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 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.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

120 comments on “Canadian election minus four days”

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  1. Strange how quick things change. A few weeks ago it was predicted he’d get a new majority.

    No chance of Liberal/NDP Coalition?

  2. Harper will win a majority Government, if the Liberal Opposition Leader cannot understand a simple question in English they’re in for a big thumping….Harper in the box seat.

    NDP are as radical as the Greens and worse i doubt that Oz.

  3. There’s a chance… just a small one. The Liberals and Conservatives at this stage are polling worse than they were in 2006 with votes flipping to the Green Party and (to a lesser extent) the NDP.

    With a first-past-the-post system the rise in the Green vote could actually cost the Liberals more seats than at the last election (if it causes the Liberal vote to fall below the Conservative vote).

    If there was a preferential system in Canada I’d expect the Liberal Party would be very hard to defeat.

  4. Glen, the not being able to understand a question in English would only matter in seats the Conservatives already hold, not in the important, more progressive provinces.

  5. Itep you dont understand…Canada has 1st past the post voting the Greens will lose their seat (held only because a Liberal MP got dumped so he quit the party) and will not win one either…the biggest winners will be the Tories and the NDP.

    Actually there are a lot of people in Ontario who would not like a Liberal Leader being so poor at English and there are a lot of seats up for grabs in that province.

  6. I think you didn’t understand what I was saying Glen. The Green Party will probably retain the one seat they held.

    However the rise in the Green vote may lead to the Liberals losing seats, either to the NDP or, more likely, to the Conservatives. It shows why fpp is a shonky system.

    I beg to differ on the impact of ‘being poor at English’ but that’s because I choose to refuse to believe intelligent human beings would care about something so trivial.

  7. Those canadians voting for the greens must be completely stupid, for a first past the post system. From what i have gathered part of the reason Dion is so unpoular is his comitment to environmental reforms. Splitting the left vote between two parties is bad enough but three. Whats worse is they have the precedent of Ralph Nader right next door. How voting for him helped the envirnoment and not do the complete opposite i will never know. because the result was to punish those parties who did support their policies those parties in turn will move drastically away from those policies.What a bunch of complete morons.

  8. Don’t blame the parties… blame the system. The Green Party obviously doesn’t think the Liberals are adequate in some areas so have as much right as any other to stand for election. It’s the fpp system that punishes voters if they choose to vote for an independent/minor party candidate.

  9. i see and losing elections changes this how?
    Particularly with something with a short time frame such as global warming it seems rather petty to not be a team player. Drop out on condition that they support changing the voting system. We live in the world as it is not how we want it to be. I doubt the conseratives who are benifting greatly from this system have incentive to change the tallying system.

  10. It’s not the Green Party that doesn’t think the other parties aren’t adequate that matters, it’s the Canadians who vote for the Green party that think that.

    Scotty J seems to be arguing that a FPP system should simply be a two-party system.

    He doubts the conservatives have an incentive to change the system, but his response is that a vote against the major parties (The most conservative and those with the most to lose) is a wasted vote.

    It’s very roundabout logic. “I won’t vote for them because they aren’t going to win anyway”. Indeed.

  11. That is not what i am saying at all oz.
    i am saying that there is a time and a place for everything. For starters the greens are not the third or even fourth party are they now. What strikes me is how low the conservatives vote actaully is as non of the parties even the Bloc Quebecans are all that right wing. They should at least have some form of agreement or co ordination to prevent some of the most obvious problomatic seats which does occur in some FPP elections in other countries. Personally i think they need to drastically change their system to a prefferntial model. Im just saying it really sucks how it is possible for someone to win with so few votes.

  12. First past the post is one of the worst systems. In PNG sometimes candidates get elected with less than 10% of the vote. Preferences don’t create a 2 party system – with several parties they allow the people to get a better choice. Eg Con P 40% Lib 20%, NDP 25%, Green 15%. FPP Con P wins. Preferences – NDP probably wins.

