Earnscliffe Election Insights Issue #9

Earnscliffe Election Insights Issue #9

Canadians elect a Liberal minority government

  • With 157 seats, the Liberals are 13 short of a majority of 170, and now hold 20 fewer seats than they had at the dissolution of the last parliament.
  • The Conservatives won 121, 26 seats ahead of where they stood previously.
  • The big winner of the night was the Bloc Quebecois, who will bring 32 seats to Ottawa, up from 10 before the election.
  • The Bloc also jumped from fourth place to third, ahead of the NDP, who lost 15 seats to stand at 24.
  • Despite beginning the election campaign with high hopes of duelling with the NDP for third place, the Greens elected only one additional MP in New Brunswick.
  • The Peoples’ Party of Canada failed to elect any MPs and leader Maxime Bernier lost his seat in Quebec.
  • One independent MP was elected, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal justice minister who broke with the prime minister over the SNC-Lavalin issue and resigned from cabinet earlier this year.

Voter turnout and “efficiency” of the vote

A record 17.89 million Canadians went to the polls yesterday for a turnout of 66 per cent, close to the 68 per cent who voted in 2015.

The Conservatives won the popular vote with 34.4 per cent. The Liberals will form government with 33.04 per cent, the lowest proportion of the vote for a governing party in Canadian history. Due to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system and the efficiency of their vote, the Liberals’ 33 per cent garnered them 46.45 per cent of the seats in Parliament, which is the most distorted election outcome we have ever seen.

The NDP followed with 15.91 per cent of the popular vote, the Bloc polled 7.7 per cent, the Greens, 6.5 per cent and the Peoples’ Party trailed with 1.64 per cent.

Another way to look at the numbers is to focus on the votes for the various parties yesterday in comparison to the 2015 results.  Yesterday, the Bloc vote grew by 556,000 votes over 2015 and the Conservatives increased their support by 540,000 votes.  Yesterday, the Liberals had 789,000 fewer votes over their 2015 result and NDP support was reduced by 623,000. These are substantial changes in voter preference.

What happens next?

With a total of 157 seats and 36 seats more than the Conservatives, the Liberals have a “strong” minority. The NDP’s 24 seats combined with the Liberals’ seats total 181, well past the majority threshold of 170.  This means that the NDP’s progressive policy positions make it the logical governing partner for the Liberals. In his speech last night, Justin Trudeau gave no hints as to how he might proceed in forming a government, but NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he expected to be speaking to the prime minister shortly.

When the two talk, they will be seeking an agreement on how to work together to ensure that the government can secure and maintain confidence in the House of Commons.  The three most recent minorities—Paul Martin’s and the two of Stephen Harper—proceeded on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis, meaning that the government negotiates support from one or several other parties for its Throne Speech, budget and major pieces of legislation.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Singh could also agree on a more formal relationship through a written agreement in which the Liberals would adopt certain specific policies of the NDP in exchange for NDP support for the government’s Throne Speech, budget and major legislation. A recent example of such potential collaboration can be found in British Columbia’s Confidence and Supply Agreement between the B.C. NDP and Greens, which currently enables a stable, functioning minority government in B.C.

In working out an agreement, there are some obvious elements of common ground where the leaders could start. With some differences in approach, the two parties promised to reduce cellphone bills.  The Liberals promised enhancements for student loans, while the NDP called for the waiving of interest on student loans. The Liberals promised tweaks to the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive and a national tax on vacant residential properties; the NDP want major investments in housing.  The NDP have called for the introduction of “super wealth” tax and the Liberals could be open to that.

Forming a cabinet

A government with so little representation from Winnipeg to Vancouver necessarily raises issues of legitimacy in the minds of many Western Canadians. In addition, the resurgence of the Bloc will make Ottawa-Quebec City relations more tense than they have been for many years. The array of Conservative provincial governments across the country may feel emboldened to “charge the fences” against Ottawa as well.

It will take some days and weeks for the depth and the focus of the regional alienation tensions that were unlocked by this most unusual federal election result to become obvious.  As a first order of business, Mr. Trudeau must mend fences with Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, who he pilloried during the election as surrogates for Andrew Scheer.

Mr. Trudeau will face some serious challenges in choosing a cabinet. In addition to addressing the obvious federal-provincial tensions, he must address the clear rebuke he received from voters and regions last night. Also, Liberal MPs were overwhelmingly elected from city and suburban seats, so how will the prime minister ensure rural representation in his cabinet?

The Liberals were shut out in the resource-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and he also lost his supremely-experienced minister, Ralph Goodale, who has been a western mainstay of Liberal governments dating back to Jean Chretien in the 1990s. The PM must therefore find some creative way of including representatives of these two provinces in his government. Appointment to the Senate is the obvious option, but that would require the prime minister to abandon the new independent appointment process his government created in its first term.

How will the new Parliament work?

by Yaroslav Baran

Parliamentary dynamics are very different in a minority setting, compared with a majority environment where the government knows it can ultimately get its way by force of numbers.  The primary manifestation is in committees, where the Liberals will not have the numbers to control the direction of proceedings.  This has several practical dimensions:

  • Legislative progress may be even slower than it was under the last parliament, as the majority of committee members may not be cooperative with the government’s agenda nor seeking to expedite it;
  • The Opposition majority on committees will be empowered to offer alternative avenues of work that conflict with the government’s agenda or work to erode the government’s brand; and
  • Committees tend to be the locus of parliamentary inquiries, given their freedom to open any studies they wish within their policy sphere, and given their theoretically unlimited legal authority to subpoena people and papers.

Click here to read Yaroslav’s full piece.

