Quebec to the polls

Quebec will hold general elections for its provincial assembly on 26 March. An excellent way to follow the campaign is at (if you read French, that is).

Quebec’s FPTP electoral system has a long record of producing odd results, including a plurality reversal in 1998 and several lopsided majorities. In my research on conditions for reform in FPTP systems, the province rates as one of the most ripe for reform. However, so far a reform process initiated by the now-ruling Liberals after their “victimization” by the vagaries of plurality allocation in 1998 has not borne fruit. I hope some of my readers who follow politics in the province can give us some ideas of the likely dynamics of seat distribution in this race, and whether this election is likely to bury or revive the movement for reform.

0 thoughts on “Quebec to the polls

  1. Yes, of course, democraticSPACE, which I just happened to have added to my links (right sidebar, under “VOTES”) yesterday!

  2. What I find odd is that while the current system doesn’t favour the Liberals, as shown by the results of the 1998 election and democraticSPACE’s projections, the electoral reform (previously discussed on this site here) started by minister Benoît Pelletier has fallen through due to division in the Liberal party. I guess that some Liberals are afraid that introducing a proportional element in the electoral system would prevent them from getting majority governments, but at the same time the current system runs the risk of keeping them out of power altogether.

    Electoral reform isn’t very high on people’s radar in Quebec, and it isn’t being discussed at all in the current election campaign. Even the Action démocratique and the minor parties aren’t bringing the subject up much. At the same time, I believe most people would say that they favour reforming the electoral system. It just isn’t a pressing issue.

  3. Dear M. Søberg Shugart,

    I recently discovered your site through Paul Wells’ blog and I must compliment you on the quality of your analyses. I saw that you recently added a post on the election in Quebec and I thought I might share my two cents about my little corner of the world.

    To answer your question, electoral reforms aren’t attracting crowds lately (if they ever did), so I would be extremely surprise if it came up.

    As for seats distribution, there’s a new factor this time that might mixed up the cards. Usually, we have a two horse race between the “Parti Québécois” (PQ) and the Liberals. The Liberal votes tend to be more concentrated because they get all the votes of English speaking Quebecers and ethnic minorities. The PQ’s support is better distributed and that played in its favour in 1998.

    But this time, a third party, the “Action Démocratique du Québec” (ADQ), might be able to make some headway. The PQ is “kind of” a center left party, but their main focus is on the promotion of the independence of Quebec so they attract people from the entire political spectrum. The Liberals are more to the center right. By center right, I mean to the right of the Liberal Party of Canada but to the left of the Conservative party of Canada. The ADQ is a right nationalist party with a populist and somewhat reactionary message.

    The Liberals had a thought time in power and have low level of approval, while the PQ had problem renewing their positions (that’s the problem with a one idea party) and their new leader is somewhat contested. So basically, the ADQ is trying to pull the right wing of the PQ and the more nationalist of Liberals on its side, with some success I might add.

    The ADQ doesn’t have much hope of forming the next government, so they’re trying to max out their seat count. They’re focusing on very specific issues and campaigning in very specific regions of the province. In fact, the regions they’re targeting are where the Conservative manage to pick up seat in last federal election. Their net vote count compare to the last election (18% if I recall correctly) will probably not augment a lot, but they’re hoping to make the best of it.

    Also, I should mention that there are two smaller parties farther to the left, “Québec Solidaire” and the Greens. The latest surveys give them about 5% and 9% percent respectively. Probably not enough to pick up any seats, but since they’re taking it away from the PQ mostly, probably enough to tip the balance in favour of the Liberals in some heated races.

    Anyway, I hope this message was insightful. Once again, congratulations on your great blog and keep it up.


  4. Is it possible for Quebec to have a hung parliament or a minority government after this election? Will the ADQ hold the balance of power between the Liberals and PQ? Are minority governments common in Quebec?

    It seems like the FPTP is going to bring the worse of both worlds in this election. It seems like in Canada the party system has broken down to the point that no party will win a majority under the FPTP system ever again or for a long time. There is no rational for keeping FPTP if no party wins a majority and especially if it’s distorts regionalism and the perception that one party wins overwhelmingly in one region and it rules and foists laws on the other regions that voted for the opposition. It’s like different parts of Canada always at each others throats.

