Quebec’s swing from the Bloc

The biggest surprises in the Canadian election–for me, at least–were the extent of Conservative gains and Bloc Quebecois losses in Quebec. As I noted in my post before the election about estimating the seats, there is a tendency in Canada for the largest party nationally to obtain fewer seats that would be predicted based on the size of the two leading parties (and given the size of parliament and voting population). However, in 2000 and 2004, the estimation procedure worked quite well for all non-Quebec seats. In 2006, the estimation procedure overestimated the Conservative seats even outside of Quebec. Nonetheless, my estimates of the seats based on votes totals for the leading parties that were closest to what actually resulted on election day were pretty close. Why? Because while the Conservatives underperformed (according to the model) outside Quebec, they performed substantially better than I expected within Quebec.

I based my Quebec estimates on a riding-by-riding analysis, rather than on any equations. I expected the Conservative party to go from zero seats in 2004 to 3-7 seats in 2006, and I thought the upper range of that estimate was too optimistic from the Conservatives’ perspective. Instead, the party won ten seats in Quebec.

Meanwhile, I expected the BQ to gain seats even if it lost votes. While I did not anticipate the BQ’s vote falling as much as it did, I expected the biggest result of Conservative gains in the province to be to take seats held by the Liberals and put them into the BQ column. While my pre-election estimates were based on riding-level analysis, and not the seat-vote equation, it is worth entering the now-known provincial votes distribution into that equation to see if the actual Quebec seat allocation is what we should have expected, or if the result was indeed anomalous.

The seat-vote equation’s basic premise is that the ratio of the two largest parties’ seats will tend to equal the ratio of those parties’ votes raised by an exponent that is calculated as the log of the number of voters over the log of the number of single-seat districts. For Quebec, that exponent is 3.5. This means that with the two largest parties—here the BQ and Conservatives—having a votes ratio of 1.71, they should have a seat ratio of 6.54! Using the extended form of the seat-vote equation, the rough estimate—using known votes shares in the 2006 election—would be for the BQ to win 57 seats, the Conservative party 12, and the Liberals 6.1

So, the seat-vote equation expects the Conservative party to have more seats than the Liberal party—hardly remarkable, given that the Conservative party (24.6%) had more votes than the Liberal party (20.7%)! Instead, the Liberals won 13 seats (17.3%) and the Conservatives only 10 (13.3%). The actual ratio of BQ to Conservative shares of the seats was 5.1 instead of the estimated 6.5.

Of course, the reason the Liberals held their own in seats despite a collapse in votes is that they are concentrated. Just as the BQ is overrepresented nationally because its small (10-12% in recent elections) share of the national votes is all concentrated in one province, so within that province the Liberals are overrepresented because most of its voters are concentrated in English-speaking Montreal ridings.

So the surprise, from the standpoint of both the seat-vote equation estimates and my own riding-by-riding analysis is that the Conservatives won seats at the expense of the BQ rather than at the expense of the Liberals.

I said above that I expected the Conservative seat gains to be small because the main effect of their surge would be to displace seats from the previous number two party (the Liberals) to the far larger BQ. That is, just as the seat-vote equation “thinks,” I thought that the main pole of competition was between the two smaller parties in the province, from which the big party would benefit, given the plurality system.

Such expected swings from the Liberals to the BQ on account of Liberals and Conservatives splitting the federalist vote did indeed occur in six ridings2 The BQ lost votes in all six (an average of 1.4 percentage points), but won these seats anyway because it faced divided competition.

However, the Conservatives did extremely well elsewhere in Quebec by appealing to former BQ voters. Eight of the Conservative party’s ten seats gained came in former BQ ridings in which there was an almost wholesale flip of the votes totals of the Liberal and Conservative parties, but also a large decline in the BQ vote. In only one of these ridings (Levis-Bellechasse) could the Conservative candidate have won without the benefit of BQ defections.

Drawing inferences about individual voters from aggregate votes is fraught with peril, but it is not too much of a stretch to say that the Conservatives gained votes in Quebec mostly at the expense of their federal rival, the Liberals. Nonetheless, they gained seats primarily because in districts where a combination of disaffected federalist voters and former sovereigntists could oust the Bloc, many Bloc voters obliged and joined their federalist counterparts in giving a boost to the Conservative candidate.

Consider some average vote-swing data. In the province as a whole, the party percentage-point swings were as follows:

Lib, -13.2
Cons, +15.8
BQ, -6.7
NDP, +2.9

However, in the eight districts that swung from BQ to Conservative,3 the vote swings were:

Lib, -19.3
Cons, +29.9
BQ, -13.5
NDP, +2.1

Yes, Tories plus thirty! Again, we need to be cautious about drawing inferences about individual action from aggregate data, but consider that the NDP gains almost certainly were votes “lent” to the party by Liberals knowing their party was doomed. That leaves around 17% Liberal voters defecting elsewhere. Add that 17 points to the BQ’s 13-point loss and you have 30 for someone else. That someone is the Conservative party. A thirty-point average swing, nearly twice what the party gained provincewide, concentrated in districts that were winnable for the party only if it could attract both federalists and sovereigntists!

