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Canadians go to the polls Monday. The race is tied – and still boring.

Despite Trudeau’s blackface scandals, it’s all been pretty dull.

- October 18, 2019

Four years after winning a come-from-behind victory, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is now neck and neck with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, polling at 31 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Since the election was called on Sept. 11, the parties have jockeyed with each other for first place, always within two percentage points of one another in the polling averages. That makes this one of the most tightly fought Canadian elections in living memory.

It’s been pretty dull, eh

That said, it has also been one of the most boring campaigns. Apart from the stunning revelations that Trudeau, a politician who built his reputation on being sensitive to social justice, repeatedly wore blackface and brownface both when he was a high school student and as a high school teacher, there have been few dramatic developments.

Scheer promised to reinstate a tax credit that would help parents with the cost of children’s sports, including hockey. Trudeau arrived at a news conference in a canoe, promising government grants to allow low-income Canadians to go camping. But for the most part, nothing much has happened.

It’s likely to be a minority government

Canadian federal elections are in fact 338 local elections, with each district — known in Canada as a riding — electing one member to the House of Commons, much as happens with the U.S. House of Representatives. Whichever party can command the support of a majority of members of the House, or at least 170 seats, forms a government with its leader as prime minister. Right now, seat projections suggest the Liberals will win 137 seats and the Conservatives 125. As a result, the major parties will have to forge alliances with smaller parties to determine who forms a government.

Kingmakers …

Three smaller parties will almost certainly win seats Monday: the socialist New Democratic Party, the environmentalist Greens, and the Quebec separatists in the Bloc Québécois. The NDP has ruled out supporting a Conservative minority government because of Scheer’s past opposition to same-sex marriage. The Green Party has said that neither major party’s environmental agenda is strong enough to merit its support. But Scheer supports oil and gas development far more strongly than does Trudeau, and wants to scrap the Liberals’ carbon tax. If push comes to shove, the Greens are likely to choose the Liberals as the lesser of two evils.

The Tories, for their part, won’t want a formal coalition with the Bloc Québécois, which is dedicated to having Quebec secede from Canada. If that’s the Conservatives’ only hope for forming a government, however, they may try to work with the bloc issue by issue. But doing so may have a high cost. The Conservatives want to build a pipeline to carry oil from petroleum-rich Alberta in the Canadian Rockies to the Atlantic Coast. Doing so would require going through Quebec, which the bloc sternly opposes.

Of course, whether a combination of the Liberal, NDP and Green parties will hold more seats than the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois will be determined by the voters.

… and spoilers

To Scheer’s chagrin, the right-wing Maxime Bernier may also win a seat in the House of Commons. Scheer and Bernier fought each other for the Conservative leadership in 2017. After 13 rounds of voting, Scheer beat Bernier by less than one percentage point. Bernier then quit the Conservatives to form the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) with himself as leader. The People’s Party views itself as crusading against the “globalist” agenda and has vowed to cut immigration by more than half. Critics call the party an alt-right organization.

Canada votes on Monday. Why aren’t Trudeau’s troubles helping the far right?

The PPC is polling at less than 3 percent in polls nationally and doesn’t have a chance to win seats outside Bernier’s riding of Beauce, Quebec, where Bernier remains personally popular. But it could bleed support from the Conservatives in other tight races, allowing the Liberals to claim those seats, thus denying Scheer a chance to be prime minister. Given the animosity between Scheer and Bernier, this may be exactly what the latter wants.

If Bernier fails to win his seat, the PPC probably will fade away after this election. The Conservatives have made defeating Bernier a priority, running a popular local mayor against him. Bernier has also received pushback from an unlikely source: the Rhinoceros Party. A satirical party first formed in 1963, it lay largely dormant until it tracked down another person named Maxime Bernier to run in the same district against the People’s Party leader in the hopes of confusing PPC supporters. So if the PPC gets gored to death this election, Canadians may have a humorous horn-nosed herbivore to thank.

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Tyler Kustra has been a visiting fellow at Harvard University and has served as an economic adviser to the Parliament of Canada. He is a research fellow at the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.