  5. At least as far back as the 1960s, no Quebec election has produced a hung parliament. In the coming days or weeks before the election, I will post some of my analyses of seat allocation in recent elections, which I did as part of my research on reform in FPTP systems (discussed in several plantings on the last Canadian federal election).

    Thanks to those who have posted observations on the Quebec campaign here, and please keep them coming!

  6. “At least as far back as the 1960s, no Quebec election has produced a hung parliament.”

    Actually, the election of a hung parliament in Quebec has never happened at all since the creation of the Canadian Federation in 1867. The only minority government ever appointed in Quebec since 1867 was the Liberal Government of Henri-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière in 1878-9. However, its appointment was the result of a parliamentary manoeuvre of the provincial Liberal Party and of the decision of then Lieutenent-Governor of Quebec, Luc Letellier de Saint-Just (in Canada, Lieutenant-Governors are the counterpart of the Governor General, i.e. the representatives of the formal Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II) to dismiss the Conservative Cabinet. It had nothing to do with an electoral outcome.

  7. I almost wrote that there had never been a minority situation in Quebec, but then I realized that I only had systemtically looked at data back to around 1960 or so. But I figured I might have heard/read about it had there been one earlier. Thanks, QP for the information.

  8. So what happens if we do end up with no majority party? It’s impossible to imagine the Liberals and PQ sitting together, so the ADQ would be the deal-maker. And since they’re the biggest losers under FPTP, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them insist on PR. They might be helped by some convenient scheduling. Less than a week after the election–on the unfortunately chosen date of April 1–the Ontario Citizens’ Assembly will be choosing an alternative system*. This could put PR in the news just as coalition negotiations are getting rolling.

    However, it’s just as likely that PR will fly completely under the radar while culture war and personal attacks dominate the post-election fallout. So who really knows?

    Do you remember our previous discussion about Quebec electoral reform? There was concern that the suggested system’s allocation of compensatory seats could cause some anomalies, and the cizitens’ committee asked for simulations to check if this was likely. Since in my non-blog-reading life I write code, I was thinking of doing some simple simulations–but I’ve not been too sure how to generate “reasonable” vote distributions as input**. I’m wondering if a useful way to do this would be to apply the seat allocation scheme to past results of MMP elections in other countries. Alternatively, any good source of methods for generating vote distributions would be great to know of.

    Back to this election: Does anybody know what happened to ? It used to be a great source of info, but it seems to be kinda stagnant now. DemocraticSPACE is nice, but I believe it assumes that all ridings change their vote shares by the same amount.

    As for my personal vote, I’ve no idea who I want to support. I’m not thrilled with the Liberals’ recent incompetence nor their horrible public explication of their policies, and I’m especially upset with how they handled the municipal demergers. The PQ is a non-starter: the whole municipal merger debacle was their idea; and the only referendum I want to see is on a new electoral system! The ADQ is primarily responsible for “reasonable accomodations” (aka: hating on brown people) becoming a campaign issue, which isn’t quite to my taste, to put it lightly. Hmmm…I wonder if the Bloc Pot has a candidate in my riding?

    * Technically they’ll be deciding the next week whether they prefer the alternative system or the present one–but I’d be shocked if they didn’t choose change. The final report will come in mid-May.

    ** Most of the papers and other information I found either generated a distribution that seemed biased; or assumed that voting patterns would stay the same while voting systems changed; or used methods that are theoretically cute but computationally complex, whose realism seemed doubtful. I trust the experts here to tell me what’s really most useful!

  9. I just found this site with an election result generator for the Quebec election :

    If you throw in the result from the February 26 Leger Marketing survey, a Liberal minority goverment comes out with 47.2% of the seats, followed by the PQ with 34.4% and the ADQ with 18.4%. The site is in French, however.

    Also, there was an interessing (and somewhat traumatising) interview on* today. They explained how we draw the electoral map. The 125 ridings in Quebec should have in average 45000 electors. The law says that one electoral district must be within 25% of that average (between 33750 and 56250)**. 17 ridings are out of that range and 35 ridings are more than 20% away from the average. You can watch part of the interview ( ) or you can listen to’s podcast for the full interview.

    * Local tv show for intellos with too much times on there hands. It’s broadcasted by Quebec’s public Tv station.
    ** The law permits exceptions.

