Canada 2021: Another good night for the Seat Product Model, and another case of anomalous FPTP

The 2021 Canadian federal election turned out almost the same as the 2019 election. Maybe voters just really do not want to entrust Justin Trudeau with another majority government, as he led from 2015 to 2019. The early election, called in an effort to turn the Liberal plurality into a Liberal majority, really changed almost nothing in the balance among parties.

The result in terms of the elected House of Commons is strikingly close to what we expect from the Seat Product Model (SPM). Just as it was in 2019. The predictive formulas of the SPM suggest that when your electoral system is FPTP and there are 338 total seats, the largest one should win 48.3% of the seats, or about 163. They further suggest that the effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) should be around 2.64. In the actual result–with five districts still to be called–the largest party, Liberal, has won or is leading in 159, or 47.0%., and NS=2.78. These results are hardly different from expected. They also are hardly different from 2019, when the Liberals won 157 seats; in that election we had NS=2.79.

While the parliamentary balance will be almost what the SPM expects, the voters continue to vote as if there were a proportional system in place. The largest party again has only around a third of the votes, and the effective number of vote-earning parties (NV) is around 3.8. For a FPTP system in a House the size of Canada’s, we should expect NV=3.04. Once again, the fragmentation of the vote continues to be considerably greater than expected.

Another bit of continuity from 2019 is the anomalous nature of FPTP in the current Canadian party votes distribution. For the second election in a row, the Conservative Party has won more votes than the Liberals, but will be second in seats. The votes margin between the two parties was about the same in the two elections, even though both parties declined a little bit in votes in 2021 compared to 2019. Moreover, as also has happened in 2019 (and several times before that), the third largest party in votes will have considerably fewer seats than the party with the fourth highest vote share nationwide. The NDP won 17.7% of the vote and 25 seats (7.4%), while the Bloc Quebecois, which runs only in Quebec, won 7.8% of vote and 33 seats (9.8%).

The Green Party and the People’s Party (PPC) more or less traded places in votes: Greens fell from 6.5% in 2019 to 2.3%, while the PPC increase from 1.6% to 5.0%. But the Greens’ seats fell only from 3 to 2, while the PPC remained at zero.

So, as in 2019, the 2021 election produced a good night for the Seat Product Model in terms of the all-important party balance in the elected House of Commons. However, once again, Canadians are not voting as if they still had FPTP. They are continuing to vote for smaller parties at a rate higher than expected–and not only in districts such parties might have a chance to win–and this is pushing down the vote share of the major parties and pushing up the overall fragmentation of the vote, relative to expectations for the very FPTP system the country actually uses.

It is worth adding that the virtual stasis at the national level masks some considerable swings at provincial level. Éric Grenier, at The Writ, has a table of swings in each province, and a discussion of what it might mean for the parties’ electoral coalitions. A particularly interesting point is that the Conservatives’ gains in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, balanced by vote loss in Alberta and other parts of the west, mirrors the old Progressive Conservative vs. Reform split. Current leader Erin O’Toole’s efforts to reposition the party towards the center may explain these regional swings.

In a follow up, I will explore what this tendency towards vote fragmentation implies for the sort of electoral system that would suit how Canadians actually are voting.

Below are the CBC screen shots of election results for 2021 and 2019. As of Thursday afternoon, there remain a few ridings uncalled.

9 thoughts on “Canada 2021: Another good night for the Seat Product Model, and another case of anomalous FPTP

  1. Pingback: What electoral system should Canada have? | Fruits and Votes

  2. If the Canadian party fragments more, then what happens to the vote to seat translation? Canada seems to be a country that will just tough out using FPTP despite bizarre results, could there be an election in the future like 1984? What would a preferential vote system do to the party system?


  3. As I commented on the other post, one should focus on the district level to really see the extent to which Canadians vote as if Canada had PR. One aspect of that is controlling for regional parties, which people might be voting for in very FPTP fashion, only at the district level, so it’s important to show that this is ultimately not the case either.

    Secondly, though, there’s also the rather non-Duvergerian vote-winning pattern of the Conservative Party, which is still winning by vast margins in and around Alberta and thereby wasting millions of votes. These would not have been a problem for the party under PR. Under PR a bigger margin means more seats. Under FPTP, not just small or losing party votes are wasted – under plurality, any vote in excess of the runner up+1 is effectively a wasted vote. Highlighting this to Conservative voters and politicians should be central to Canadian reformists’ PR campaign (pun intended).


    • I already addressed why I would not use district Nv in earlier posts and also in a comment on the later one. “All politics is national,” even under FPTP.

      As for the Conservatives and wasted votes, and Duverger, yeah, definitely. This should be the pitch to Conservative voters, especially in Alberta and the Prairies. I recall the old Reform Party was pro-PR, at least initially. Bring back that old Reform feeling!


      • Is all politics national if it’s not all one nation?

        Anyway, I didn’t raise this to argue about the finer points of logical modelling (which I’m far from understanding fully at any rate). All I’m saying is that Duvergerians (armed with Riker’s commentary on Riker) would say something like “oh, but that’s because Canada has regional parties. Duverger is still right.” Just producing the district-level Nv should be an easy way of proving them wrong.


      • Using “nation” as country. I addressed the finer points of this matter—whether it was necessary to separate out Quebec in the modeling— in the other thread (on what kind of electoral system Canada “should” have).

        As for the Duvergerians, of course they’d say that. It’s their mantra. But they’d be wrong—on their own terms.


    • The allure of winning an overall majority on a plurality of votes under FPTP is just too great to be overcome. Again, consider the case of the Scottish Conservatives, who remained for long opposed to PR – even though it was their lifeline to Parliament – because they clung to the view their electoral misfortunes were but a temporary setback, and that eventually they would not need PR to succeed. However, all they have accomplished is a modest recovery since 2016.

      Also, while it is true that under FPTP votes above those polled by the runner-up plus one are wasted, election rules vest considerable value in the higher recount threshold, since overcoming the latter might conceal issues that could overturn the outcome, as those would only come to light during a recount.


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  5. Pingback: Canada confidence-and-supply agreement, and irresponsible opposition | Fruits and Votes

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