Another election prediction

“Good predictions are only made by luck” (anonymous… nah, it’s me)

You would think that, given my ability at guessing the outcome of elections, I would have given up by now… Well, this time I think I am in good company, as I profess my uncertainty — no, utter bewilderment, as to what is about to happen. One thing is for sure, though — it makes for good drama. And to think that some people say that Canadian politics is boring…

It is really anybody’s guess, at this point, to figure out what the House of Commons will look like, that Canadians are about to elect next Monday. If polls are accurate even within a few percent, however (and they usually are), then a significant shift has taken place among the electorate, over the two and a half years since the last election.
I have already expressed in previous posts my dislike for the “first-past-the-post” electoral system in use in my adopted country, and if polls are anywhere close to reality, its unfairness and iniquity may well appear obvious and inescapable on Tuesday morning. If that should prompt serious electoral reform talk, it would surely be one positive outcome of the election, regardless of the composition of the House (in terms of seat assignments).

Because we do have the electoral system that we have, making any kind of prediction about seat allocation seems truly like shooting in the dark. There are huge fluctuations between the seat estimates for each party yielded by different polls; in some scenario (albeit possibly not the likeliest) the ruling Conservative Party could find itself with an absolute majority. However, yet another minority legislature seems the most probable outcome. In any case, I shall offer my prediction, below.
First, though, I would like to discuss the consensus that parties are receiving at the national level, again as assessed by the latest opinion polls. Not only are deviations among different polls much smaller, and trends much clearer in that case, they are also far more reliable.
And, I also happen to believe that the outcome of an election is expressed by those numbers, as they reflect the true ideological make-up of a country — not by the final House seat allocation, which is subjected to the whims and quirks of the particular electoral system.

Where do we stand ?
According to the latest polls, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), namely the one that has received the greatest share of the popular vote in the past two elections, is poised to retain its leading role, but without increasing substantially its consensus (between 37 and 38% is what it is projected to garner, compared to 37.7% in 2008). The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC), which was the leading party until 2006, and which picked Michael Ignatieff as its leader in 2009, following the party’s poor showing in the 2008 Federal election, seems headed toward another significant drop, from 26.3% to something around 21%. On the other hand, the left-wing New Democratic Party appears on the verge of achieving its best electoral result ever, possibly attaining a fraction of the popular vote in the neighbourhood of a stunning 30% (18.2% in 2008, 20.3% its best result thus far, in 1988). That would make the NDP the official opposition (and one of the strongest leftist parties in the western world), and indeed represent an unexpected, significant and remarkable public opinion shift.
To complete the picture, the Bloc Québécois (BQ) is predicted to receive between 5 and 6% of the popular vote, which would be a huge retreat from the 10% of 2008; equally disappointing a showing is predicted for the Green Party, which received a respectable 6.9% in 2008 but could lose as much as half of that, always according to the polls.

Where do I stand ?
As a left-leaning person, and NDP sympathizer, there is no question that I would be pleased by such an outcome, even if the allocation of seats should make it all a moot point. I am more interested in the long-term repercussions of a result which, to me, would unmistakably point to the desire of Canadians to re-adjust toward the center (which means, moving toward the left) the center-of-mass of the political spectrum, which has been steadily drifting to the right over the past half decade. It would, in particular, send a strong message to the LPC, whose decision of putting Ignatieff at the helm in 2009 may turn out to have been a poor one, and which may need to go through some serious soul searching, in order to redefine itself as a true centrist (not right-wing) party.
I would obviously be pleased (but not surprised) by the failure of the Conservatives to gain further traction; finally, as I also happen to like Canada the way it is, namely with the province of Québéc being part of it, I am pleased to see the separatist-minded BQ recede in the polls.

What kind of government ?
The following remarks prescind from the specific electoral system currently in use in Canada [0]. If the predictions of the polls were to be confirmed by the actual vote (i.e., within 2% the percentages for the main four parties were the ones given above), this would ostensibly show the lack of a clear-cut majority opinion in the country. That is quite normal — after all, people’s opinions are different, even those of same party voters. Based on this observation, one sees no reason to impart to the country’s next government any marked ideological connotation — based on what argument, criterion, legitimacy, would one pick a minority opinion, and turn that artificially into a majority ?
Any Prime Minister, anyone in charge of putting a cabinet together, will have to work with all parties, not just her own, draw from all opinions represented in the House, in order to reach the broadest consensus. Likewise, any government program or initiative will have to be the result of compromiseYes, even if the electoral system should arbitrarily assign a majority of seats to one of the parties. This is where the statesperson has to replace the “party executive”.

