Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Deviation from Proportionality in the 2011 Election

So once again Canada finds itself with a majoirty government elected by a distincly non-majority number of voters. We`ve been here before, of course, but being here again merely serves to remind us of the degree to which our electoral system produces disproportionality.

The simplest way to calculate deviation from proportionality is to take, for each party, the difference between total percent of votes and total percent of seats. Then you add the differences together and divide by two.

For 2011, this gives us a number of 0.17. This compares unfavourably with 0.14 for 2008, 0.13 for 2006 and 0.14 for 2004, and matched the 0.17 of 2000 exactly, suggesting of course that a minority government is likely to be more proportional than a majority. But let's face it - these numbers are pretty similar.

And pretty deceptive, too, as it turns out. 2011 is unique not only in being the first federal election perhaps ever where the NDP have actually gotten a higher percentage of seats than votes but also being the first election in which the BQ didn't, and the first in as far back as I care to look when the Liberals didn't. Seeing the Liberals on the losing end of FPTP disproportionality is a real shock.

The thing is, though, that this not-bad 0.17 number is largely a question of luck. When the same quotient is calculated for each province, it turns out that the federal total is more proportional than the results for every province except two. How is that even possible? Well, it's largely an accidental balance of disproportionalities: the NDP get a disproportionately high number of seats in Québec and the Conservatives a disproportionately low number, but these values are inverted for most of the rest of the country, so there's a kind of correction happening. Said differently, the 30.6% of the vote that went NDP and the 33.4% of the seats that did may seem quite similar, but they're located in very different parts of the country.

Party-by-party, the disproportionality looks like this:
  • The Conservatives got 14.3% more seats than votes.
  • The NDP got 2.8% more seats than votes.
  • The Liberals got 7.9% fewer seats than votes.
  • The BQ got 4.7% fewer seats than votes.
  • The Green Party got 3.6% fewer seats than votes.
 I realise I haven't really worded that properly: the difference in percentage points between the percent of votes that the Conservatives got nationwide and the percentage of seats that they got nationwide is 14.3. For the BQ in particular, that masks the overall difference, since they didn't run in what is effectively the vast majority of ridings. For that, we need to look at the results by province, from best to worst:
  1. Nova Scotia, with a DV score of 0.07. This is surprising, in that the party that came third in votes tied for first in seats: not a shining example of proportionality, really. But individual errors fail to hide the fact that Nova Scotia remains a roughly even three-way split, reflected both in their seat tallies and their overall votes, this time out.
  2. British Columbia, with a DV of 0.13. It's not just that BC is the only place where the Greens got any seats at all - after all, the Greens' individual DV for BC was second-worst of all the provinces (since they got a higher overall share of votes). The NDP were remarkable here, with 33.3% of seats for 32.5% of the vote. The remaining deviation, as we'll see elsewhere, was the Conservatives getting seats at the Liberals' expense.
  3. Newfoundland & Labrador, with a DV of 0.19. Already we're above the national average, but we ain't seen nothin' yet. Newfoundland bucked the national trend, giving the Liberals 37.9% of their vote and 57.1% of their seats. This is more or less the national trend inverted, as the Liberals benefit from the disproportionality to the Conservatives' expense. Though I doubt they're complaining about that too much.
  4. Ontario, with a DV of 0.24. How quickly things are getting bad now: The seat count is 24.5% up on its overall vote, and the Liberals' is short by 14.9%. The NDP came closest to the mark than they tend to do in Ontario, but still this is an embarrassment. And it's still 'better than average'.
  5. Manitoba, with a DV of 0.25. Similar to Ontario overall, but with a ten percent boost in both columns for the Conservatives: over half of the vote, over three-quarters of the seats. That difference of 25% was taken from the other three parties, each in rather painful amounts.
  6. Alberta, with a DV of 0.29. It's a strange country where fully four provinces could do worse on proportionality than Alberta, where the Conservatives got 96.4% of the seats. That came from 66.8% of the vote, a number much lower than the first one but still amazingly high. The other one-third of the vote got a single seat out of the bargain.
  7. Prince Edward Island, with a DV of 0.34. This should be the benchmark for disproportionality: the party that got 75% of the seats didn't even win the overall vote, getting fewer votes than the party that got the other 25% of seats. But its very size, and the fact that the whole province is merely four ridings, means its disproportionality tends to get overlooked. Plus, there are three provinces worse.
  8. Québec, with a DV of 0.35, shows the phenomenon of the 'winner's bonus' in a FPTP system. Well, it pretty much always has: down the years, the party that 'wins' Québec wins big. After this paragraph is a list of the 'winner's bonus' given in Québec down the years to one of four different parties since 1980. This time, of course, it's the NDP who threw the numbers completely out of whack, with a seat count 35.8% higher than their vote percentage. All other parties suffered at the NDP's hands in Québec, worst of all the BQ, who walked away with a measly 5.3% of seats from 23.4% of the vote.
    1. 1980: The Liberals win 98.7% of the seats with 68.2% of the vote.
    2. 1984: The PCs win 77.3% of the seats with 50.2% of the vote.
    3. 1988: The PCs win 84.0% of the seats with 52.7% of the vote.
    4. 1993: The BQ win 72.0% of the seats with 49.3% of the vote.
    5. 1997: The BQ win 58.7% of the seats with 37.9% of the vote (just 1.2% higher than the Liberals).
    6. 2000 is the exception: the Liberals got 48.0% of the seats, fewer than the BQ, with 44.2% of the vote: indicating that the 'winner's bonus' decreases if the race is close.
    7. 2004: The BQ win 72.0% of the seats with 48.9% of the vote.
    8. 2006: The BQ win 68.0% of the seats with 42.1% of the vote.
    9. 2008: The BQ win 65.3% of the seats with 38.1% of the vote.
    10. 2011: The NDP win 78.7% of the seats with 42.9% of the vote.
  9. New Brunswick, with a DV of 0.36. The phenomenon is similar in New Brunswick, where all but two ridings went to a party that got a mere 43.9% of the vote. The NDP and the Liberals polled at about their national average, but got a single seat apiece for their troubles.
  10. Saskatchewan, with a DV of 0.37. Ah, Saskatchewan. I've written before about the ridings in Saskatchewan, which are set out in a strange fashion such that there is not a single 'urban riding' in the whole province: both Regina and Saskatoon are divided into four and stuck onto otherwise-rural ridings. What this means is that the NDP polled 32.3% in the province - effectively in a three-way tie with BC and Newfoundland for highest NDP vote outside of Québec - without managing a single seat - with a similar vote, the NDP carried a third of BC's seats. The Liberals got barely a quarter of the NDP's vote but walked away with a seat, while the Conservatives got 92.9% of the seats with 56.3% of the vote. Strange indeed.
The phenomenon effected each party differently, and while I haven't included the Greens and couldn't include the Bloc, I've put together three graphs to show how each party was effected. This graph shows the difference in percent - plus or minus - between number of seats and percentage of votes.A positive number means they were rewarded with more seats than their votes justified (looking at strict proportionality) and a negative number means they were punished with fewer. Let's look:

