Quebec 2018

Because it took place on Shemeni Atzeret, a very big Jewish holiday that “closes” the festival of Sukkot (but is separate from it), I totally missed that Quebec was having a provincial general election.

The result is being called a “surprise”. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) won a majority of seats (74 of 125) on just 37.4% of the votes. That is 59.2% of the seats, for an advantage ratio of 1.58, which is certainly on the high side.

The incumbent Liberals won 32 seats (compared to 70 at the last election) on 24.8% of the votes (compared to 41.5% last time). Quebec Solidaire (QS) has 10 seats on 16.1% and the Parti Quebecois (PQ), which was governing as recently as 2014, a mere 9 seats on 17.1% of the vote.

You might note that this is rather far from a “Duvergerian” outcome. It is, however, a “typical” FPTP result, given the presence of a multiparty system: The plurality party won a manufactured majority.

The regional distribution of party support was critical to the outcome, as is also a common feature of FPTP elections. CTV has the list of districts (ridings) and the winner’s percentage of the vote. Not surprisingly, many were won with well under 40% of the vote. An example is Abitibi-Ouest, where the CAQ winner earned 34.1% of the vote and a margin of 195 votes over a PQ candidate. Some other close results also were CAQ over PQ: Bourget, where the winner had a mere 27.6% of the votes and the PQ candidate was 500 votes behind; Ungava (45-vote margin with only 26.5%). On the other hand, there was Iles-de-la-Madeleine, decided in favor of the PQ by only 21 votes over a Liberal candidate (the winner won 38.7%). Then there was Duplessis, decided by 126 votes, with the PQ on top (34.3%) and CAQ second. The Liberals had some narrow victories, too (such as Gaspé, 33.8%, 132 votes over the PQ; Laval-Des-Rapides, 31.6%, 297 votes over the PQ). It is a pretty wild district-level picture!

The opposition parties going into the election–CAQ, QS, and PQ (plus the Greens)–had committed to a platform calling for a change of electoral system to proportional representation, apparently MMP.  I can’t say for sure–no doubt some readers will know–but I’d tend to assume this was promised under the assumption of a no-majority assembly. (The Liberal leader reiterated shortly before the election that he was not on board, even in the event his party would have formed a minority government after this election.) A real test of the CAQ is whether it has now had an overnight conversion to the virtues of FPTP, or whether the commitment will be effectively binding. The list above of CAQ victories over the PQ certainly shows that, to some significant degree, the parties are rivals given the dynamics of the current electoral system. Quebec–and Canada–has seemed at the cusp of electoral reform before…

(Note: There is already some ongoing discussion of this election at a previous post about the 2014 election.)

14 thoughts on “Quebec 2018

  1. I wouldn’t miss a Québec election night for anything!

    I think the CAQ came third in the Magdalen Islands, so I don’t see how they could’ve received 38.7% of the vote there. Indeed, much of the eastern part of the province didn’t seem to have got the memo that the election was no longer a two-party contest between the Liberals and PQ.

    The CAQ finally lived up to its potential from polls when it was mooted 8 years ago after two third-placed finishes in 2012 and 2014 (albeit with a better seat share than most third parties under FPTP). Arguably Québec had been moving away from a two-party system for more than a decade, with the snap election in December 2008 only being something of an anomaly. Equally the PQ has been going downhill since the turn of the [standard calendar] millennium, with 2012 a mere blip when it – very narrowly – won a minority almost by default because voters were fed up of Jean Charest and they were best placed to defeat him.

    Speaking of Charest, his former fiefdom of Sherbrooke was one of the few Conservative holdouts in 1993 and now has an NDP MP and a QS MNA. It was his successor Philippe Couillard who led the Liberals to their lowest vote percentage ever, though.


  2. The French CBC network (Radio-Canada) has produced a very nice animation of the result under MMP. (It even includes an animation of the result under the parallel system, which no one I know of is promoting for Quebec, simply because the animator got MMP wrong the first time and had to add it.)

    And the PR campaign, the Mouvement Démocratie Nouvelle, has a nice graphic page showing the result and an example of a regional sweep.

    As for Legault “doing a Justin” and reversing his promise like Justin Trudeau, he kept repeating explicitly that he would never do that, and repeated in his first post-election press conference his promise for an Act for MMP within the first year of the new government. He has made it very hard to back out of.


