“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 . 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 compromise — Yes, 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.
 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.