This is how the Conservatives won their majority. West of the Ottawa River, it's winner's bonus all the way down. BC does okay by comparison, but in the other provinces - and New Brunswick too - the Conservatives got seats well in excess of what their overall vote justified. Québec and Newfoundland, the only two provinces that voted for another party in larger numbers than they did for the Tories, balance the numbers a bit, and PEI is just an outlier here.

The Liberals have reaped the benefits of the winning-side of the FPTP system on many occasions in the past, but here the numbers hurt them in every province not an island or a peninsula. Only in Newfoundland, in PEI and to a smaller degree in Nova Scotia do the numbers look good for them.

Lastly, the NDP. Down the years the NDP has certainly suffered at the hands of FPTP, regularly getting fewer seats than they deserve. While this is the first time in perhaps ever that they've come away with a higher seat percentage than a vote percentage, we can see that that's all Québec's fault. A significant majority of the NDP's current MPs are from Québec, but this doesn't mean a majority of their voters are. In every province except Québec and BC, the NDP remain punished by FPTP - it just so happens that in one province this time out they were greatly rewarded by the same system. One does wonder what being on this side of the proportionality gap will do for the NDP's long-term commitment to electoral reform. We'll have to wait and see, I suppose.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Post-Election Numbers: The Highs and the Lows

So I'm looking at Elections Canada's results. One thing that intrigues me, and has always intrigued me, about Canada's electoral system is how far from consensus we ever are: a party can come as close as possible to acclamation in one riding and be a complete non-entity in another riding. I realise this is just a reality of the federation we happen to call home, where disparate interests are brought together in a union that, for better or worse, is frequently more pragmatic than ideological. We might even come, one day, to see these schisms as positions of strength.

The Bloc Québécois were, of course, beaten pretty heavily this time out, squeaking ahead of the competition in only four ridings in the province. Yet in most of Québec, they still managed to come in second, and their overall vote tally remained second as well - where the Liberals and the Conservatives both managed more seats int he province than the BQ, that's because they rely on certain pockets of support. The BQ is now a victim of their broad across-the-board appeal.

Well, mostly across the board. It should come as no surprise that Mount Royal (excluding of course the 233 ridings where they did not field a candidate) is the riding where they performed worst, with a laughable 2.9% of the vote. It's one of ten ridings, however, where they failed to obtain even ten percent of the vote - and not all of those ridings are in Montréal. While their best performance was, not surprisingly, one of the four ridings that they took, Bas-Richilieu--Nicolet--Bécancour with 38.3% (still nowhere near 50%, I hasten to add), their second-best turnout of 36.4% was in a riding they lost to the NDP, Verchères--Les Patriotes. Their four victories came in their first, third, seventh and twelfth-best contests.

With the Liberals, the real extent of their current predicament is visible in these riding-by-riding results. As of this most recent election, there are currently a rather horrifying 91 ridings where Liberal support is in the single-digits. Not for the first time, Jonquière--Alma takes the cake for 'worst Liberal performance', with a horrid 1.98% of the vote representing barely a thousand votes (in second-worst-performing Saskatoon--Rosetown--Biggar, their 2.3% was less than 700 votes). This is fringe-party-level support, and indicates that the Liberals will have to do a lot of work to be seen as a truly 'national' party again.

The only real glimmer of light in the Liberals' disastrous May 2nd was the one that came first - Newfoundland, the only province they 'won' in terms of popular support. It should come as no surprise that the Liberals' three best performances in the country are all on the rock, including Bonavista--Gander--Grand Falls--Windsor and Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte, at 57.7% and 57.0% respecively the only ridings in the country, two of 308 contested, where the Liberals took a majority of votes. That's two more than the BQ managed, but that must be small consolation for them.

The NDP, by comparison, have to be looking at these riding-by-riding results with a certain degree of satisfaction. There's a tendency at the moment to see the NDP's breakthrough as strictly a Québec thing, but consider this: of 308 ridings, there are only two, Crowfoot and Portage--Lisgar, where the NDP managed less than ten percent of the vote - 9.1% and 9.8% respectively - two is a smaller number and 9.1% is a higher number than any other party in the country, meaning that when they turn to 2015, they'll find a higher basement than the other parties regarding room-for-growth on a riding-by-riding level. The fact that their two worst performances are in the Prairies ought to give them an idea of how to progress as well.

The toplines are satisfying too for the NDP, I imagine, with king-of-the-hill being Jack Harris in St. John's East, where his remarkable 71.2% actually represents a drop from 2008. Jack Layton's own performance of 60.8% was merely fifth-best, though satisfyingly the top five are all from different provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Québec and Ontario, respectively). All-in-all thirty-six of their 102 seats were won with bare majorities of 50% or more - a decent number but by no means sensational. As regards local hegemony, for sensation we must look elsewhere.

The Conservatives arguably have less across-the-board consistency than the NDP at the moment, with much more embarrassing bottom-of-the-barrel numbers. Yet their peak performances are that much higher - the Conservatives won this election not by being 'Canada's party' so much as by having extraordinary levels of success in certain parts of the country. And, of course, by squeaking by in many others.

The Conservatives' worst performance is a rather horrid 3.5%, in Gilles Duceppe's own former riding of Laurier--Sainte-Marie, where fewer than 1800 people cast their vote for the party who now has a majority government in the country. That the basement is in Québec should come as no surprise: amazingly their forty-two worst ridings are all in La Belle Province, with my own riding of Davenport the worst in the so-called 'RoC'. Only 23 of those are less than 10%, though, a much smaller number than the Liberals currently have to contend with.

Their best performance nationwide should come as no surprise: it's Kevin Sorenson's fiefdom of Crowfoot, where the only two times since the creation of the riding in 1968 that the conservative candidate has won less than 70% of the vote were two elections in which the conservative vote was split in two. United, they anaged this time out to award Harper's party with a shocking 84.0% of the vote. In fact, 13 of the top 16 Conservative victories were all located within Alberta, and they were all more than 70%.