This is the stuff realignments are made of, or even the stuff floor-crossings are made of. Could the BQ be cracking up? Are there BQ members elected in 2006 whose ridings are trending Conservative? Actually, no. Or at least I can’t identify any. It looks to me as though every district in which the Conservative party was within twenty points of the winner in 2004 was a district that it won in 2006. There were no near-misses.

There were at least seven other seemingly vulnerable ridings in which the BQ won the district in 2004 with less than 50% of the vote. However, these seven ridings had a very different pattern of swings in 2006 from the eight that flipped from BQ to Conservative:

Lib, -14.4
Cons, +15.0
BQ, -3.4
NDP, +2.4

I do not know enough (or anything, really) about these specific constituencies to draw firm conclusions, but (with again those caveats about inferences drawn from aggregate data) these ridings look like shifts within the federalist vote. The BQ vote losses here were less than in the province as a whole, notwithstanding that some of them could have swung to the Conservatives if more of the BQ vote had been ready to defect, as it was in the eight that actually did swing. In fact, these seven BQ holds all had a Bloc lead of less than twelve percentage points in 2004 and now all but one have a Bloc lead of from 14.7 to 22 percentage points. (The one, with a lead of only 9.3, is Chicoutimi-Le-Fjord.)

This latter group of ridings looks more like the full set of ridings in which the BQ and Liberals were close (less than ten percentage points)—a set that includes BQ holds, Liberal holds, and the six seats that swung from Liberal to BQ. In this expanded set of relatively close Lib-BQ contests from 2004, the Conservatives gained, on average, 11%, the Liberals lost 11%, and the BQ lost just under 3% of the vote.

In other words, while the BQ lost votes throughout the province, its greatest losses were concentrated in a set of districts where many of their voters “lent” the Conservatives their votes. Whether this proves to be a long- or short-term loan will say much about the future of Quebecois politics, as well as about the potential for further Conservative gains. In this context, an early post-election poll4 that shows plummeting support in the province for separatism could be significant. If that holds, the Conservative gain could be sustainable, though as I noted, it would take a far bigger loss of BQ support for the Conservatives to gain much more, given the dynamics of three-way competition, which benefit the BQ in seats even as it loses votes.

(An aside. There is one interesting riding, Hull-Aylmer, across the river from Ottawa. It was one of the NDP’s strongest districts in Quebec in 2004, with 11.9%. But in 2006, the NDP candidate obtained only 5.5%. Perhaps it was the candidates. Or perhaps NDP voters voted strategically, trying to save their local Liberal incumbent. If so, it worked. Without the decline in the NDP vote, the BQ candidate very likely would have won, despite less than 30% of the vote. However, the Liberal candidate squeaked by, winning 32.7%. The riding is in no way representative of any pattern. In fact, it is one of the very few in the province in which the NDP vote declined from 2004 to 2006.)


1. It is worth emphasizing that the purpose of the s-v equation is not to predict a specific election—which would be pretty worthless after the results are in—but to identify elections that deviate from a pattern; the deviating elections are far more interesting than those that are properly estimated, or even ‘predicted’!

2. Ahuntsic, Brome-Missiquoi, Brossard-La-Prairie, Gatineau, Jeanne-Le-Ber, and Papineau.

3. Beauport-Limoilu, Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles, Jonquiere-Alma, Levis-Bellechasse, Lotbiniere-Chutes-De-La-Chaudriere, Louis-Hebert, Louis-Saint-Laurent, Meganitc-L’erable.

4. H/t, Michael J.W. Stickings at The Moderate Voice and The Reaction.

0 thoughts on “Quebec’s swing from the Bloc

  1. You expected the Conservative party to go from zero seats in 2004 to 3-7 seats in 2006? So did everyone, including the three “accidental MPs:”

    There has been much speculation on why Québec City voters swung massively Conservative in the final hours of the campaign. Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that voters in Québec’s capital understand the need to have a voice in government.

    In the 12 ridings of the Québec City and Chaudière-Appalaches regions, the Conservatives got 44%, BQ 36%, Liberals 10%, NDP 6%, Greens 3%. In 2004 in the same 12 ridings it was Bloc 47%, Liberals 29%, Conservatives 17%, NDP 4%, Greens 3%. The swing away from the Bloc in the final three weeks is even bigger than it appears, because at mid-point in the campaign there had been, across Québec, about a 4% swing from the Liberals to the Bloc compared to the 2004 results. Clearly these were “soft nationalists” tempted to repeat René Lévesque’s “beau risque,” to which Duceppe riposted “beau risque? gros risque!”

