Sans Everything is a Canadian blog but a large chunk of our readers are not lucky enough to be live in the great, white north. So I’ve written up an analysis of the recent, very complicated, election, trying to explain what just happened:
1. The Conservatives have won a second minority government in a row but their actual electoral strength is low: In 2006 they got 36.24% of the vote for 124 seats; this time they have 37.64% of the vote for 143 seats. (You need 155 seats to form a majority government).
2. The reason they’ve won a plurality in both 2006 and 2008 is that our parliamentary system (like England, the mother-country) often creates false majorities and overinflated pluralities, especially if there are many parties in play. In Canada, the Conservatives have benefited from the fact that the left is divided into four other parties (the center-left Liberals, the social democratic NDP, the environmentalists Greens and the French-Canadian nationalist Bloc Quebecois). With a divided left, the Conservatives are able to govern a country where more than 60% of the population voted against them. Matt Yglesias has some sharp comments on this.
3. It should be kept in mind that in order to win this election, Harper has had to considerably temper his conservatism, so much so that if he were running in the United States he would be considered a left liberal: the Conservative party has agreed that social issues should be off the table (i.e., abortion and gay marriage should remain legal), that the government should be spending more on health and education (per capita the Conservatives are a spending more than the last Liberal government), that Quebec should be recognized as a “nation”, and that Canadian troops should be out of Afghanistan by 2011. Nor is there any push to bring back the death penalty. The only really “right-wing” policies the Conservatives have are slight cuts to arts funding and tougher sentencing of young offenders: both those policies proved to be very unpopular in Quebec, where the Conservatives failed to pick up a single seat. I have to say, the left parties were rather demagogic in constantly trying to link Harper to Bush, and I think they’d have been better off stressing the fact that Harper has adopted a McCain-like do-nothing “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” approach to the global financial crisis.
4. Of the four left-of-center parties, the Liberals suffered the most: unlike the Greens and the NDP their share of the vote dropped markedly (from 30.23% in 2006 to 26.23% now). Part of the problem is that Stephen Dion was a very uncharismatic politician: think Michael Dukakis or Walter Mondale, but with a tendency to mumble. It’s a shame really, because Dion is actually a very thoughtful man, a policy wonk at heart, and he’s done good work in pushing his party to adopt a stronger environmentalist stance. If Dion resigns, as is widely expected, the Liberals will have a leadership race and he could be replaced by either Bob Rae (a former social democrat) or Michael Ignatieff (who many on this list will know).
As against the Liberal rout, both the NDP and the Greens increased their share of overall vote, although with our parliamentary system both remain under-represented in terms of seats in Parliament (the Greens radically so: they got 7% of the votes and no seats).
5. As mentioned in an earlier post, voter turnout is at an all time low in Canada: 59%, as against 64% in the last election and 70%-plus in the elections of the 1970s and 1980s. Again, this voter apathy is not unrelated, I think to the fact that the parliamentary system creates perverse results, so the population feels their votes don’t count.
In fact, in terms of the absolute number of votes, the only party that saw an increase was the Greens. As the National Post notes.
With voter turnout dropping to just 59.1%, the Conservatives, Liberals, Bloc and NDP all won their seats with fewer voters casting ballots in their favour. Indeed, 849,425 fewer voters backed the Grits this time, 168,737 fewer supported the Tories, 75,522 voted for the NDP and 173,636 backed the Bloc. The only party to reverse this trend were the Greens, who received 276,679 more votes than in 2006.
Yet, despite the increase in votes, the Greens failed to gain a single seat. Again, illustrating the perversity of the current system.