There were a stunning 107 ridings in 2011 in which the Conservatives got more than 50% of the vote - almost two-thirds of the ridings that they won. Anyone wanting to blame 'vote-splitting' or a disunified opposition for the Conservatives' victory needs to consider this very important fact: where the Conservatives are strong, they are very strong indeed, and it's tough to imagine any other party forming a proper national government in Canada without making very serious inroads into those 107 ridings. At the moment, there are more ridings where a completely united opposition would still not shake the Tories' victory than there are ridings won in total by any other party in the country. The NDP managed an impressive 102 seats, squeaking by with less than 50% in two-thirds of those ridings. And yet the Tories' fortress ridings actually amount to a larger number than that. And they actually managed to obtain at least one of these bare-majorities in every province in the country except Newfoundland and Labrador: one in PEI, two in Nova Scotia, four in New Brunswick, one in Québec, 40 in Ontario, nine in Manitoba, ten in Saskatchewan, 25 in 28-seat Alberta, and 15 in British Columbia.

That's a remarkable coast-to-coast victory, and it indicates the breadth of Harper's current mandate, which is much deeper than a popular vote of less than 40% might indicate.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The 2011 Colours of the Ridings: Toronto

So in the lead-up to the election, I played with an idea of looking at election returns in primarily tripartisan Conservative-Liberal-NDP ridings and, by converting voting percentages to hexadecimal RGB values, come up with a unique 'colour' for each riding. RGB means 'red, green and blue', and since the Liberals and the Conservatives happen to use those very colours, I had to rebrand the NDP green in colour, and then we're off.

A riding, then, that voted very strongly for one party would find its 'colour' very close to that party's colour, while a party that split pretty evenly between, say, the Liberals and the Conservatives would be a deep purple. A three-way race, by comparison, would be a grey colour.

Colourwise, here's what Toronto looks like as of May 2. A click will make this bigger.

The first thing one notices is how 'green' (i.e. orange) downtown Toronto suddenly is. This is not only because seven of the eight NDP ridings in Toronto are side-by-side in the heart of the city (save the ex-NDP Bob Rae's Toronto Centre) but also because those ridings tended to have more decisive victories: of 23 Toronto ridings, only three returned their MPs with over 50% of the vote, and all three were NDP (Davenport's Andrew Cash is the only Toronto MP elected with a majority not to be moving into Stornoway, unless Jack and Olivia are letting him bunk). Outside of the NDP, the Liberal elected with the strongest mandate was York West's Judy Sgro with 47.0% of the vote, and the Conservative with the strongest mandate was her neighbouring riding of York Centre, where Mark Adler upset Ken Dryden with 48.5% of the vote.

Other than that, there's a lot of wishy-washiness here. The three neighbouring ridings of Scarborough Centre, Scarborough Southwest and Scarborough-Guildwood all look the very same colour, and indeed in none of the three was the difference in percent between the winner and the third-place finisher greater than ten percent. Yet all three returned an MP from a different party - a wonderfully accidental example of proportional representation.

While Scarborough and 'Old Toronto'are different shades than they used to be, Etobicoke and North York are still reliably the purple of classic Toronto Liberal-Conservative contests, whichever of the two came out on top. In fact, the rumours of the death of the Liberal party in Toronto are greatly exaggerated: even if they lost 15 of the 21 seats they used to hold in the 416, the third-place finishing Liberals came third in only two ridings in the city - the two NDP seats in Scarborough. Otherwise, all nine Conservative ridings featured Liberals in second and NDP in third, while all six Old Toronto NDP ridings featured the Conservatives in (a sometimes-distant) third. Among the six Liberal victories, four featured the Conservatives in second and two featured the NDP in second.

Indeed, this situation reveals a curiosity: while the NDP's strongest performance (60.5% in Jack Layton's Toronto-Danforth) was much higher than the other two parties', their lowest was lower as well - a sad 11.6 in Eglinton-Lawrence, even less than the NDP's paper candidate in Don Valley West. The Liberals and the Conservatives bottomed out, by comparison, at 17.7 and 14.4 respectively - both in Jack Layton's Toronto-Danforth (the most vividly green dot in the city).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Few Post-Election Numbers

I didn't have much of an opportunity this election to contribute to poll analysis. To be honest, I feel like this site ought to be non-partisan, and in the heat of the battle, I can get rather partisan. No harm done, though. Here are a few quick numbers:

Regarding the talk of 'vote splitting', Elections Canada's current numbers suggest that:
  • 107 Conservative seats last night were won by 50% of the vote or more (meaning no combination of opposition support could have won them), while only 59 of them were in some way 'split'.
  • Conversely, only 36 NDP seats were sure things. 67 of them could have gone another way if the opposition broke down differently (though the term 'vote splitting' rarely describes such a situation).
  • Shockingly, only Gerry Byrne and Scott Simms of the Liberals got over 50% of the vote in their riding. Otherwise, 32 of their 34 ridings - every Liberal victory not on the island of Newfoundland, would have been lost in a conceptually strange 'ABL' combined vote.
  • Not a single of the four BQ MPs got a majority of the vote in their riding. The highest, unsettlingly, was 38%.
  • Though it was close, Elizabeth May fell short of 50%, and if the people who voted Liberal and NDP in her riding all voted for Gary Lunn instead, he'd still be in the cabinet today.
So with our new party alignment, what are the new two-way races? We know who came first in all the ridings, but who came second? Well, the numbers are truly shocking, and probably tell the real story even more than the baseline:
  • Based on who came first or second, 148 of the ridings, just shy of half, are now Conservative-NDP races. The NDP came second in a remarkable 107 of Tory seats, and the Tories came second in 41 NDP wins.
  • Quite amazingly, nationwide the NDP are 'competitive' (meaning first or second) in 233 of our 308 ridings - by a whisker, this is even more than the majority-government Conservatives, with 231 of the seats. That paints a shockingly bipartisan picture of our electorate, doesn't it?
  • The full numbers, then, are as follows:
    • Con-NDP: 107 races (64% of Conservative seats)
    • Con-Lib: 56 races (40 of these are in Ontario)
    • Con-Ind: 2 (Edmonton-Sherwood Park and Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke)
    • Con-Green: 1 (Dufferin-Caledon)
    • NDP-BQ: 42 races (remarkably, a higher number than the NDP-Con races)
    • NDP-Con: 41 races
    • NDP-Lib: 19 races (12 in Ontario or Québec)
    • NDP-Ind: 1 (Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier)
    • Lib-Con: 23 races (oddly only 8 in Ontario; also notice a total of only 79 ridings, barely a quarter of Canada, remain battles between the 'big two parties')
    • Lib-NDP: 11 races
    • BQ-NDP: 3 races
    • BQ-Lib: 1 (Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia, the only riding in Québec where the NDP came less than second)
    • Green-Con: 1
Those are truly dramatic numbers. And for those who talk about 'vote splitting',  the Conservatives won by less than 50% in 35 of the 56 Con-Lib battles (this is a larger number than the number of seats the Liberals actually took), and in 23 of the 107 Con-NDP battles. I don't know how many of those 58 ridings would have turned away from the Tories merely by adding the Liberal and NDP numbers. Of the two Con-Ind battles, the Tories beat Hec Clouthier by a majority but beat James Ford by a mere plurality - although I'm not convnced that the 'vote splitting' in Edmonton-Sherwood Park was between Ford and the Liberals or NDP.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Colours of the Ridings: Manitoba, 2008