    The vote in Québec is highly regionalized. As you saw, it featured a much-noticed “wrong second-place” result: Conservatives 25% and 10 seats, Liberals 21% and 13 seats. That’s because the Liberal vote collapsed except in their Montréal strongholds (including one riding on Ile-Laval) and, as you noted, Hull-Aylmer. These are not just anglophone ridings: the Liberals held Honoré-Mercier and Bourassa (both 62% francophone), and Outremont (45% francophone, 38% allophone, only 14% anglophone). In the 18 ridings of Montréal, the Liberals got 38%, Bloc 32%, Conservatives 15%, NDP 10%, Greens 5%. In 2004 it was Liberals 47%, Bloc 36%, NDP 7%, Conservatives 6%, Greens 3%.

    The other new trend this time was the Bloc’s success in winning votes from immigrants: they gained Papineau (47% allophone, 42% immigrant) where their vote rose from 40% to 41%, and Ahuntsic (35% allophone, 33% immigrant.)

    Are there BQ members elected in 2006 whose ridings are trending Conservative? Surely, many. For example: The one Québec City riding the Bloc held, named simply Québec (Bloc dropped from 51% to 41% while Conservatives rose from 11% to 30%), Richmond–Arthabaska (Bloc dropped from 56% to 48% while the Conservatives rose from 10% to 32%), Roberval–Lac-Saint-Jean (Bloc dropped from 59% to 45% while the Conservatives rose from 9% to 37%), Gaspésie–ÃŽles-de-la-Madeleine (Bloc dropped from 56% to 43% while Conservatives rose from 7% to 32%), and former Prime Minister Chrétien’s old riding of Saint-Maurice–Champlain (Bloc dropped from 55% to 44% while Conservatives rose from 9% to 33%.)

    The best place to see Canada’s election results visually is the Atlas of Canada site:

    You can click on a riding to get the winner, and then click again to get the Statistics Canada profile of the riding.

    But it doesn’t give you the 2006 or 2004 votes. For those you still need the Elections Canada site:

  2. I’m by no means an expert on Canada, but perhaps a couple of questions for those who are.

    Has the BQ vote been affected by attitudes to issues other than federalism, such as same sex marriage and other social liberal issues? I understand that the BQ leadership is now quite liberal, while much of the nationalist electorate is conservative and Catholic.

    In looking back at Quebec’s history, the elections of 1984 and, particularly, 1988 stand out for the success of the Progressive Conservatives (peak of 52.7% and 63 seats in 1988). This vote disappeared with a near 40-point drop in support in Quebec in 2003 which undid the 37-point rise in 1984! How does the current Conservative vote correlate with this peak vote, and with the other recent respectable performance in 1997 (22.2% and 5 seats)?

  3. Stephen Harper’s Throne Speech is hours away. What kind of federalism will he offer?

    Canadians are fixated on labelling their federalisms. In response to Quebec nationalism came “co-operative federalism” and its cousins “renewed federalism,” “flexible federalism,” “evolutionary federalism (fédéralisme évolutif),” “pragmatic federalism,” “modern federalism,” “moderate federalism” and “reformist federalism.”

    Quebec nationalists responded that they would not practice “fédéralisme à genoux” (bended-knee federalism, or grovelling federalism), even when it was presented as “fédéralisme rentable” (profitable federalism) or “fédéralisme mou” (soft federalism).

    Meanwhile sceptics called that “knife to the throat federalism,” “nationalist federalism,” “sullen federalism,” “Fence-Sitting Federalism,” “Compromised Federalism” or “dysfunctional federalism” if not “Burned-Out Federalism.” Their solution was confrontational federalism, known as “Plan B federalism.”

    Others concluded that only asymmetrical federalism would suffice. Still others talked of “Reimbursement federalism.”

    What new phrase will Prime Minister Harper bless us with?

  4. Here it is: Open Federalism:

    The Government is committed to an open federalism that recognizes the unique place of a strong, vibrant Quebec in a united Canada. It will work with the government and legislature of Quebec in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration to advance the aspirations of Quebecers.

  5. Two more Quebec developments:

    1. Today’s by-election in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques was the first outing for the new left party on the provincial scene (le niveau nationale, Québecois would call it). The Québec Solidaire candidate got 22.2% of the vote, a close third, far surpassing the 6.5% won there three years ago under the previous banner of the Union des Forces Progressistes.

    2. Tomorrow is the final day of public hearings on Quebec’s draft bill for a proportional representation system. The current draft has the world’s poorest MMP system: five-seater unlinked districts (three local MNAs, two district “top-up” MNAs), requiring 15% or 17% to win a seat. Québec Solidaire, for example, would win a couple of seats in the two East Montreal districts, but little else. This model has had almost no defenders; the Special Committee is expected to recommend larger district magnitudes in urban areas.

  6. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

  7. Pingback: Fruits and Votes » Prof. Shugart's Blog » Canadian by-elections

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