  3. The Radio-Canada animation is very nice indeed, but looking at the seat figures I notice several things (some of which were confirmed by the methodology explanation at the bottom of the listed link):

    1) The party distribution of the 75 FPTP seats is percentage-wise identical to the distribution of the existing 125 National Assembly seats;
    2) the allocation of list seats is based on the province-wide vote totals;
    3) there’s a province-wide 2% threshold in place – no seats for the Green Party or smaller parties; and
    4) the simulated distribution assumes voters would have cast their ballots in the same manner under MMP, and for the same parties for both FPTP and PR list seats.

    The fourth point is just an observation and by no means criticism: there isn’t much that can’t be done about that, since we have no way of knowing how differently would voters have behaved had a different system been in place.

    On the second and third points, I could see a case being made for districted MMP i.e. PR at the regional level rather than on a province-wide basis, as is the case with Scotland and Wales. Granted, a province-wide allocation would deliver a more proportionate outcome, but it should be remembered that neither Germany nor New Zealand – whose land areas are less than a quarter and just over a tenth of Quebec’s, respectively – have vast, under-populated areas like the Ungava district, to cite one example.

    As for the first point, I suppose it’s inevitable given the time constraints, and the requirement that there be 75 FPTP seats. That said, even without considering the implications of the fourth point, it’s a debatable assumption: as it has been discussed here quite extensively, votes-to-seats distortions under FPTP increase as the number of single-member districts becomes smaller. At any rate, I’ll have more to say about that point on a further comment.


    • The Quebec MMP proposals I’ve seen so far call for either 75 or 78 single-member districts, out of 125 or 128 seats, the single-member districts being the federal i.e. House of Commons ridings, past or present. While it would make sense to use existing and seemingly accepted boundaries, Monsieur Legault – Quebec’s incoming head of government – has already indicated he doesn’t want to increase the size of the province’s 125-seat National Assembly: as such, if the current 78 federal ridings were to be used as single-member provincial districts under MMP, that would leave just 47 PR compensation mandates, or 37.6% of the total number of seats. That is probably enough to guarantee a proportionate outcome, but subsequent increases in the number of election districts with a fixed-size legislature have the potential to gradually erode the proportionality of the system further down the road. In fact, in the years to come this very issue is likely to become a matter of concern in New Zealand, where the number of list seats has been slowly but steadily reduced, as new parliamentary constituencies have been created there over the course of the past two decades.

      Personally, I’m of the view that a number of single-member districts approximately equal to or close to half the size of the National Assembly would be a preferable starting point. That said, I don’t lose sight of the fact that having fewer single-member districts might make MMP more difficult to sell, not least because of concerns about the representation of sparsely populated areas, of which Quebec has no shortage thereof. And speaking of representation, this is a good moment to point out that under Quebec’s existing FPTP system, election districts are allowed to deviate from the provincial mean by as much or as little as 25%. Consequently, the smallest district can have an electorate that’s just 60% (0.75 / 1.25) of that corresponding to the largest district. Moreover, exceptions to this rule are provided for seven sparsely populated and/or geographically isolated districts, whose electorate deviations stand in some cases at well over 25%. Nevertheless, the wide population and electorate disparities among districts proved quite useful for a MMP mathematical exercise I will describe in a further comment.


    • With enactment of electoral reform – specifically MMP – seemingly on the agenda, I decided to carry out a mathematical exercise, to simulate the outcome of last week’s National Assembly election under districted MMP and a National Assembly with approximately equal numbers of FPTP and PR list seats. I also wanted to measure the impact, if any, of retaining very small districts in sparsely populated and/or geographically isolated areas.

      However, rather than assuming that the percentage distribution of FPTP seats among parties would remain unchanged with fewer districts, I combined the existing 125 seats into 65 smaller districts, while keeping in mind the usual redistricting criteria of contiguity, compactness and electorate/population size. Of the sixty-five districts, fifty-two are pairs of contiguous, existing districts, four combine three contiguous existing districts each, and the remaining nine stand unchanged. The three-district combinations were necessary because certain regions have an odd number of seats – for example, Montreal currently has 27 seats – and I wanted to avoid setting up combinations across administrative regional boundaries, except in those cases where that is already the case with the existing districts. In any event, the wide electorate size disparity among existing districts made it possible to set up three-seat combinations among districts with below-average electorate totals, so that the resulting amalgamated district totals would not be excessively larger than average. In fact, leaving out the nine unchanged districts, the smallest combined district has 61.8% of the largest district’s electorate; under the existing arrangement (and excluding the seven exceptions), the corresponding figure is 61.4%.

      Regarding the nine unchanged districts, seven correspond to the existing exceptions and the remaining two are neighboring districts which are also sparsely populated.

