Canada scenarios

Canada’s election Monday promises to be a fun one to watch. I can hardly wait!

Unless the polls–and I mean all of them–are way off in the measure of voter intentions, or its many mediocre-quality candidates and limited “get out the vote” capacity of the New Democrats in many ridings (districts) cause that party to under-perform significantly, we will be looking at a significantly changed composition of parliament. Most likely the Conservative seat share will not change a great deal, and will be just below 50%. But the NDP will have replaced the Liberals as the second party, and the Bloc Quebecois will have lost around half its seats (maybe even that of its leader).

That is not to say that the Conservatives could not yet eke out a majority. As noted at the EKOS polling blog on Friday, trends in Ontario could allow the Conservatives to win over 50% of the seats on only about a third of the nationwide votes. “It is hard to imagine what impact this would have on the Canadian public’s view of its first past the post system,” comments EKOS.

If there is no majority–and that seems most likely–the next parliament could be more dysfunctional than any of the recent minority parliaments, with less willingness on the part of any of the other parties to work with a Conservative government. Of course, we could see an NDP-Liberal government, or an NDP minority, although cabinets led by the second largest party are relatively rare (unless that party and another had cooperated in the election, which is absolutely not the case here).

Reflecting on some themes of previous threads, and especially the very thoughtful comment by Ross, I offer these pre-election questions and thoughts about the chances of a non-Conservative government forming when the newly elected House of Commons convenes:

Would the NDP be willing to rely on a collapsing Liberal party for its majority? For that matter, would the Liberals be willing to openly support any government after such a thrashing? The answer to both seems, based on patterns in “typical” coalition/minority parliaments, to be “probably not.”

And then there is the fact that the NDP will have a caucus, including (or should I say, especially) in Quebec made up of a lot of neophytes (and worse). It might not be an auspicious time to enter government. Better to wait for the next opportunity to bring down the Conservative minority in 2-3 years.

Please, someone, tell me why my analysis is wrong, and why Canada will have Prime Minister Jack Layton. Because that would be really interesting…

14 thoughts on “Canada scenarios

  1. Your analysis doesn’t seem so wrong – the only thing you might have missed is that it doesn’t seem like Harper is capable of learning humility. In my opinion, he will run through the exact same analysis you just did, and then conclude that no matter what he does the Liberals and Bloc won’t bring him down (and the NDP will surely need at least one). And then he’ll fill the budget with poison pills out of the sheer joy of watching the Liberals swallow them.

    If he puts a little too much poison in the budget – that’s the path to a constitutional crisis and possibly PM Jack Layton.

  2. Since nobody has offered anything countering you analysis, I will try… I will be assuming that the Conservatives have a minority while the NDP has the second largest number of seats after them.

    The biggest argument against the other parties allowing the Conservatives to form the government is the way in which it has been run for the past five years, which has provoked outrage among many Canadians.
    The prorogation after a coalition was mentioned as possible in 2006, partisan appointments to the Senate which resulted in a private member’s bill being voted down despite passing in the House, not giving accurate cost estimates or information to the House of Commons about fighter jets, are just a few examples. It was the first government to be found in contempt of Parliament in Canada, and that is a significant historic event in our democracy.

    All of the behaviour which many Canadians find unacceptable is undoubtedly not looked on with favour by the other parties. I don’t know what surrounded other cases of minority/coalition governments, but this may serve as a strong motivator to go against the norm and do what the Liberals and NDP suggested in 2006 by forming a coalition. While the Liberals have lost a lot this election, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are afraid of what voters will do to them if they continue to support the Conservatives.

  3. Well, if CBC, about one hour after poll closing in the west, is right, Harper got what he sought. 165 or so seats. I did not see that big a majority in the plausible scenarios.

  4. I was hoping and dreaming that Canada would embrace proportional representation. I guess it will not happen this time around.

    I guess it will be the Liberals that will want PR, and not the NDP. Now that the NDP is the official opposition, it looks like that they too might abandon the PR pledge if they can win a majority government.

    So far the conservatives got around 39.6% as most of the votes are counted, technically this should have made them a few seats short of a majority.

    Canada’s FPTP system is actually very proportionate in many ways. It did not give the Canadian Conservatives a huge seat bonus (They have an 11 seat majority) as FPTP gave Labour huge seat bonuses when they won majorities in 1997, 2001, and 2005.

    It’s great that the Green party leader got elected.

    Canada still looks as regionally polarized as before. The Conservatives won very few seats in Quebec, and won a landslide everywhere else.

    Canada is like Ireland in many ways, long dominant natural parties of government are now in third place.

    Democracy is so exciting. It is always so unpredictable what the result will be. It is amazing that the pollsters were so wrong.

    You do have to admire Stephen Harper, people always underestimate him, but yet he persists, and wins a majority that no one thought would be possible.

  5. Sounds like Canada’s where the UK was at in the 1930s – the small-L Liberals (to use the Australian term – not an oxymoron as, eg, Tony Abbott is a very large-L Liberal) eventually get nudged out as the electorate polarises between conservatives and social democrats/ labour.

    They may also come to share Lloyd George and Asquith’s regrets that they didn’t use their large majorities in office to introduce PR.

  6. I’m not sure if most forms of PR would be appropriate to Canada on a federal level, given that the country seems to have four regional party systems (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, and the West) that aggregate into the federal parliament. A Quebec voter voting for one of the three federal parties seems to do so for different reasons than one in BC voting for the same party.

    If something like list or additional member PR is used, the lists should at least be set at the provincial level and not by the federal parties. But STV would work even better with the grain of the separate regional party systems.