So the previous blog entry explains what 'the colours of the ridings' means. The day I did the map for Saskatchewan, I also did one for Manitoba. Events are rapidly conspiring to make 2008 ancient history, but I did the map, so I might as well get it out there, pre-election. It looks like this:

Manitoba has the urban-rural split that strange riding boundaries have denied Saskatchewan. And there's a clear difference too. Of course, by square kilometres the vast majority of this province is one riding, and a reliably NDP riding it is too. But outside of Churchill, the rural ridings are pretty darn blue. In Winnipeg, though, we see more colours. It never gets overly red, but it gets a pretty deep purple in the south. The north is more reliably green though.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Colours of the Ridings: Saskatchewan, 2008

Have you ever seen a variation on the colour wheel that you can find on some 'paint'-style computer programmes, that I call a 'colour hive', since it is often a grid of hexagonal cells?

Well, in any case, I was thinking about how to visually represent voting percentages in multiparty elections when it popped into my head. I got thinking about how you could use RGB values to produce a colour that was made up of the relative voting percentages of three parties - one for each primary colour.

Of course, there were no three-party races in Canada in 2008. Outside of Québec, they were four-way, and in Québec they were five-way. I decided to ignore the Green Party, and then be left with the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. It was a no-brainer to call the Conservatives blue and the Liberals red - which left green for the NDP. A far cry from orange, but green is the NDP's secondary colour.

In other words, in a riding that went 50% CPC, 49.9% LPC and 0.1% NDP, the result would be a pretty vivid purple colour: half blue and half red. A riding that went 34%, 33% and 33% would more or less be grey.

I thought it would be a decent way to show the underlying differences that exist between 'a blowout for party A' and 'a narrow win for party A', something that you can't readily observe in areas that are painted as huge swaths of the same colour.

I chose Saskatchewan. I was curious to see how the province, the historical heartland of the NDP, could have elected no NDPs, letting in a Liberal amidst an otherwise uniform blue wave.

Was it really so uniform?

In retrospect, I shouldn't have chosen Saskatchewan for the experiment. Blue-green splits are less dramatic, colourwise, than, say, red-green. But I liked the experiment anyway. Most of these circles are pretty darn blue. Wascana fails to be red at all, since the Conservatives put up a good fight and the NDP were also in the mix - the result is an attractive brown. The NDP's best performance in the province, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, shows up as that colour, 'cyan', that no-one outside of the world of computers has heard of. And the northern riding showed good Liberal numbers and weak NDP numbers, giving it a purple colour.

I find it interesting that Saskatchewan has a strange riding system that kind of smells like Gerrymandering - though I don't accuse Elections Canada of actually intending it. There are no 'urban ridings' at all in Saskatchewan: four huge ridings, spreading across miles and miles of prairies, happen to intersect into a four-corners located squarely in downtown Saskatoon, and another four do the same thing in downtown Regina. These two cities each encompass part of several ridings, but no riding can claim to be 'Regina only' or 'Saskatoon only'. I wonder what urban dwellers in Saskatchewan think of this - certainly the NDP do best in cities, and were the election map drawn differently, the NDP would have taken a few seats in the province.

Anyway... I think aftert the election, I'll do some of these maps for the whole country. In the meantime, I might try a more competitive area. Manitoba, perhaps?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Liberals' and NDP's Strategies of Mutual Destruction

Please note: the above graphic requires detail that isn't really visible when it's this small. Please click on it to make it larger.

Jack Layton is criticising Stephen Harper. Michael Ignatieff is criticising Stephen Harper. It's a strange country we live in where the main goal these two men have in attacking Stephen Harper is not to steal votes from Harper but to steal votes from each other.

But it's true. The sad fact is the the NDP sees its best chance for growth in siphoning from the Liberals, and the Liberals see their best chance for growth in siphoning from the NDP. Both parties seem to think that Harper's 35-or-so percent is more or less carved in stone, and as yet they haven't made much of an attempt to take votes from the two seemingly 'single-issue' parties.

As Harper himself seems eager to paint them as natural coalition partners dying for the chance to jump in to bed with each other, it may seem bizarre to see these two 'infighting' so much. It must seem, from the outside, counteractive as hell - and there are many who consider it the surest way to get Harper's Conservatives a majority.

Is it?

Well, what I've done here is looked at the results of the 2008 election. And then what I've done is determined what the composition of the house would look like if we shifted support only between these two parties. So that suggests a scenario where everyone who voted CPC, Green or BQ last time does again this time, and the only fluidity is between the Liberals and the NDP, in a completely consistent and predictable fashion across the country. For the sake of consistency, the graph I've generated looks only at increments of ten percentage points, even though a shift of merely 1% is enough to get seats changing colours. So when it says, for example, "LIB-10%", that imagines a scenario where one in ten Liberal supporters starts voting NDP - in each riding, one-tenth of the 2008 Liberal vote is shaved off the Liberal tally and added to the NDP tally. Obviously this is going to see Liberals lose seats and the NDP gain seats, but it can also effect the other parties too: a riding where the Liberals finished first, the Conservatives finished second and the NDP finished third is likely to turn Conservative sooner than turn NDP as in this scenario Liberal support bleeds to the NDP. To what extent is this a problem?