      In turn, I amalgamated the combined single-member districts into eight electoral regions. These regions, which have 8 to 33 seats each – corresponding to their current number of National Assembly seats – are for the most part combinations of existing administrative regions, but as previously noted some constituencies under the existing arrangement cross regional boundaries; therefore, in a few cases the electoral region boundary switches at some point from an administrative regional boundary to an electoral district boundary, and back again.

      All the same, I must emphasize that this is a mathematical exercise and not a proposal (although with some fine tuning one could conceivably be fashioned out of it): I’m not Canadian and never been to Quebec, so there’s no way I can account for local sensibilities about the combined districts. In fact, I’m quite certain that some of the combinations would have people in Quebec rolling their eyes – or worse. Also, due to time constraints I could not for the most part factor in socio-economic characteristics or other relevant districting criteria.

      Once single-member district winners had been determined, all seats in each region were distributed by the Sainte-Laguë method of PR. District seats were subtracted from each party’s regional seat allocation, with the resulting figure being the number of list seats assigned to the party. However, if a party won district seats in excess of its PR regional allocation, it kept all its seats, and the distribution of seats was carried out again among the other parties for the remaining seats. Initially, I only considered parties receiving at least 0.5% of the vote at the provincial level, but as it turned out I could have increased that threshold to 1.5%, or set up a 2% threshold at the regional level (or even 2.5%), and the seat outcome would have remained unchanged.

      As expected, the notional distribution of the 65 single-member district seats was heavily slanted in favor of CAQ, which secured 40 (61.5%) to 14 for PLQ/QLP (21.5%), 6 for PQ (9.2%) and 5 for QS (7.7%). While not significantly different from the actual election outcome, the reduction of seats gave CAQ an even larger seat percentage majority, mainly at the expense of the Liberals.

      However, the allocation of sixty PR list seats at the regional level resulted in CAQ obtaining 49 seats (39.2%) to 32 for the Liberals (25.6%), while PQ received 22 (17.6%), QS 21 (16.8%) and PVQ/GPQ a single mandate (0.8%). The four major parties had nearly identical votes-to-seats ratios, but the corresponding figure for the Greens was over twice as large. No other party would have obtained National Assembly seats, although the Quebec Conservatives came relatively close to securing a single seat.

      At first sight, it might seem odd that districted MMP would deliver such a highly proportionate outcome, but the moderately large electoral region size (with an average of 15-16 seats and no fewer than eight); the use of the Sainte-Laguë rule; and the fact that the four major parties scored double-digit percentages in every electoral region, guaranteed that all of them secured at least one seat in every one of these. In short, they had few “wasted” votes, which in turned reduced the votes-to-seats distortions inherent to regional-based PR. However, another factor played a small role in the outcome: both CAQ and PQ had one excess mandate each, in both instances resulting from the retention of small constituencies in sparsely populated areas. On an unmodified proportional basis, the Liberals and QS would have received an extra seat at the expense of PQ and CAQ, respectively, and QS would have had one more seat than PQ, despite polling fewer votes than the latter.

      Finally, I considered as well an alternative scenario in which the nine small districts were combined into four larger districts (in the process breaking up one of the fifty-two established pairs); this would have inverted the number of district and list seats to 60 and 65, respectively, and in this scenario, neither CAQ nor PQ would have obtained excess seats, resulting in the same unmodified proportional distribution described in the previous paragraph (48 CAQ, 33 PLQ/QLP, 21 PQ, 22 QS, 1 PVQ/GPQ).


      • Interesting. You might play next with the fact that the model agreed on by the four parties and MDN features Quebec-wide proportionality with regional distribution, and 75 to 78 local MNAs with 47 or 50 regional MNAs..


      • I’ve carried out several transposition of votes exercises of Quebec’s 2018 provincial election to the 78 federal election districts (FEDs), and in all cases the resulting distribution of seats has been 46 CAQ, 20 PLQ/QLP, 6 PQ and 6 QS. However, PQ would have a notional majority of just 39 votes in the FED of Joliette, which should be taken with caution; a transposition based only on votes cast in ordinary polling stations on election day (that is, excluding advance votes and special votes) would have produced a CAQ majority of 133 votes in the district. In the provincial election held last October, the sum of advance and special votes did not change the outcome in any of the existing 125 National Assembly divisions.

        No other FED apart from Joliette produced a notional victory below a thousand votes in any case. Even with a notional CAQ majority in Joliette at the expense of PQ, no party would have exceeded its overall PR seat allocation either with a total of 125 seats (49 CAQ, 33 PLQ/QLP, 22 PQ and 21 QS under any or the PR allocation methods) or with 128 seats (50-51 CAQ, 33 PLQ/QLP, 23 PQ and 21-22 QS depending on the allocation method).