By the same token, each party and representative elected to the House has the moral duty to make the legislature work, and ensure that the country be given a functioning executive. That is not the same as saying that parties should form “coalitions” in order to arrive at a majority of seats. There is nothing wrong with a coalition per se, but it is important to agree on its premise. If a coalition of two or more parties reflects an underlying agreement of principle over a concrete government action plan, which a majority of Canadians are likely to support (as it draws from the platforms of different parties), it is one thing, and I do not see anything objectionable with it. But, if it boils down to two or three party leaders agreeing to divide among themselves the “cabinet pie”, assigning ministerial seats to their own party members, based on some more or less questionable criteria having little to do with what is good for the country, then there is a lot objectionable with it.

Enough blah blah blah, already, give me your prediction, now, you weasel…
All right, here we go. First, the ones that I may have a shot at getting right:
1) Conservatives maintain their number of seats, or lose a few. They remain the party in the House with most seats, but not a majority.
2) The Liberals lose approximately thirty seats, the BQ around ten, the NDP gains forty and becomes the official opposition.
3) Michael Ignatieff resigns from the LPC leadership on Tuesday morning.

OK, now I am going out on a limb:
CPC leader Stephen Harper will again act as if he had won a majority and as though the role of Prime Minister of yet another Conservative minority government had been bestowed upon him by the voters.
This time, however, things will go differently. Harper’s demonstrated inability to work with the opposition, and his utter contempt for (or perhaps lack of understanding of) basic rules of parliamentary democracy, together with the LPC coming to the realization that its hemorrhage of votes would be likely to continue under another Conservative minority government, will prompt the other three parties to take the step that they should have taken in early 2009 — form a coalition government.
The one that I had actually predicted but that never was, would have been headed by at-the-time LPC leader Stephane Dion (who may have been sacked too early…). The one that will happen will be headed by NDP leader Jack Layton.
Yes, I predict Layton to be the next Prime Minister. Wishful thinking ? Probably. If I jinx it, hey, you can blame me. Regardless, I shall be here to comment on the outcome and offer my lame insightful a posteriori explanation for why things went the way they did.


[0] A fair electoral system should yield a seat allocation in the House reflecting, to the extent to which it is possible, the ideological diversity of the country. In particular, no party with 38% of the popular vote should ever receive half (or more) of all seats.

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14 Responses to “Another election prediction”

  1. Darwin O'Connor Says:

    I suspect the distribution of seats from this election will be much closer to what it would be under PR then usual. Nevertheless, I think the shock will get the Liberals thinking seriously about electoral reform.

    I also think you are vastly underestimating the losses by the BQ. The NDP has 42% to 45% of the vote in Quebec. That’s enough to get a comfortable majority of the seats, even if the vote isn’t as high as expected.

    • Massimo Says:

      Well, 38% of the votes means 117, nowhere near 155 — every poll I have seen is giving the CPC between 130 and 160 seats…. As for the BQ, I am just going by the national polls (see the link in my post) — it’s quite possible that because the BQ is mostly strong in one province, things may go really badly for them in terms of seats. Percent-wise, I am not sure if they would lose so much more than that, it seems a huge amount already.

  2. Ontarian Says:

    With the NDP momentum I think that the voter turnout will be slightly greater than in previous years. However, a small fraction of Liberals will stay home. Many that normally vote Liberal will bleed to the NDP and a lesser extent to the Conservatives.

    In Quebec, the Bloc, Liberals and Conservatives will have significant losses to the NDP. In the rest of Canada, the vote splitting of Liberals and NDP will cause a Conservative majority with an NDP opposition.

    BQ loses at least 25 seats.
    Liberals lose at least 30 seats.
    Greens no change.
    NDP gain about 40.
    Conservatives get the difference.

    • Massimo Says:

      Conservatives get the difference.

      Hope not, ’cause then it’s a conservative majority. Opposition is de facto non-existent, at that point.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    I’m hoping for a high turn-out, first and foremost. That way the parliament we elect today will be as representative as possible under FPTP.

