next prime minister is—they’ll have their work cut out for them. The first order of business will be to name a cabinet, which (safe of confidence issues in the case of a weak Conservative minority) should happen in November. We can also identify a long list of issues to be immediately addressed, regardless of campaign priorities. There are four international meetings scheduled in November: APEC, the G20 meet, the Heads of Commonwealth and the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. In addition, the Softwood Lumber Agreement has expired, the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership should be released shortly and the U.S. could be sanctioned in retaliation to the Country of Origin Labeling issues. There hasn’t been an active government in more than two months, and backlog issues are piling up.

Should there be a new prime minister—Mulcair or Trudeau—they will also have to calm concerns and situate the new cabinet and government with voters. They’ll need to establish themselves quickly as strong economic managers through an economic statement or, as Premier Rachel Notley did in Alberta, through a series of announcements and speeches. The extractive sector will also have urgent and significant concerns. Both leaders have pledged to review the environmental assessment process—a procedure in which many businesses have invested significant time and resources—and the industry will need answers quickly.

We’re 72 hours away from Election Day, and this marathon campaign is sure to end in a photo finish.