Well, the results are interesting. The centre column of the graph shows the Commons composition that actually resulted from the 2008 vote. When we start to move left from there, as Liberal support goes, ten percentage points by ten percentage points, to the NDP, we see that the Liberal seat count drops swiftly and the NDP seat count rises. Ten percent gone and the Liberals lose ten seats, another ten percent gone and they lose another seventeen seats. Yet where the Liberals have lost 27 seats, the NDP have picked up only ten. Where have the other seventeen seats gone?

Amazingly, to the Conservatives. With no other factors affecting voting preferences, the defection of one in five Liberals to the NDP gives the Conservatives a majority. That is to say that in my scenario the Conservatives get not a single voter more than they had in 2008, yet this movement on the 'opposition' side gives them their majority.

It continues from there - to a point. If the Liberals shed 30% of their vote to the NDP, then the NDP pick up eleven seats, passing both the Liberals (now down to a mere 33 seats) and the stable BQ to form the official opposition - but to a further strengthened Conservative majority. The NDP's success at the Liberals' expense in this scenario has handed the Conservatives a remarkable 22 seats, which is even more than the NDP themselves have been able to pick up. In these 22 ridings, the Liberal vote has dropped below the Conservatives, but the NDP vote hasn't risen enough to pass the Conservatives. Yet, I hasten to add, though while the model continues, past here I think it really stretches the boundary of 'possibility' into 'strictly theoretical'.

But let's carry on: an extra ten percent reduces the Liberals to an eight-party rump, and this time it's just the NDP who benefit: the Conservatives and the Bloc stay more or less the same, while the NDP seat count vaults from 58 to 83. When we reach the 50% mark, the point were one in two 2008 Liberals have left the party and are now voting NDP, the Liberals have disappeared from Commons altogether and the NDP have now hit the 100 mark. One hundred MPs and a turnaround where the Conservative numbers are now starting to drop again - but at this 50% point, even if the 100-person-strong NDP caucus unites with the essentially-unchanged 50-strong Bloc caucus, and even in the unlikely event that Bill Casey and André Arthur side with them, the opposition is still not enough to topple Harper. The Conservatives still have a majority.

As we preside over the final destruction of the Liberals here, as we watch 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% and finally every last Liberal vote cross over to the NDP, these numbers switch. At 60%, the Conservatives lose their majority. At 80%, the NDP passes the Conservatives and we finally see the spectacularly unlikely face of Prime Minister Layton (provided Harper doesn't form a coalition with Duceppe...). And at the terminus of 100%, we have the point at which the Liberals and NDP have entirely combined to form a new party - a different 'unite the left' scenario - we see the NDP/Liberal party with 152 seats to the Conservatives' 113 and the Bloc's 41, and Casey and Arthur still laughing. But still no majority.

Which raises and entirely different point: that for all the talk of a divided left, that neither the NDP nor the Liberals can sneak to a majority by reaching into each other's pockets. In more than half the ridings in Canada, the theoretical combined Liberal/NDP vote remains less than the actual vote given to the Conservatives or the Bloc - there is simply no way either the Liberals or the NDP can get a majority without stealing votes from the Conservatives or Bloc, and there's no way they can get a functioning coalition without working with either of them. Not based on 2008's numbers, anyway.

Excepting that I've completely ignored the Green vote here. The Green vote could serve as a spoiler in a number of ridings, I don't know. That might be another thing to look at on another day.

However, I've only looked at half of the above graph. As the current Liberal caucus is much larger than the current NDP one, obviously the game of dominoes I've set up tumbles more entertainingly when we watch the Liberal vote shift to the NDP vote. But looking in the other direction, we see a very different story indeed.

Superficially, much is the same: the NDP number drops quickly, to the point where it takes a 50% vote shift to kill of the NDP completely (meaning that if half of all 2008 NDP voters in every riding in the country cast their votes this time out for the Liberals, the NDP would not win a single seat). We have to go all the way to 70% to see the Liberals pass the Conservatives as the party with the largest number of seats - what Harper would like to call 'the winner' (it was 80% for the NDP, though the 70% number was pretty close). And of course the end point is the same - as it should be, since 100% NDP support going to the Liberals is much like 100% Liberal support going to the NDP. The Liberals are as unable to vault to a majority on NDP backs as the NDP are on Liberal backs.

Yet there is a huge difference between these two scenarios: bleeding support from the NDP to the Liberals never pushes the Conservatives into majority territory - in fact, it never results in anything greater than a single seat gain for the Tories. In fact, as an NDP-to-Liberal bleed starts peeling seats away from the Bloc much faster than the other way round (since the NDP were much less of an issue in Québec in 2008 than they're shaping up to be thins time round), NDP-to-Liberal transfer immediately improves the total combined Liberal/NDP seat count.

A million other factors muddy the issue to the extent that nothing here has any value outside of the strictly academic, I concede. Yet when viewed strictly on the basis of this information here, the outcome is tough to overlook: to the extent that 'vote splitting' between the Liberals and the NDP can be seen as a 'key to a Conservative victory', it's really only true whenever the NDP manage to take votes from the Liberals: the Liberals can fearless steal from the NDP as much as they want without risking a Conservative majority, while the NDP can make no such claim.

A surprising result, perhaps. But one with many repercussions for the campaigns over the next month.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Progressive Fiction on the Eve

In the past, I've mused aloud about a theoretical 'Progressive Party' - not one that would unite the Liberals and NDP, since I don't consider the Liberals a progressive party, but one that would unite the NDP, the BQ and the Greens. Implausible though I realise this is, I consider those three parties to represent the 'progressive voice' in Canada, and if you combine their levels of support, based on current polling, you'd have a party that would surpass the Liberals and compete very closely with the Conservatives.

Now I know, I know - such a party could never exist, and were such a theoretical beast occur anyway its levels of support would not be the current levels of support of the three parties added together: the question of Québec sovereignty obviously complicates things. As does the fact that not all Green voters (or BQ voters for that matter) are politically to the left, though as a countervailing force a strong united-left party would siphon some support from the current Liberals.

Anyway, let me have my fun. Since we might be minutes away from an election, I thought I'd use the current numbers Éric Grenier has at his sight threehundredeight.blogspot.com. He combines recent polls and uses his own algorithms to make seat projections. At the moment he has the following:
  • The Conservatives: 38.3% support and 149 seats.
  • The Liberals: 27.4% and 75 seats.
  • The BQ, the NDP and the Greens in combination: 33.2% and 84 seats.

