My Early Musings on #elxn41

So, the 41st Canadian Federal Election is now passed into history, with some results that are simply described as historic. Conservative Stephen Harper finally won his long coveted majority government, winning 167 of the 308 seats in the Canadian House of Commons with 39.6% of the popular vote. The Bloc Quebecois was all but extirpated, wining just 4 seats as Quebec voters shifted their support to the New Democratic Party primarily. This was the shocker – the NDP for the first time becomes the Official Opposition, winning 102 seats and 30.6% of the popular vote. The Liberal Party of Michael Ignatieff was walloped as well, falling to just 34 seats with 18.9% of the popular vote. Another interesting twist, the Green Party’s leader, Elizabeth May, won her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, giving them their first ever seat in Parliament.

Not shockingly, as is the custom in Canadian politics, both Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc resigned. Neither of them won their seats, either, so it is fairly safe to say their Canadian political careers are more or less over.

It seems the results shocked a lot of people – it certainly surprised me because I had figured most of the polls I was watching were fairly accurate, and they were suggesting a Conservative minority. That to me was probably the only palatable option.

This election seems to be an excellent demonstration of why the First-Past-The-Post system isn’t great, but it is worth reminding Canadians upset about the results that the last time a Canadian election was won by a leader who got more than 50% of the popular vote was in 1958 when John Diefenbaker was re-elected. Even Pierre Trudeau never got over that hurdle. The popular vote is essentially irrelevant, it’s where the votes are cast that mattered. In the 40th Parliament, for example, the NDP had double the Bloc’s share of popular vote count in the 2008 Federal Election, yet 11 fewer seats. While the Greens took almost 4% of the popular vote they got one seat of 308.

I used to think that FPTP was great because it allowed for majorities that could actually “get things done”, but I think they as parties become more polarized, the sort of “permanent minority government” status that some form of proportional representation would create is becoming more attractive to me. It is the fear of this that had Stephen Harper’s attack ad machine cranking out the fear of coalitions, because if Canadians came to believe they worked, then Harper’s Conservatives, who lie to the right of the ideas of most Canadians, would never, ever be able to get a majority.

With his majority, Harper will probably get to work right away on his priorities, passing the budget introduced before the election and a series of law and order bills which contain some ideas that, having been failures in the US already, are idiotic. Things like building new prisons when crime rates are falling don’t make a lot of sense. I don’t see a bright future for Canada under a Conservative majority sadly (or under any majority, for that matter), so hopefully I’ll be proven a pessimist. In the meantime, I’m going to start dusting off all the stuff I have about PR systems, and get involved in consigning FPTP to history.

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2 comments so far

  1. Radical Centrist on

    Brian Mulroney’s PCs got just over 50% of the popular vote in 1984. And rather than “permanent minority government”, I prefer to think PR leads to “permanent coalition majority government” because it would force parties into coalitions, and probably see a lot of political realignment because of that – no more big tent parties.

    • warriorbanker on

      You’re right about Mulroney – I got bad info, though it was still very close! Mea culpa!


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