The View from Alberta: Time to listen to the West

By Monte Solberg

Albertans sent an unmistakable message last night by crushing every Liberal candidate in the province. In almost every case they voted emphatically against the Liberals and, in huge numbers, for the Conservatives. In 2015, Kent Hehr won Calgary Centre for the Liberals by 700 votes. Last night he lost it by 16,000 votes. The provincial popular vote totals speak volumes about the depth of Alberta’s frustration with Justin Trudeau’s record. Conservatives received a staggering 69.2% of the vote, 10 percentage points higher than the polls indicated. The Liberals limped in at 13.7%. The NDP managed just 11.5%.

There was good news for the NDP though. They saved the only seat they held, Edmonton Strathcona, otherwise every seat in Alberta turned Conservative blue.

So, now that Albertans have that out of their system, what comes next?

Click here to read Monte’s full piece.

The nature of minorities

Over the past 56 years, voters have elected federal minority governments on seven separate occasions in Canada, so we have significant experience in how they work:

  • Minority governments have short lifespans. Only once in Canadian history has a minority government lasted a full four-year term.  The average duration of the recent Martin and Harper minorities was 22 months.
  • Minority governments tend strongly to be volatile and partisan. Political positioning of the parties and their day-to-day strategies are motivated by partisan interests; in a sense, the campaign continues. Since an election can happen at any time, political parties remain on a “war footing”
  • The government’s agenda will be scaled back to the essentials and these will be viewed through an intensely political lens. Once the Cabinet has been appointed, the government’s first budget will the crucible where major program directions are set, and spending and taxation decisions are made.
  • Because of the difficulties involved in getting legislation though the House of Commons, minority governments tend to prefer to use regulation to pursue their policy objectives. In the new government, several major sectors of the economy will be facing a host of substantial regulatory changes.
  • The stability of all minorities is significantly influenced by standing of the leaders, the financial health of the parties and their appetite for an early election. After a bruising and divisive campaign, no party is likely to be urging early election, at least until party coffers have been replenished. This reticence likely works in favour of the government, at least until a year has passed.
  • In this new minority government, public affairs advocacy will be immensely more complicated. In addition to the government, the NDP will be a new major player as with the standing committees of the House and, in addition, the Senate.

Winners and losers

Yesterday’s results have given each leader wins to celebrate and losses to mourn.

Mr. Trudeau lost his majority just as his father did in 1972, but his minority is much larger and more secure, with a lead of 36 over the second-place Conservatives, as opposed to the two-seat margin Pierre Trudeau won over Robert Stanfield.

With the challenges Mr. Trudeau faced after four years in office, many Conservatives will believe Andrew Scheer should have done much better in this election, but his party returns with an increase of 26 seats, a significant improvement. His party ran a campaign that did little more than cater to its base and faces real challenges in developing a program that will expand its accessible pool of voters.

After fighting an inspired campaign and performing well in the debates, Jagmeet Singh failed to capitalize on his momentum.  His party was all but wiped out in Quebec and lost seats throughout the country.  That said, the NDP was virtually written off for dead at the start of the campaign and emerges from the election as a strong and cohesive unit with an energized leader. In his election night speech, Mr. Singh promised to use the NDP’s new position as the balance of power to fight for his party’s program.

By any measure, the Bloc Quebecois was the hands-down winner yesterday, winning 32 seats and hurting the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP into the bargain.  Leader Jean-Yves Blanchet essentially made a bargain to ensure his party’s success: instead of championing sovereignty, he placed all his emphasis on the more saleable and popular rhetoric of Quebec nationalism.  In doing so, he turned his party into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Quebec’s provincial government, the Coalition avenir Quebec.

This was supposed to the Greens’ breakthrough election but that promise never materialized.  Elizabeth May and her party wilted under the early-campaign scrutiny of the media and voters and never recovered.  Their platform had significant holes, accounting errors and huge uncertainties.  The addition of only one seat to the Greens’ two-member caucus is huge disappointment, which will likely lead to Ms. May’s early retirement.

The Peoples’ Party of Canada began as a vanity project for Maxime Bernier, the long-time Conservative MP who chafed at his narrow loss to Andrew Scheer in the Conservative leadership.  Mr. Bernier’s populist program was anti-immigrant and questioned many of Canadians’ core values, attracting hard right-wing and populist support.  With Mr. Bernier’s defeat yesterday, the future of his party is in doubt. They may not have elected any MPs, but they raised a lot of money, so they may be around for a while.

Finally, several important and well-known names will not be returning to the next House Commons:

  • Ralph Goodale was defeated in Regina-Wascana last night after spending 31 years as an MP and serving in numerous high-profile positions in the cabinets of Pierre Trudeau, Paul Martin and Justin Trudeau. He was a calm voice of experience and good judgement and will be sorely missed as the Trudeau government adjusts to life in a minority.
  • Lisa Raitt lost her seat in Milton, which is a huge blow to the Conservatives. After serving in several senior cabinet positions in the Harper government, she contested the Conservative leadership won by Andrew Scheer and he named her his Deputy Leader.  In the Conservative Caucus, she was a key spokesperson for the progressive side of the party, which will be key in expanding its base beyond its current limited reach.
  • Amarjeet Sohi lost his bid to return as an MP and cabinet minister. As the senior minister for Alberta, he was pivotal in explaining the government’s resource and pipeline policies in western Canada.
  • Jane Philpott was not successful in returning to the House as an independent. After being a senior minister in the Trudeau government, she resigned over the prime minister’s treatment of Judy Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin issue.
  • Ruth-Ellen Brosseau of the NDP lost in Quebec. After being a much-ridiculed placeholder candidate for her party in 2011, she turned herself into an accomplished parliamentarian and major player in the NDP caucus as critic for Agriculture and Agri-Food and deputy NDP caucus chair.