  10. Vasi said: “DemocraticSPACE is nice, but I believe it assumes that all ridings change their vote shares by the same amount.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, that’s the whole point about DemocraticSPACE — the projection model takes province-wide data, adjusts it regionally, then within each region identifies ridings that are above average, average, and below average for each party. Then it adjusts for individual candidates. So DemocraticSPACE does NOT AT ALL assume that all ridings change by the same amount. The Hill & Knowlton projector that Maxime suggested, however, does assume that all ridings move by the same amount. (note: as this precise moment, we are moving our site to a different server, so we may experience some downtime)

  11. I think it’s quite unfair to say that the debate over reasonable accommodation (which the ADQ certainly has benefited from, but which they aren’t responsible for bringing into the spotlight) can be summarized as “hating on brown people”. It’s actually the kind of debate that all Western societies have to come to grips with at some point, and it’s only more true for those where a lot of immigrants are to be found and where multicultural policies are important. Basically, it boils down to: how far are we willing to accept cultural practices that conflict with our common cultural beliefs and practices? It really isn’t a trivial question. And it doesn’t even require immigrants or “brown people”: one of the first things I heard about in the media when they started talking about reasonable accommodations were the case of the fundamentalist Christian communities that were found to operate unaccredited schools in several regions of Quebec, all under the eyes of the minister of Education who preferred acting through negotiation than through legal enforcement. This isn’t an example of reasonable accommodation, since children who do not receive an education equivalent to the ministry’s minimal programs are actually in an illegal situation, but it did raise the same kinds of concerns: if, in Quebec, we consider it a good thing to ensure that all children go to school (or receive an equivalent education) up to the age of 16, are religious groups allowed to opt out of part of the curriculum because they disapprove of it?

    In other words, the debate about reasonable accommodations is actually a very important debate to hold right now. We know where the various parties stand on the issue (and especially the Action démocratique), so it’s up to us to choose.

    (Sorry about the non-voting system related post, but Vasi brought up an issue that I considered important to clarify.)

  12. Gregory, you have my apology for my assertion about DemocraticSPACE. I thought I remembered from the Canadian election that the system was as I stated, but obviously I remembered wrong. Once the site is back up, I’ll take a closer look at the methodology.

    Marc, obviously there are reasonable ways to discuss “reasonable accommodations”. If politicians were proposing things like local discussion groups where those of different ethnicities could learn about each other, and attempt to come to reasonable compromises, I’d be fine with that. Alternatively, some sort of specialized non-binding arbitration could help folks to come up with creative solutions to problems.

    However, most of the issues that have inflamed public opinion have involved private (or public-but-very-autonomous) organizations. They’ve not made their decisions in order to comply with some sort of law on how ethnic groups must be accommodated. Rather, they have individually made decisions, which they are able to reconsider in cases that become controversial. I don’t see many cases where more coercive laws about what can and can’t be done would help matters–they would simply institutionalize the current political wisdom about a question, instead of letting individual organizations experiment and learn.

    Perhaps this is why there are very few concrete policy proposals that I’ve heard from those who complain that ethnic groups are receiving too much accommodation. Instead, we’ve had random borderline-racist decisions (hello, Herouxville!), assertions of Quebec’s “Christian heritage” (I guess Dumont won’t be getting the Cree or Inuit vote!), and abstract statements like “Quebec is bending down on its knees to accommodate ethnic groups”. Moreover, the areas which seem to be most riled up about accommodations are coincidentally those that have the fewest actual contact with members of minority ethnic groups. This is why I characterized the current debate over accommodations as one about “hating on brown people”. I acknowledge that my words were overly inflammatory, perhaps “encouraging suspicion of different people” would serve better?

    I do have a considerable amount of respect for Mario Dumont, and I certainly hope he can come up with some creative policy positions and prove me wrong!

    Back to the topic of seat allocations…I’m beginning to think that the most important factor in whether there’s a new push for a different electoral system will be how many seats the ADQ receives. If it approaches or exceeds the seats received by another major party, the members may expect that it could replace that party in the future, and thus favour the current FPTP system. If it doesn’t receive enough seats to force a minority or coalition government, then clearly it’s not going to have the power to push for a different system. Probably between 15 and 25 seats is the number that would best push electoral reform. Of course, it would be great if Dumont could make a statement for or against reform

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