    I’m heartened by the ongoing opinion I’m hearing that even if Harper-bot wins another minority, he could fail to win the confidence of the house and a formal or informal coalition government could come to power. I found it interesting that he refused to answer the question about whether he would accept the Governor General’s ruling if this were to happen. Fingers and toes all crossed… perhaps we will have the joy of seeing Harper physically removed from office by the RCMP?! 😀

    • Massimo Says:

      Well, predicts a final seat allocation not too dissimilar from mine, although things according to them will not be as bad for the Liberals as I am predicting. Same basic scenario, though.
      I really do not know what would be the point of sending Harper back to being Prime Minister for the third time, given that we already know that he cannot, will not work with others — he does not even try, he seems to be saying “look, either you give me a majority, or I shall act as if I have one — just don’t ask me to compromise because I just can’t…”

      • Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

        I wonder if any other CPC MPs are as sick as we are of Harper’s ongoing refusal to work with the other parties? If he gets another minority and refuses to play nice, might there be a leadership challenge?

      • Massimo Says:

        That is where it gets confusing for me.
        My sense is that Harper’s (or maybe everyone’s) assumption has been all along that the “anomalous” BQ should prop whatever government is formed by the party that holds most seats, i.e., their votes should be counted in as “freebies” — because the sum of the votes of the BQ and of the CPC a majority, he feels entitled to refuse to work with others…

        There are a number of interesting scenarios that can take place. Say Harper has a minority, “seizes” the Prime Ministerial seat, forms a gov’t, which the opposition wants to bring down, this time with the LPC having picked already a new leader. Would proroguing work this time around ?

  4. Ontarian Says:

    Did I call the majority or what!? My numbers weren’t too bad either!

    I am glad we have a Conservative majority. I am very happy with the NDP as the official opposition. I am quite pleased that the under represented Greens finally got a seat. Most of all I am happy the Liberals and to a lesser extent the BQ both got crushed.

    So do the results suggest that, in the eyes of voters, the opposition parties should have tried to work with the Conservatives more??

    • Massimo Says:

      Yes, you did call something right but, just like me, underestimated both the collapse of the Liberals and of the BQ, as well as the inroads made by the NDP.

      I am glad we have a Conservative majority
      For a leftist like me, of course, it is difficult to rejoice with such an outcome. Objectively speaking, I see a majority as undeserved and unfair, and I would use the same adjectives if any other party with 40% of the popular votes obtained such a disproportionate number of seats. This is crazy, undemocratic, and I think it is high time for those who wish to see proportional representation to start seriously thinking of a grass root movement, because it is not the kind of change that will ever come from Ottawa. It is also particularly unsettling for me to see someone like Harper, who has no interest in reaching out to the opposition receive a majority on a night in which in terms of sheer consensus his party has barely moved. Of course, equally bizarre is that the Green Party should elect its first representative ever on the night it loses 50% of the votes…

      I am happy the Liberals and to a lesser extent the BQ both got crushed.
      I echo those sentiments. I am stunned at the nerve of Ignatieff who, unlike Duceppe, did not even have the decency of announcing that he is stepping down, as if this catastrophic result should not be interpreted as his own personal defeat and rejection on the part of the voters. I shall write more once I have the raw numbers. I just hope the Tories prove me wrong, because there is a lot to be very concerned about (the next four years are going to be very bad for science in Canada, I am afraid).

      • Ontarian Says:

        “Yes, you did call something right but, just like me, underestimated both the collapse of the Liberals and of the BQ, as well as the inroads made by the NDP. ”

        Nope. I just wasn’t brave enough to go with my real estimates. Note my use of ‘at least’ rather than ‘about’.

      • Ontarian Says:

        The worst thing about science in Canada is that we have a chiropractor for a science minister.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

        I’m sure you already know this, but he’s resigned now. I’m watching his resignation speech right now. He says he felt it was his duty as leader of the opposition to force an election when Harper was found in contempt; I agree 100% and still think it was the right thing to do. They just didn’t manage to convey to the electorate the significance of the contempt ruling…

      • Massimo Says:

        I think it’s a red herring.
        Look, he was not a good leader, simple as that. He does not understand Canadian politics, nor the Liberal Party in many respects. He made a colossal mistake not to go with the coalition two years ago. He said “Harper, your time is up !” in September 2009, but as soon as he was told that polls did not look good, he quietly took it back. I think he felt that he could just walk in and capture the imagination of Canadians as the visionary outsider whose best credential consists of being recognized in the US. But what “vision” did he provide ?

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