So just adding Grenier's seat counts for the Bloc and the NDP gives 84 seats and official opposition status. That 84 is 52 for the BQ and 32 for the NDP (1 in Québec, the other 31 in the rest of the country). That's interesting, but it's only half of the story. Since Grenier has riding-by-riding projections, you can add the vote for those three parties (or two outside of Québec) together and see if 'vote splitting on the left' is coasting any seats at the moment, seats that Grenier has going to the Conservatives or Liberals but that would go to a united Progressive Party if their votes were combines.

The answer is yes: not as much as you might suspect, but yes. Let's take a look:

In British Columbia, Grenier has 7 NDP seats, but the "Progressives" would get nine: Elizabeth May's obviously high Green numbers in her own Saanich-Gulf Islands would tip it from the Conservatives, and Greens more modest numbers in Vancouver Kingsway, a three-way split currently looking Liberal, would still be enough to tip it.

Grenier has every Alberta riding going Tory, but a united left could pry one away: Edmonton-Strathcona, which anyway has an NDP incumbent.

Grenier gives the NDP four Prairie ridings, all in Manitoba. A united "Progressive Party" would change nothing there.

In seat-rich Ontario, Grenier currently projects 15 NDP seats. Not that much would change, actually, but the Greens could help snag three more: Guelph, a comically mutipartisan riding with great Green numbers, would tip from the Liberals. Neither Sault Ste. Marie nor Welland have particularly impressive Green numbers, but they're currently neck-in-neck CPC/NDP races. Those stray percentage points would tip them both away from the Tories.

Québec is where the story gets interesting, obviously. The Bloc dominate, of course. The Greens aren't much of a presence here, but the NDP are at an all-time high in the province. So already the vast majority of seats are progressive: 52 BQ and 1 NDP. The Conservatives and the Liberals get a measly 22 combined, and a united "Progressive Party" would wrest away a further ten of those: Four of the Tories' current nine would tip: Beauport-Limoilou, Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles and Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. Fully six of the Liberals' thirteen would tip as well: Honoré-Mercier, Hull-Aylmer, LaSalle-Émard, Laval-Les Îles, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine and lastly Papineau. Additionally, I should note Lévis-Bellechasse, where the combined projected BQ/NDP/Green vote equals the projected CPC vote exactly. I decided to give the advantage to the incumbent, though, so it's not in the counts.

In the Atlantic provinces, across four entire provinces, not a single seat would waver in a combined "Progressive" scenario. Grenier's numbers, 13 Conservative, 15 Liberal and 4 NDP (read: "Progressive"), woud stay completely the same.

And in the North, Grenier's numbers, giving one each to the three main federal parties, would remain.

So in total, then, a united "Progressive Party" would see the following numbers: the Conservatives with 141, the Liberals with 67 and the Progressives with 100, and either official opposition status in a Conservative minority, official opposition status against a Tory/Grit coalition, or senior partner in a Progressive/Grit coalition. Not really wonderful numbers, actually.

But that's the rub at present: Grenier's current numbers show a scenario where the "Progressives" would still trail the Conservatives in every part of Canada except Québec, where they'd be trampling all over the opposition. Almost two in every three "Progressive" seats would come from Québec. Regionally, support percentages would be as follows:
  • BC: CPC 41.5, Prog 32.3, LPC 24.0
  • Alberta: CPC 62.4, Prog 18.0, LPC 17.0
  • Prairies: CPC 51.0, Prog 26.3, LPC 21.2
  • Ontario: CPC 41.4, LPC 33.7, Prog 23.7
  • Québec: Prog 58.8, LPC 21.4, CPC 18.8
  • Atlantic: CPC 36.9, LPC 35.4, Prog 24.6
Progressives in 2011 should thank God for Québec.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Canada: Alberta Unreformed

So it goes without saying that there's certainly a good reason why, in discussing the Conservative Party of Canada, they call Alberta 'Fortress Alberta'. It's tough to imagine a place so fond of a single political party. In the six elections they've contended under the names Reform, Canadian Alliance or the Conservatives, they've never taken fewer than 22 seats in a province that has a total of either 26 or 28 seats (depending on the year). In fact, there is a seventh: the Reform party comtended the 1988 election, but as a relatively minor party that took no seats. I don't include the 1988 election, because it ruins the narrative: one of the PC imploding spectacularly and two parties being born as a result, one of which is called Reform. Canadian electoral history is divided into pre-1993 and post-1993. So 1988 is 'old-school'. Irrelevant.

Anyway, I've been noticing with surprise that the Liberals seem to be doing rather well in Alberta - 'well' doesn't mean much, of course, as it's inconceivable that they could actually threaten the CPC. But the fact is that they are currently presenting themselves as the only real alternative in Alberta to Harper's party. I was a bit surprised to see this; I know the NDP have tended to do horribly in Alberta, but at least they're a Western party with at least a historical taste for a bit of populism. The Liberals are supposed to be everything Albertans hate about Ottawa, aren't they? Elitist, centralist, resource-stealing, Ontario and Québec controlling the country. Right?

Well, I decided to look at those six elections with the following premise: what would happen if the Reform / CA / CPC party just disappeared? If this party just didn't exist, where would the Albertan vote go?

Now, obviously my techniques here are hardly scientific. What I did was look at each seat that this party won and considered which party came in second. So if, say, the Reform Party took 65% and the Liberals took 15% (with the remaining 20% going to the NDP, the PCs and various other parties and candidates), I say that in the non-Reform world, this seat goes to the Liberals. Now, that's not entirely realistic. The Reform/CA/CPC gets in some ridings enormously high margins of victory, and with such a huge voter base left to redistribute, the numbers are really quite up in the air: and one imagines a fair amount would go to the PCs, despite the animosity those two parties had for each other in the early days.

