On coalitions in Canadian parliament.

Listening to current Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeat the Conservative talking point that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois will form a coalition if the Conservatives earn only a minority government yet again after the election in May. It’s amazing how on-message the Conservatives have become already: “reckless coalition”, “illegitimate coaltion”, “unstable coalition”, “undemocratic coalition”.

First of all, a coalition government is perfectly legitimate within a parliamentary system. Second, remember that Harper prorogued parliament to prevent his party from losing power, which is unprecedented in Canadian history.  Third, let’s look again at the results from the previous election and ask, would a coalition between the Liberals and NDP go against the votes of the Canadian electorate?

As indicated by the popular vote totals, there is little support for the claim that a coalition government between the Liberal and NDP parties in Canada would be undemocratic.

However, this represents a very rough analysis because the Canadian system, like many others, is a first-past-the-post process in which the candidate with the most votes is elected regardless of the margin.

In order to reveal the desire of the electorate more realistically, it is necessary to consider the total votes in each riding rather than at the national scale. I decided to see what would have happened in the latest election had the Liberal and NDP candidates run jointly in each riding from the outset by summing their respective votes on a riding by riding level. I compared only the major parties, meaning that I did not include any votes from the Green Party, independents, or fringe parties in the new totals. Data were acquired from Elections Canada and only verified final results were analyzed.

The actual election results were (number of seats):

  • Conservative: 143
  • Liberal: 77
  • Bloc Qubecois: 49
  • NDP: 37
  • Independent: 2

Now, taking each riding individually and adding the Liberal and NDP votes received, we note the following changes:

  • Conservatives would have lost 30 ridings to Liberal+NDP and retained 113.
  • Bloc Quebecois would have lost 9 ridings to Liberal+NDP and retained 40.

The new election results, if we count each riding by itself but combine the voters who chose either Liberal or NDP, are then:

  • Liberal+NDP: 153
  • Conservative: 113
  • Bloc Quebecois: 40
  • Independent: 2

We can’t assume that the election would have turned out exactly like this with combined parties (it would depend on the candidate, party leader, etc.). Nevertheless, this gives a reasonable estimate of what voters wanted in terms of representation. In other words, the election results, whether analyzed by popular vote nationally or riding by riding, clearly refute the claim that a coalition of the Liberal and NDP would contradict the expressed will of voters.


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