  13. In Canada the Liberals, NDP and Greens should cut a deal where for 1 election only they don’t run against each other, form a coalition government and introduce preferential voting or Alternative Vote or Instant Runoff Voting (Whichever description is preferred). Even better MMP for the Canadian House of Commons.

    The following election they can get back to the real deal 🙂

  14. The first past the post voting system is the best option for voting and you all know it…

    It relies on the basis that every person has 1 vote and 1 vote only instead of giving people like Green voters 2 votes as is the case in Australia, which is unfair!

    The Greens wont hold the seat they hold, it’s a Liberal marginal seat (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country) and the Tories only need 1,000 votes off the Liberals to win it…all the Green Party could muster was 4,000 votes LOL they arent going to win and that MP has now gifted the seat to the Tories, thanks alot mate!

  15. You can see my beautifil riding maps here (Canadian electorates are called ridings):
    I don’t know if there’s been a redistribution since 2006.

    How amazing that Glen supports FPP when discussing Canada. What happened in Canada in 1993, Glen? The old Progressive Conservative party split in two, and because the two parts couldn’t exchange preferences as they could under our system, they lost 167 seats, saving only 2. The Liberals won a huge majority with 41% of the vote. Is that what you’d like to see here?

  16. Adam
    the old war cry from last years fed election about doing a canada- ahh the memories

    anyhoo I wonder if you are aware of this
    “It is a dilemna many Canadians face in our First-Past-The-Post electoral system. There is however a third possibility known as pair voting. This arrangement is when you agree to vote for a party in your riding that you would not ordinarily vote for in exchange for someone in another riding voting for the party of your choice”

  17. This was tried in the UK. There were two adjoining Tory marginals in Dorset. A website was set up urging Lib Dems to vote Labour in one seat and Labour people to vote Lib Dem in the other, thus maximising the anti-Tory vote. From memory, the Tories lost both seats.

  18. The problem in the UK was that Labour and the Libs Dems don’t like each other one bit, and Labour threatened to expel anyone who advocated a tactical vote for the Lib Dems. So it never took off nationwide.

  19. First past the post voting systems are just appaling. The distorting effect is even worse in the current Canadian situation with such wide regional variation leaving a range of parties quarantined from each other in different provinces and regions (exacerbated by the Quebec factor).

    Is it possible if no party gets a majority of seats that a smaller party (perhaps the NDP?) might be willing to offer support for one of the larger parties in forming government only on the condition that they would bring in some decent electoral reform?

  20. It’s a strange fact, Andrew, that people in many different countries all think their electoral system , whatever it may be, is the best. I happen to think ours is the best, but when I explain its intricacies to British friends, they think I am mad. “What, you have to number all the candidates in order of preference? What if I don’t HAVE a preference between the LaRouchites and the National Front?” Then your vote doesn’t count. “You’re barmy!”

  21. I think we were discussing national elections, but that’s not the point. The point is that people grow up with their country’s electoral system, whatever it is, and find it natural and obviously sensible, compared to the bizarre things that foreigners do.

  22. I take your point Adam – up to a point, anyway. But I don’t think Australia’s electoral system is the best. I prefer PR systems, although some are better than others. Either way, I think first past the post voting systems are generally the worst – although at least they don’t have first past the post voting combined with multi-member electorates I suppose.

    I gather there has been a fair bit of effort in Canada over recent at trying to get some electoral reform – at provincial as well as federal level – without having quite got there yet. What I was wondering was whether it had been much of an issue in this election and could possibly be used as a bargaining chip in deciding who forms governement if no one party has a majority.

  23. Canadian political parties appear to be fairly averse about entering into coalitions, and minority govt’s seem to be the norm, when no parliamentary majority exists. Does anyone know why this is?

    Personally, I believe it’s a pretty bad thing to go into a coalition as a minority partner, since if things are going well, big brother gets the credit, whilst if things go badly, the electorate normally deals out a bashing to all the parties of the coalition. This is of course a generalisation, but I think that it’s a real challenge for a minority coalition partner to remain relevant.