        However, it should be noted that an implementation of MMP with 78 single-member districts identical to the federal ridings would violate a provision of Quebec’s current electoral law, which explicitly defines the Magdalen Islands as a single-member National Assembly constituency; at the federal level they form part of the Gaspésie—Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine riding. Likewise, adopting Quebec’s existing federal ridings as the new National Assembly districts under MMP would merge several sparsely populated provincial districts which have been deliberately retained as single-member districts on account of the fact they cover vast territorial expanses, even though there is no legal requirement to that end.

        Meanwhile, an implementation of MMP with the province’s 75 FEDs in place between 2013 and 2012 would not be viable without extensive boundary changes, mainly north and northwest of Greater Montreal, where a number of contiguous FEDs would stand well above the maximum 25% electorate deviation, with the surrounding constituencies very close to that limit as well. In fact, Quebec’s own electoral representation commission (CRE) came across the same issue while carrying out the last provincial boundary review (redistricting). In the end, if MMP is implemented in Quebec – and earlier this year Premier Legault’s government appeared set to deliver on that promise – the new single-member districts may have to be different from the province’s current or past FEDs.

        Finally, and going beyond Quebec, current polls in Canada are once more suggesting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – whose government shelved electoral reform a few years ago, apparently out of fear of jeopardizing its comfortable parliamentary majority – could end up losing it all the same later this year. I cannot help but wonder if Trudeau’s ongoing woes have played a role in Premier Legault’s decision to forge ahead with electoral reform in Quebec.


  4. I see on the other end of the continuum some seats won by very large margins. Three seats >70% are liberal wins in the Montreal area: D’Arcy McGee, Jacques-Cartier and Robert-Baldwin. I suppose they are the most anglophone districts of Quebec?


    • Indeed, those three districts report the lowest percentages of people who speak French as their mother tongue. However, only in Jacques-Cartier does the majority speak English as the mother tongue; in the other two districts, there’s a plurality of allophones i.e. people who speak languages other than French or English as their mother tongue (mainly Arabic, Spanish and Italian). That said, in terms of first official language spoken, all three districts have large English-speaking majorities.

      Note that these and other socioeconomic statistics for all 125 election districts are available online here in both PDF and Excel formats; the linked page on Elections Quebec website is in English, but the reports are in French only. I must say that data proved very useful for a project I’m working on, concerning the seemingly impending electoral reform (and I say seemingly because – Monsieur Legault’s assurances notwithstanding – I’ll believe it when I see it). At any rate, more on that later.


  5. Update: the Quebec National Assembly unanimously (even the Liberals) adopted on April 3 a statement of principles:
    “THAT the Members of the National Assembly affirm that the following principles are essential to a truly democratic electoral system:
    The best possible representation of the popular vote (all Québec voters);
    The importance of a meaningful connection between voters and Members;
    Reflection of regions’ political weight;
    Government stability;
    The importance of a system that is accessible in practice and in our understanding of it;
    Better representation of women, young people and ethno-cultural communities.”

    For those who don’t speak French, the movement for PR has finally mounted an English website, where you can now read that
    “In Quebec, the reform of the voting system has been called for for more than 50 years. All parties have already taken a position at some point in their history in favour of reform. All the conclusions of the many popular consultations, general assemblies, parliamentary committees and even an opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec converge in favour of this reform.

    If the historical consensus of political parties is to hold to its conclusion, the population must get involved and demand that their elected representatives act.

    On May 9, 2018, four of the five main political parties in Quebec publicly announced the introduction by October 2019 of a bill to reform our voting system for a regional compensatory mixed member proportional model. A draft bill introduced by the government of the Quebec Liberal Party in 2004 also supported this approach.”


    • A Léger poll published last February showed CAQ had expanded its lead over the Liberals to twenty percentage points (42%-22%), with very little change for PQ (18%) or QS (15%). Moreover, last December CAQ won decisively (albeit on a low turnout) a by-election for the Roberval seat left vacant by former Premier and PLQ/QLP leader Philippe Couillard. Perhaps the Quebec Liberals have finally realized that FPTP is doing an enormous disservice to their supporters outside Montreal, whose votes translated into very few seats last October, and would in all likelihood produce even fewer mandates if the poll findings are accurate: under FPTP, a uniform swing on the basis of the cited poll numbers would give CAQ an overwhelming majority of 83-86 seats to 22-26 for PLQ/QLP; 8 for PQ; and 8-9 for QS.


  6. Pingback: Quebec to have electoral reform referendum | Fruits and Votes

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