  7. If you read the media coverage, its almost as though the CP won a majority by accident, even by the admission of their own election managers-its vote share went up at least, so blushes are saved. I wonder how much tactical voting went on from the centre-right, i.e. Liberal voters who dislike the NDP switching to the Conservatives?

    Plus, two party leaders, Duceppe and Ignatieff, defeated in one night. The Canadian FPTP system is unfair and frequently perverse, but it is also brutally thorough!

    • I suspect there was a significant late shift of normal Liberal voters who can’t stomach the NDP, and that this helped put the Conservatives over the top.

      Brutally thorough FPTP indeed!

  8. The fact that the Tories only won 6 seats in Quebec is really bad in a way. The Conservatives have a 12 seat majority, this is a slim majority government not a landslide. The Tories have to broaden their support base even more and reach out toward Quebec.

    Stephen Harper is fortunate he has a strong base in Alberta, but now that he has a majority. How will he keep them happy is the million dollar question? This balancing act gets harder with a majority.

    They knew he was limited by a minority, now he has no limitations, and he has to somewhat give special preferences to Quebec which many in the West hate.

    This result is a mixed bag, and a minority government with the Tories being a few seats shy of a majority would have been a better outcome for them. This is the highest they can go unless they win a huge number of seats in Quebec in 2015.

    For the NDP, this is the best outcome for them, because they do not need to form government because they are not ready to, they need to be the best opposition they can possible be before they are ready to form government. Most likely they would form a minority government with the Green party if the Greens could win a large number of seats.

    This is truly the worst election result ever for the Liberals. They could bounce back. Is it possible for a third place party in a FPTP election to bounce back and form government? The Liberals are just like Fianna Fail.

    It is not a landslide. In order to get broad support, a party in Canada needs to elect a large number of seats in both Quebec and Ontario.

    There is no doubt that this is a realigning election similar to the 1993 election.

    Even more interesting Harper supports Universal Health care, I think almost all center-right parties around the world do, I only wish the Republicans in the U.S would. Even Nixon had a plan for Universal Health care.

    I wonder if Canada now that the Conservatives do have a majority will move toward a partial privatization of the health care system moving toward at two-tier system arrangement like in Australia.

    The most funny story is this from

    “To amplify the Bloc’s humiliation, the party lost the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé to NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau, a non-French-fluent assistant bar manager who admitted spending some of the campaign vacationing in Las Vegas.”

    I guess Ruth Ellen Brosseau is now going to have to take French lessons.

  9. I don’t agree that the Tories “need to reach out to Quebec”, from a strategic viewpoint. Life hasn’t been easy in the past 30 years to parties that tried to straddle the Ottawa River, and the NDP may be the next victim. Were I Stephen Harper, I’d spend the next four years implementing policies that most of Canada likes but Quebec doesn’t, and dare the NDP to pick a side.

  10. Vasi, wow, that is a smart idea, dare the NDP to pick a side, but then Stephen Harper plays the anti-Quebec card, that would strengthen Parti Quebecois in the next provincial election, and that they may call another referendum on secession. That vote could succeed. Never ending referendums on leaving a country seem silly, because they always want the right result.

    Maybe if Quebec doesn’t like the NDP, they could always vote for the Green Party.

    I don’t think Quebec would have any chance of ever voting for the Liberals again, nor even the Conservatives in large numbers.

    The Conscription crisis in the beginning of World War 1 caused Quebec to turn away from the Tories, then the patriation of the constitution, and sponsorship scandal caused Quebec to abandon the Liberals.

    Having Quebec leave Canada causes an existential crisis for the Canadian nation. What about Atlantic Canada being disconnected from the rest of Canada?

    If Stephen Harper does not have the 6 Tory Quebec members agreeing with him, he would have a 6 seat majority which is quite thin, and could be eroded.

    A 12 seat majority could easily be eroded through by-elections through the next 4 years.

    Interestingly that the Tories are Blue, and the NDP color is Orange. Both are complementary colors, I just had to put that in there.

  11. The reasons why the Tories needed nearly 50% of the seats to retain government are:
    – the opposition parties brought down the minority gov’t on deficiencies in conduct. Without a majority of seats, the same logic applies, but after an election, without surviving a confidence matter like in late 2008, the GG would have to ask another MP, likely from another party, to lead a gov’t (rather than have another election, as we did following the recent non-confidence motion)
    – The obvious exception would be if the Tories could have made a pact or formed a coalition with another party. But no other party will partner with it. This is for structural reasons (it has no parties to its right), and particulars ( enmity between parties and leaders). This could only change with a change in Conservative Party leadership, which is not in the cards.

  12. Hmm, my editing got cut off.

    The 3rd point is that the Tories intend to end the per-vote public subsidy, which would benefit the Tories more than any other party, but especially hurt the Liberals and devastate the Bloc, who gets 95% of its funding from the subsidy. The Tories would probably do this through some order-in-council to circumvent parliament.

    Under these conditions, the other parties must form gov’t for existential reasons, unless they are prevented by a Tory majority. Having a lot of rookie MPs like the NDP doesn’t really factor into this equation.

    Finally, the Conservative PM himself legitimated the other parties forming a coalition even if none of them were the largest party – he campaigned on the premise that voters must give him a majority to prevent that very scenario from taking place.

    Essentially, the Tories had put themselves in a box of their own making.

  13. Hopefully the Canadian Senate can be reformed and turned into an elected body, and hopefully a system of PR could be used to elect Senators at the same time as General Elections to the House of Commons.

    What system of PR would be good for Canada’s Senate? Open Party List, STV, MMP?

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