    As regards electoral reform in Canada, I don’t know a great deal about that. There’s a lot that comes out in the UK (from the Lib Dems) on electoral reform for instance, but I don’t hear Canadian parties saying much about it. Of course, I’m open to being corrected on this.

  24. Gusface @22. I don’t believe the NDP is recommending that its voters vote in this way. It is that particular election website, which is instructing voters where strategic voting might be applied (to gain a desirable outcome for particular voters in their ridings), and where it shouldn’t be applied (ie. vote for party x to stop party y winning, in ridings where a vote for your own party is certainly a wasted vote).

    This link here is a better link as it relates to strategic voting options for all the parties (not just NDP).

  25. It’s curious that the financial crisis seems to be working in favour of the incumbents in NZ (on the basis of one Morgan poll) and (I think so far) Australia, but against the incumbents in the US and Canada. That would suggest that conservatives are being blamed, not incumbents.

  26. I agree that FPTP is the worst of the commonly available options. PR with no threshold is the next worst (as in Israel). MMP or PR with a 5% threshold is better. But I still think our system – preferential single-member in the lower house, PR with a high threshold in the upper house – is the best.

  27. I’ve posted on this at my new blog:

    My prediction is a 90% chance of another Tory minority, with 10% chance of a Liberal minority. Since the debate and the economic crisis the gap between the Liberals and NDP is growing in the polls and the Liberals are rising and the Tories falling, thus closing the gap between them.

  28. Tories look set to win another minority government, although the Liberals may be hampered by Green and NDP votes (particularly in British Columbia).

    I’ll be interested to see whether there is a Tory resurgence in QUebec and how that effects the seat allocations there (3 party contests between Bloc Quebecois, Tories and Liberals will result in chaos). There’s also the additional problem in Quebec of another significant Quebec-only party: the ADQ, which did surprisingly well in the last provincial elections in Quebec.

  29. There was a period where it looked like the Tories would challenge the BQ, but the latest polls put the BQ back above 40% in Quebec.

    Also, on electoral reform, there was a referendum to introduce STV (Hare-Clark) in BC, and there has been discussion about MMP in Ontario. It’s partly because swings produce much more dramatic landslides in Canadian provinces then we see in Australia.

    People should look in particular on Wikipedia at election results in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s in Ontario and British Columbia.

  30. If there had been a tactical voting scheme in Britain for the 1992 election then there would have been a change of government at that election to a Labour-Lib Dem coalition which would have changed to STV for the next election. The following things would be different, New Labour would not have come about, taxes would be slightly higher, the railways would not have been sold off and more of them would be electric, the Green Party in Britain would not be irrelevant at a national level and Britain may now have the Euro.

  31. The leader of the Greens in Canada came out against strategic voting. Of course, ironically, it might be the only chance she has of winning her seat. She chose a riding where the member is a very popular Minister in the Government with a high vote.

  32. I would think BQ would be a “block” to a PR system in Canada because it always benefits from the split between other parties. A PR/MMP system is more sensible that current Aust system because it allows a range of parties to be elected roughly according to their vote. Having a threshold like Germany is unfair because the votes of parties with less than 5% are excluded and other parties just get more seats. Its just another plot against smaller parties. A threshold which allows for below threshold/excluded votes to be transferred based on voters intention would produce a much fairer outcome.

  33. Yes Wakefield, that’s exactly why I favour a 5% threshold. The primary function of a legislature is to provide stable majority government, not to represent every shade of opinion in the community. PR with no threshold gives us Israel (weak government dominated by extremist minorities) or Belgium (no government at all). The solution is to have a PR upper house where minorities get a voice, without (usually) affecting the stability of government. I agree with your last sentence.

  34. “The primary function of a legislature is to provide stable majority government”.

    I don’t think you get to have a monopoly on the function and purpose of the legislature. I believe it’s purpose should be to represent the views of the whole community, not exclude 10, 20, 30%.

  35. So Oz you’d like a system where a candidate/party would only need .67% of the vote to obtain one seat of the 150 in the House of Representatives?

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