Quebec pro-PQ bias and electoral reform

By JD Mussel

The Montreal Gazette has reported about the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle (MDN), which recently launched its campaign for proportional representation in Quebec, specifically MMP.

The article mentions a number of factors that may be at involved in creating the apparent pro-Parti Quebecois bias in First-Past-the-Post in Quebec. Firstly, ridings in Montreal traditionally favour the Liberals, where their votes are very concentrated, to the party’s disadvantage. Secondly, the article highlights malapportionment in the Province, which may be one of Canada’s worst. The overrepresented ridings are generally more likely to be rural and francophone, while the underrepresented ones tend to be more urban and are likely to have a larger anglophone population, as illustrated here.

There have been three plurality reversals in Quebec since the rise of the Union Nationale (1936), all of which occurred in elections where the Liberals had received a plurality of the vote.

The article also included projections, produced by Wilfred Day of what the 2012 result would have been under pure PR and MMP. I am very curious as to the exact model used for the latter projection!

Meanwhile, the MDN’s website (in French) is worth a browse, in particular its historic overview of all Quebec elections since Confederation, showing vote shares vs seat shares as well as some historic background.

13 thoughts on “Quebec pro-PQ bias and electoral reform

  1. Quebec held a provincial election today, and it was another (reasonably) good result for electoral reform. Before the election, the leaders of the Parti Quebecois, the Coalition Avenir Quebec, and Quebec Solidare said they would pass electoral reform without a referendum: only the Liberal Party remained opposed.

    At this election, the Coalition Avenir Quebec won a comfortable majority government, with the other two parties securing about ten seats each, meaning that if parties stick to their platforms electoral reform would pass easily. Of course, Canadian electoral reformers would have good reason to be sceptical that this promise will be carried out, after the Trudeau letdown, but unlike the Liberals the CAQ has more experience of being hurt by FPTP (in 2003, the CAQ’s predecessor party won 4 of 125 seats with 18% of the vote), and polls show Quebec has the highest level of support for electoral reform of any province.


    • The cynic in me suspects that – much like the French Socialists back in 1981 – CAQ won’t do a thing to implement its promise of electoral reform now that it has a comfortable parliamentary majority of its own, unless they find themselves likely to lose in the next election by a sizable margin; in that case, they’ll rush to pass electoral reform ahead of the event, if only to prevent their opponents from winning an outright majority. That said, I’d be happy to be proved wrong on this issue.


      • On the other hand, I could see one incentive the incoming Quebec government might have to introduce PR: dilute the Liberals’ political dominance in the Montreal/Laval area. In yesterday election, the results in the Montreal and Laval regions were as follows:

        PLQ/QLP – 41.8%, 24 seats (72.7%)
        QS – 20.0%, 6 seats (18.2%)
        CAQ – 20.0%, 3 seats (9.1%)
        PQ – 12.2%, no seats
        PVQ/GPQ – 2.7%, no seats
        Others – 3.3%, no seats

        However, in the rest of Quebec, the results were as follows:

        CAQ – 42.9%, 71 seats (77.2%)
        PQ – 18.6%, 9 seats (9.8%)
        PLQ/QLP – 19.5%, 8 seats (8.7%)
        QS – 14.9%, 4 seats (4.3%)
        PVQ/GPQ – 1.4%, no seats
        Others – 2.8%, no seats

        In the short and (possibly) medium term, figures like the latter will constitute a formidable disincentive for CAQ to live up to its promises of electoral reform.


      • And just I as I left my previous reply, it transpired that the incoming CAQ government does have electoral reform on the agenda for its first year in office, so I may be proved wrong after all (but as I said, I’d be happy if that turned out to be the case). All the same, I cannot help but wonder how the coalition leadership is going to convince many of the members of its larger-than-expected parliamentary delegation to essentially vote themselves out of office. To be certain, PR wouldn’t be wholly negative for CAQ, since it would open up opportunities for the party in places like the Montreal/Laval area (as previously noted), but short of a drastic increase in CAQ’s vote in the next election, any such gains would likely be more than offset by losses elsewhere, even if the party won an identical share of the vote.

        Beyond that, I can think of another consideration to favor PR in CAQ’s political calculus: keeping PQ alive, and the pro-independence vote split among two parties. Under the current FPTP system, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the next election PQ were to find itself further reduced to the diehard followers who for one reason or another just can’t bring themselves to abandon the party; the latter may not be sufficiently concentrated to guarantee the party even a single riding majority, but their numbers may remain large enough to secure seats under a proportional system.


      • I mean, that can work both ways. As JD points out in the original post, under FPTP it is not really an advantage for the Liberals to be piling votes up in Anglophone constituencies in Montreal, because those votes are essentially being wasted. Looking at the 2014 elections, on average Liberal winners won their seats by 10,265 votes, representing 30% of their electorates. This stands in contrast to the PQ (3,121 votes and 10%) and the CAQ (3,390 votes and 9%). PR would make this Liberal inefficiency less of a problem.


      • … In which case electoral reform will then be perceived by the public as just another stunt or tactic used to help one party against its rivals.


    • @hschlechta

      Based on the preliminary figures updated earlier today, the corresponding figures for 2018 have changed quite a bit since 2014:

      CAQ – 8,011 (23%)
      PLQ/QLP – 7,193 (25%)
      PQ – 4,192 (17%)
      QS – 5,928 (19%); 5,481 (19%) in 2014

      To be certain, the Liberals would nowadays benefit from PR outside their Montreal stronghold, but they were strongly opposed to it at the outset. Perhaps their record low popular vote percentage (and the lowest seat total since 1976) will make them change their minds; or perhaps they’ll be like the Scottish Conservatives, who remained staunchly opposed to MMP, even when the system has allowed them for many years to achieve levels of representation in the Scottish Parliament they would have never attained under their beloved FPTP system.

      (Regarding the Scottish Tories, I recall having read a study years ago that found out their attitude towards MMP stemmed from the belief that their diminished electoral fortunes were just a temporary setback, and that FPTP would eventually work once more to their advantage. That has yet to happen, although they’ve made advances in recent years, particularly in the 2017 Westminster election.)


  2. Wow Quebec’s political binary is moving to the right; before the Liberals were to the right of Parti Quebecois; and now they are to the Left of Coalition Avenir Quebec. Funny how things change overnight. 38% of the vote vs 25% is a huge spread, so the election wasn’t even close. Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidarity won 37% together, so if those two parties merged, then the Liberals would be in third place, and there would probably had been a minority government.

    People want change in the provincial elections in Canada, perhaps Canada’s Federal Election may be a minority.


  3. (1) According to the preliminary election results, PQ and QS won together 33.1% of the vote; 4.6% voted for smaller parties, chiefly among them the Greens (1.7%) and the Conservatives (1.5%).

    (2) Had PQ and QS fielded common candidates; and had all their voters cast their ballots for such candidates; and had voters for other parties backed the same parties, CAQ would have still secured a small absolute majority of 64 seats, to 34 for PQ+QS and 27 for PLQ. However, I’m far from certain that all PQ voters would have been comfortable with the staunchly left-wing postures of QS, so those hypothetical figures ought to be taken with a grain of salt.


  4. Pingback: Quebec 2018 | Fruits and Votes

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