A Conservative majority? Not so fast.

Like most Canadians, I am disappointed at the results of yesterday’s election.

But wait! Didn’t the Conservatives win a large majority? How can I say that “most Canadians” don’t support this?

1. Seats vs. popular vote.
The parliamentary system plus first-past-the-post contests in each riding means that a majority government (more than half of the available seats) can easily be obtained without gaining a majority of the popular vote. What matters is how the votes are spread among the ridings and especially whether there is splitting of votes allowing candidates of one party to win in many ridings.

Here is a breakdown of the national results (from Elections Canada):

Conservative popular vote: 39.6%
NDP popular vote: 30.6%
Liberal popular vote: 18.9%
Left (NDP + Liberal + Green) popular vote: 53.4%

The difference between the Conservatives with a large majority of seats vs. the NDP with 65 fewer seats was 9% in the popular vote. The percentage of voters who support right-wing policy is less than 40% whereas the percentage supporting left (including far left) is over 50%.

Also, consider how little popular support for the Conservatives has changed even after 5 years in power and through 3 elections.

2006: 36.3% (minority)
2008: 37.6% (minority)
2011: 39.6% (majority)

NO MAJORITY in terms of popular vote.

2. Riding-by-riding in Ontario.
The Conservatives, like everyone besides the NDP, fared quite poorly in Quebec. As expected, they did very well in the western provinces. What really made the difference was their success in gaining seats in Ontario. Does this signify a major shift in political leanings in Ontario toward the right?

Again, here is the popular vote breakdown for Ontario (from Elections Canada):

Conservatives: 44.4%
NDP + Liberal: 50.9%

But our system doesn’t work by counting the popular vote. What matters is the number of individual seats won. That’s why I looked at the raw data riding-by-riding for Ontario and compared the total votes for victorious Conservative candidates versus the sum of their NDP and Liberal opponents.

Number of ridings that would have been won (quite handily in most cases) by NDP+Liberal in Ontario: 28.

One of the Conservative candidates who would have lost (by 3800 votes) is John Baird.

Taking just this result from Ontario and leaving everything else the same elsewhere nationally, the seat breakdown would look like this:

Conservatives: 139
NDP + Liberal: 164

In other words, changing nothing at all except considering the total votes received by NDP and Liberal candidates together in each riding — only in Ontario — would have been a majority parliament of left-wing members.

NO MAJORITY in terms of riding-by-riding support.

The electoral system needs to be fixed. Proportional representation would go a long way towards providing a proper reflection of actual support regionally and nationally. A merger of the NDP and Liberal parties is another option (“Link the Left!”) to lessen the huge discrepancy between popular support and number of seats. For the moment, however, we — meaning a majority of Canadians — can only hope that the Conservatives look at more than just total seat count when they move ahead with their new “mandate” from the population.

4 comments to A Conservative majority? Not so fast.

  • khms

    … or you could combine the two systems, as in German national elections. Essentially, everyone has two votes, one for the local seat, and one for a “list” – that is, a prepared, ordered (usually state-wide, not national) list of candidates from a party. Then, we attempt to supplement the elected seats with people from the lists to make the whole mess proportional. Strike everything below 5%, aeats for the rest. (The rules are a more complicated, but that is the general idea.) Great hilarity ensues if a party wins enough seats directly that it gets nobody from the list, and some important candidates did NOT get elected directly …


  • Mike from Ottawa

    we — meaning a majority of Canadians — can only hope that the Conservatives look at more than just total seat count when they move ahead with their new “mandate” from the population.
    We might hope, but not realistically.  Harper will claim a “mandate from the Canadian people”.  The one constraint will be his hopes for a second majority.  I like a degree of corruption in those I differ from politically.


  • S. Malveau

    If the Liberals and the NDP merge, there may be some large number of Liberals who will not be happy to move further to the left and will move to the Conservatives. 
    Be careful what you wish for.


  • D

    Worth noting that Jean Chretien led three majority Liberal governments on 41.3, 38.8 and 40.8% of the popular vote.


Leave a Reply to Mike from Ottawa




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>