Still, the results are intriguing. Here they are:
  • In 1993, Reform took 22 of Alberta's 26 seats, and the Liberals took the other 4. In a non-Reform Alberta, the Liberals would dominate, taking 19 while the remaining 7 would go to the PCs.
  • In 1997, Reform increased their seat count in Alberta, getting 24 and leaving only two to the Liberals. but a non-Reform Alberta would look exactly the same as it did in 1993: 19 Liberal seats, 7 PC seats.
  • And how weird is this: in 2000, the renamed Canadian Alliance got 23 seats, while the Liberals took 2 and the PCs took 1. But without the CA? Well, we're starting to see a trand here, but 19 Liberal seats and 7 PC seats. Any hope for long-term trends dies here though, along with the PC party.
  • In 2004, the newly-minted Conservative Party of Canada took 26 seats to the Liberals' 2 (a seat redistribution gave Alberta an added two seats). Amazingly, if there were no CPC, all 28 seats would have gone Liberal. So the Liberals being the main opposition to the Conservatives is evidently nothing new.
  • In 2006, the Conservatives made a clean sweep of Alberta: all 28 seats. A non-CPC landscape (so this, the second-place finishers across the province) are a bit more interesting, though: the Liberals would have 18 seats, the NDP 8, the Greens 1 and one seat would go to an independent.
  • The most recent election a near sweep for the Conservatives: 27 seats and just one for the NDP. There's a sea change below the water level, though. An Alberta sans Harper would give 16 seats to the NDP, 8 to the Liberals, 3 to the Greens and 1 to an independent. Intriguing stuff.

If we do have an election this year, Alberta's not going to be the most interesting story. It'll still be CPC all the way, with perhaps a few seats here or there (likely in Edmonton) being competitive. But if current trends hold, the NDP won't be what they were in 2008, when they made significant inroads as the main alternative to the Conservatives in Alberta. Odd that no-one even noticed that.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Canada: When to Leave

Beleaguered Alberta premier Ed Stelmach is stepping down.

It's interesting news: we've had three premiers retire or resign in the past few months. Danny Williams of Newfoundland retired with levels of support the likes of which we rarely see in Canada . The question there is how much the PC's sky-high levels of support depend on the personage of Williams himself - in other words, how much of those astronomic poll numbers are now available for the Liberals and (snort) the NDP to cherry-pick.

Gordon Campbell and Ed Stelmach wish that was their parties' main concern at the moment. You get the sense that Campbell understood that the BC Liberals were in a real free-fall, and that they had yet to bottom out. You sense that Campbell 'took one for the team', stepping down for the good of the party in order to take the blame personally for BC's current problems and let the party carry on without him. Amazingly, due also to similar stories in the NDP opposition, it may actually have worked. Time will tell, but on the day of Campbell's resignation he was looing at polls so terrible that an NDP victory at the next election seems like a done deal.

Alberta's somewhere in the middle, and this is where it intrigues so much. Its history is one of single-party dominance, where one party dominates politics for a generation and then in a single election is crushed into insignificance by another party, who holds the reins for a generation. Since 1935, these have been parties on the right: Social Credit until 1967, when they were challenged by the reemergent Progressive Conservatives, who have held the reins ever since.

By March of 2010, Stelmach's PCs were in a freefall, and the Wildrose Alliance had overtaken them in the polls. Projections based on the polls at the time showed that the WRA would have decimated the PCs, overtaking them as the party of government and as the main party of the right. And if we can understand anything from Alberta's history, that change might have been permanent.

Were Stelmach Cambell, that is the point at which he would have resigned. But he's not, and interestingly in the past 10 months or so, polls suggest the PCs have come around: surpassing the WRA or at least drawing even with them. "The inevitable" suddenly seemed a good deal less so.

I'm genuinely curious and unable to guess what this means for the 'battle for the right' in Alberta. The captain abandoning a sinking ship might be the single event that pushes Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance to electoral success (for thirty-some years, perhaps). Or does Stelmach see in Campbell's departure an example to imitate? Will Albertains forgive the party now that Stelmach is gone? One thing I can say for sure is that it's a huge gamble, one that I never saw coming.

Another thing I can say for sure is that while Dalton McGuinty is probably nonchalantly pretending not to care, Jean Charest is almost certainly in the curious position of wonder if there is anything - anything at all - that Québec can learn from Alberta.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Canada and the UK: Lessons From Britain

What we know, heading into 2011, regarding the Canadian political scene is this: there might be an election, but there might not. And if there is an election, it might change a lot, but it might not. Not much to go on, really.

The interesting thing, though, is that those among us who sense that the stasis that has set in regarding our political landscape might be shaken up (might need to be shaken up) have by-and-large ignored the Westminster System just across the Atlantic that has a half-year leg up on the changes we might well be seeing in Canada in 2011.

If we really do enter an era of coalitions, we shouldn't be looking at countries like Germany or Italy that know them well: we should be looking at the UK as it stumbles through its first proper coalition. The other way the UK presents a model for us is in the existence of Caroline Lucas, the UK's first-ever elected Green MP. This matters because (for now, anyway) the UK has the same problematic FPTP system that we do. So if Nick Clegg's reform referendum fails, sticking the UK with its current dysfunctional system, Caroline Lucas's successes and failures will tell us a lot about the feasability of having a Green Party in a Westminster FPTP system.

The comparison is not entirely valid. For instance, the three-party system that the UK has right now might seem to match ours quite closely (with the same colours, even), but since the mid-nineties, the non-right of the political spectrum in the UK has been really confused. The Liberal Democrats, whose participation in the current coalition has been disastrous for their popular support, appeared to be an option more progressive than the Labour party - an appearance not borne out of the histories of the two parties but on recent trends in parliament, current platforms, and to a large degree on the personages of Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown. Nick Clegg was the story of the 2010 election, and his party seemed like a vital alternative to the two stagnant main parties.

Things are different here. Setting aside the Greens and the BQ (who, of course, correspond to the SNP and the PC), we're quite clear on who our left, our centre and our right are - to the extent that the actual beliefs and policies of the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives respectively would do little to change that popular perception. A Conservative/NDP coalition seems even less plausible than a Conservative/LibDem one, which means that Nick Clegg's noble aspiration, as the third party, to negotiate with the first party before talking ot the second party might be dead on arrival domestically. It's a pity, because it's a mature and intelligent working system in a 'coalition era' of politics. But the concept of coalition has coalesced so firmly around the Liberals and the NDP that nothing else is even considered. Realistic in the short-term, I realise, but dangerous in the long.

Dangerous, perhaps, for the NDP. Whatever the rank-and-file might think, I think the NDP as a party has grown comfortable with its role as kingmaker: in Ontario it has been kingmaker a few times before and in 2011 there is a decent chance it will be again. Federally it was kingmaker in the 1970s, and was more comfortable in the role under Martin than it has been under Harper. If the scales tipped just enough this year to give the Liberals more seats than the Conservatives, I think the NDP would be happy to 'prop up' a minority - if they could introduce some key legislation during that time (say, regarding Afghanistan), then it might even help them. If the Conservatives still lead in total seat count (which seems likely), then the NDP are stuck where they were before - either discussing the so-called 'coalition of losers' that so inflamed popular opinion in 2008 or carrying on as they have been for five years now.

