Who will win the Election? It all hangs in the “balance”

By Mike Chopowick, October 18, 2015. 7:13pm


If you’re reading this, it’s likely too late. The polls for the Canada’s 42nd federal election open in about 14 hours. It will all be over in about 24 hours.

Who will win? The ruling Conservatives? Or their Liberal challengers? If you are concerned about the future of public policy issues, such as ensuring a vibrant rental housing market, this is an important question!

The good news is we don’t need polling research or pundits to figure this out. Many voters were recently tipped-off on the secret to predicting election outcomes by Toronto Star reporter Robert Benzie, who helpfully explained something known as “Balance Theory”¹.

Balance Theory
Balance Theory is a somewhat bizarre belief that Ontario voters deliberately vote for different parties in the provincial and federal elections. Why would people do this? It’s simple: Voters don’t want to be taken for granted by any one party, so they elect different ones at each level, so each party keeps the other in check².

As Mr. Benzie pointed out, Balance Theory has held up quite well since 1943. Perhaps, even longer than that. Where Benzie may have read the tea leaves wrong was the belief that last year’s election of a Liberal majority government provincially was a bad omen for the federal Liberals. That may be putting the cart before the horse, and taking the theory too literally.

Every provincial & federal election since 1971 shows a remarkably regular pattern of alternating Conservative and Liberal governments.
Every provincial & federal election since 1971 shows a remarkably regular pattern of alternating Conservative and Liberal governments.

If we look at past elections, the point seems to be that Ontario voters rotate through Liberal and Conservative governments with startling regularity, provincially and federally. It is not as clock-work as every election cycle, but generally voters do replace their provincial government if it appears the same political party dominates them federally.

Is the provincial government the true target of “Balance Voters”?
This seems to be the key to Balance Theory. It is the provincial government that is the target of “balance voters”, who carefully watch which party lords over them federally in Ottawa. While Ontario is “the lynch-pin of national election outcomes”³, two-thirds of the federal seats are beyond the control of Ontario voters. But 100% of the provincial seats are.

This is why Bill Davis’s Progressive Conservative government was safe and secure during the 1970’s, as Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals ruled the nation. What ended 43 years of PC rule in Ontario in 1985? You guessed it: The 1984 election of Brian Mulroney’s majority PC government, federally.

While 1990 had the anomaly of a provincial NDP government elected, the provincial Liberals were also doomed to opposition status once Jean Chretien’s federal Liberals were elected in a 1993 landslide. This of course was followed in 1995 by Ontario voters dutifully placing Mike Harris’ PCs in Queens Park for two consecutive majority governments until 2003.

Ontario voters replaced the provincial PCs with Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government in 2003, a completely logical thing to do, since they foresaw the rise of Steven Harper’s Conservative party federally, which ended the Liberals’ majority rule of Canada in 2004, followed by Harper’s 1st Conservative election victory in 2006.

Which brings us to today. Ontario has a Liberal government provincially, and a Conservative Government federally. This could change after tomorrow.

If it does, and Justin Trudeau leads the federal Liberals to victory, what will Ontario voters think as they cast their ballots in the 2018 provincial election? The answer likely hangs in the “balance”. But again, it’s just a theory.


  1. Robert Benzie. “Balance theory could provide insight into how Ontario voters will lean”, The Toronto Star, October 10, 2015.
  1. Thomas J. Scotto and Allan Kornberg (Duke Unversity). “Where Did 59% of the Federal Liberal Voters Go? Why Couldn’t the Ontario Liberals Win in 1999?“. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association, Winnipeg. June 3-5, 2004.
  1. R. Kenneth Carty and Munroe Eagles. “Electoral Cycles, Party Organization and Mobilization in Canada”, Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 50, pp. 556-572. Number 4, 2004.

Further Reading Regarding Balance Theory:

Underhill, Frank. 1955. “Canadian Liberal Democracy in 1955.” in George V. Ferguson and Frank H. Underhill. Press and Party in Canada: Issues of Freedom: Being the Seventh Series of Lectures under the Chancellor Dunning Trust Delivered at Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, 1955. Toronto: Ryerson Press.

Bryce, James (Lord). 1921. Modern Democracies. New York: The Macmillan Company.