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Canadian Politics

Oct 10, 2008

Canadian election minus four days

In the interests of Anglosphere outreach (with apologies to our friends in Quebec), here is a thread for discussion of Tuesday's Canadian election. Conservative leader Stephen Harper ha

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In the interests of Anglosphere outreach (with apologies to our friends in Quebec), here is a thread for discussion of Tuesday’s Canadian election. Conservative leader Stephen Harper has headed a minority government in Canada since the defeat of Paul Martin’s Liberal government at the January 2006 election, and has called an early election in the hope of securing a majority. However, recent polling suggests his party’s vote has softened from the high to the low thirties, slightly lower than where it was at the 2006 election. The Conservatives currently have 127 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons (lower house) against 95 for the opposition Liberal Party, led by Stéphane Dion. On the cross-benches are Bloc Québécois (48 seats), the New Democratic Party (30 seats), the Green Party (one seat) and three independents. Canada has a single-member electoral system, but lacks the even geographical spread of party support that enshrines the two-party system in Australia. In particular, the separatist Bloc Québécois usually polls over 40 per cent of the vote in its home province, and holds a majority of its 75 seats. Canada also has a Senate, but it is unelected and has only residual powers.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.

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120 comments

120 thoughts on “Canadian election minus four days

  1. Glen

    That’s the beauty of 1st Past the Post voting Oz! 🙂

  2. Adam in Canberra

    Glen you seem to forget that it was YOUR side of politics that introduced preferential voting, in 1918, so that Nationalist and Country Party candidates could run against each other within splitting the conservative vote and allowing Labor to win seats on a minority vote. Compare the reults of the Swan and Corangamite by-elections to see how this worked:
    http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/a/australia/1917/1917repsby.txt

  3. Glen

    Well i disagree with that decision Adam I think our side was wrong to do that.

    The Tories wouldnt win nearly as many seats without 1 past the post in Canada.

    It would also benefit the Liberals in Australia if it were returned.

  4. Oz

    Wow. So you actually don’t give a crap about how democratic the system is, just as long as it returns your party?

    A dictatorship by any other name…

  5. Glen

    That is a democratic system, it enshrines the idea that citizens have 1 vote not two if you happen to vote for a fringe party.

  6. Adam in Canberra

    That’s a very cynical attaitude Glen. Anyway it wouldn’t benefit your side all that much, because everytime there was a three-cornered contest Labor would win it on a minority vote.

  7. Oz

    It also enshrines the idea that no longer do we have a tyranny of the majority, but a tyranny of the minority.

  8. William Bowe

    Adam at 90: I wouldn’t junk your theory quite yet. My admittedly limited understanding is that the Conservative vote is only up 1 per cent on the last election, and is still down on where the polls were a month or two ago when they were hoping for a majority. My favoured theory as to why the result differs from the polls of a week ago is that Dion’s disastrous television interview crystallised English-speaking voters’ doubts about him and drove them to the Conservatives. I gather the Conservatives had a relatively poor show in Quebec, which seems to support this. The dividend from the Liberals’ decline has mostly been reaped not by the Conservatives but by other parties of the left, and the divided vote has produced a seat outcome that flatters the Conservatives.

  9. Tom the first and best

    Bring on PR in Canada!

    The article about the Canadian election in today`s Crikey is very good but I don`t support MMP as the best system but instead STV like that used in state/ territory elections in Tasmania/the ACT.

  10. Adam in Canberra

    It’s worth noting that the Liberals, NDP and Greens got 51% of the vote between them. So Canadians voted for a centre-left government but didn’t get one, because of Canada’s electoral system.

    To get a notional MMP result, I divided the actual seat totals by two, then distributed 154 seats among the provinces proportionately. The result is:

    Con 71 + 59 = 130
    Lib 38+ 42 = 80
    NDP 19 + 30 = 49
    BQ 25 + 15 = 40
    Green 0 + 8 = 8
    Ind 1

    Thus the Libs + NDP + Greens have 137 seats, probably enough to form a minority government depending on what the Bloc decided to do. They are still under-represented because of the bias inherent in FFP voting for the 154 single-member seats. A full national PR result would have been

    Con 117
    Lib 82
    NDP 57
    BQ 31
    Grn 21

    So Libs + NDP + Greens = 160, a majority government. The biggest winners from the distortions of the current system are actually the BQ.

    MMP plus preferential voting for the single-member seats would probably have produced much the same result, but it’s not possible to demonstrate that except with seat-by-seat calculations, which I’m not going to do 🙂

  11. Adam in Canberra

    FFP voting = FPP voting (first past the post)

  12. J-D

    If the Grits and the NDP were willing to form a coalition government, they could have done so in the last Parliament. Grits 103 plus NDP 29 equals 132 as against Tories 124, enough unless the BQ (51) deliberately voted with the Tories to put them out. So the problem (for anybody who thinks it is a problem) comes not only from the electoral system, but also from the long-standing unwillingness of Canadian parties to join in coalition governments.

  13. Oz

    It’d be weird if they did. Minority governments and coalitions between a few parties are more common in countries with some form of PR. The fact that Canada has had minority government’s and different coalition possibilities with the least proportional system imaginable is quite strange. Though due a large part to voting based on regional differences.

  14. Adam in Canberra

    The stability of the Canadian parliamentary system has been greatly weakened by the emergence of the BQ, which makes it very hard for any party to win a majority. It’s as if a Victorian Party won all the seats in Victoria and then refused to join or support any government. I don’t see why the Anglo-Canadians want Quebec to stay in Canada at all, they’d be much better off without it.

  15. Oz

    Adam, you could say that about any country that has secession/autonomy movements. Why the hell does Russia want Chechnya? Why does China want Tibet or Taiwan?

  16. Adam in Canberra

    Because both Russia and China are run by aggressively nationalist dictatorships who use issues like Chechnya and Tibet to cement their hold on power. Canada is a highly civilised liberal democracy. If and when Quebec actually gives a clear vote for independence, I’m sure Canada will say “au revoir, bon chance and good riddance.”

  17. Oz

    England, Northern Ireland?

    Indonesia, West Papua?

    Pakistan/India, Kashmir?

    Of course if there referendums on certain issues, results would be different. But Government’s like power and they like having more power.

  18. ltep

    Has the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to separate from the United Kingdom?

    I’m not particularly sure the Asian experiences can be transcribed onto Western countries. However, I remain doubtful that Quebec could that simply secede from Canada. If the fact that BQ refuses to support stable Government bothered the people of Quebec that much they’d have been gone years ago.

  19. J-D

    Oz, the UK has the same electoral system as Canada, and they have had minority governments on a number of occasions in the past. Papua New Guinea also has the same system, and they have coalition governments all the time. The electoral system does nothing directly to stop Canada from having coalition governments–for some reason the parties just won’t do it. Whether it’s primarily the Grits who don’t want a coalition with the NDP or the NDP that don’t want a coalition with the Grits or both, I don’t know.

    Adam, I don’t know whether Anglo-Canadians (apart from politicians) do want Quebec to stay in Canada. I don’t know whether they’ve ever been asked. It’s only the Quebecers who have actually voted in referenda, and have always so far voted against secession (I say ‘always’, I think there have only actually been two referenda, but ‘No’ won both of them).