A genuine Liberal-NDP coalition presents an interesting challenge for the NDP: as we saw in the 1970s, failures would taint the NDP brand while successes would not necessarily vindicate them. It's tough for a junior partner to take much credit in a coalition, and it's here also that we need to look at the LibDems.

The numbers in the UK are horrifying: scant months ago at the polls, the LibDems took 23.0% of the vote to Labour's 29.0 and the Conservatives' 36.1. This happened after a heady post-televised-debate bubble that had all three parties polling equal numbers; there were even four polls that put the LibDems out front - on 24 April, YouGov posted the LibDems at an unbelievable 34%.

It was unbelievable. Unrealistic and unsustainable. YouGov today posts the following numbers: Labour 43%, Conservatives 37% and the LibDems 9%. The cost of coalition has been astonishing for the LibDems, though you could argue (quite rightly) that the LibDems' numbers were artificially inflated by wavering Labour supporters who have since returned home. Why they have returned home is important, and I don't think it's merely a distaste for the government side of Commons (though there's that). Yet think this way: of any five people who voted LibDem just a few months ago, only two remain faithful. More than half have wandered away. Obviously the tuition fiasco is of great importance. But it reflects the strange situation the LibDems, historically a centrist party, find themselves in: are they responsible to their party loyalists or to their most recent electors? If their intentions have been misunderstood by a large number of the people who cast votes for them (though the tuition fiasco is a bit different - it does seem to be a genuine turnaround), is that really their fault? And how grateful should they be for the votes they managed to secure last time around, if many of those votes were cast against the other two parties as opposed to genuinely for them?

For the moment at least, the LibDems and Labour are tied to each other: one party's success is the other party's failure. One wonders how well a Labour/LibDem government would have performed - and one wonders how well the LibDems would be polling were Nick Clegg Ed Miliband's junior partner. One also wonders where the UK Greens - a more soundly left-wing party than the Green Party of Canada - fit into all of this (quite well in the short-term, at least - were an election to be held tomorrow, Caroline Lucas's seat would seemingly be secure and perhaps joined by a few others). All this matters over here because whatever fluidity can be squeezed from the stone of Canadian politics falls clearly on the left side of the Conservatives-vs.-everyone-else axis. Coalition, merger, collapse, whatever: it's only a shakeup in the relative positions of the four non-Tory parties that can really change the composition of parliament. The signals from the UK are mixed at best. But we need to be reading them much more carefully than we currently are.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2008 Election: Provincial Microcosms #1: Québec

So I'm still looking at the 2008 election. I got to thinking primarily about Québec, and how the 'provincial averages' tell so little of the story, as one riding could have numbers remarkably different from another. I got to wondering where in Québec the 'average riding' might be - where 'average' can be defined as having vote percentages closest to the provincial averages. So if province-wide 38.1% of people voted BQ and 23.7% voted Liberal, in this riding as close as possible to 38.1% of voters voted BQ (sending a Bloc MP to Ottawa) and as close as possible to 23.7% of voters voted Liberal.

So for each riding, I calculated the per-party 'deviation' from the provincial average and added them together. So, in this example, if a riding saw a 36.4% BQ vote and, say, a 29.0% Liberal vote, that would be a 1.7 point deviation for the BQ and a 5.3 deviation for the Liberals, totalling 7.0 - before calculating other parties. Well, before calculating the Conservatives, the NDP and the Greens. I didn't bother with minor parties and I didn't bother with independents - which obviously screws up Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier. Actually my numbers for that riding would be doubly screwed up, since the lack of a CPC candidate doesn't mean an additional 21.7 deviation (as it probably should) - it merely means that there are no CPC numbers for the calculation at all. In any case, the extent to which votes for André Arthur can be seen as distinct from CPC votes in debatable. There are a small handful of Québec ridings that didn't have a Green candidate either.

So anyway, here are the results:
  • The winner for "least deviant Québec riding" - or "best Québec microcosm"... is a tie. Both Shefford and Compton-Stanstead deviate from the Québec norm by a total of only 9.6. Those are pretty impressive numbers, really. Compare:
    • BQ province-wide: 38.1%. In Shefford: 42.8%. In Compton-Stanstead: 41.9%.
    • Liberals province-wide: 23.7%. In Shefford: 21.4%. In Compton-Stanstead: 22.5%.
    • CPC province-wide: 21.7%. In Shefford: 19.6%. In Compton-Stanstead: 19.4%.
    • NDP province-wide: 12.2%. In Shefford: 12.5%. In Compton-Stanstead: 11.3%.
    • Greens province-wide: 3.5%. In Shefford: 3.7%. In Compton-Stanstead: 4.9
  • Both of these ridings are in the Eastern townships, an area whose linguistic demographics are rather typical of the province as a whole (despite a minimal allophone population). Both have gone BQ in the previous two elections, and before that both supported a PC candidate in 1997 who crossed the floor to the Liberals for the 2000 election (both Jean Charest and Paul Martin are native sons, incidentally). Shefford has existed as a riding since confederation, so it might be interesting to look at older elections to see how much of a microcosm it really is. Another day, though.
Rounding out the top five for 'least deviant Québécois ridings' are the following:
  • Vaudreuil-Soulanges at 10.7. This Montérégie riding has traditionally been a pretty safe seat for the Liberals, so it's impressive that star candidate Marc Garneau managed in 2006 to lose in this riding to the BQ candidate.
  • Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine at 12.0. This is the easternmost riding south of the St. Lawrence, and it's a bit tough to trace its history, since the Gaspé has been carved up several times recently. But it seems to be a pretty competitve area with no real historical loyalty to anyone, having elected the Liberals, the (Progressive) Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois in recent history.
  • Alfred-Pellan at 12.3. This riding in the city of Laval has tended to go BQ since the creation of that party, though like Laval as a whole has been a two-way BQ-Liberal race.
Though the two least deviant ridings are both in the Eastern Townships, it's interesting otherwise how wide-ranging the top five are, geographically. They are by necessity ridings that have to be competitive in more than merely two-horse races, since Québec's numbers as a whole are quite disparate - which hides a very regionalised electoral map where you can find two-way BQ-CPC races (Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean), two-way BQ-Liberal races (Papineau) and even two-way Liberal-CPC races (Pierrefonds-Dollard).

By contrast, here are the five most deviant ridings. It doesn't mean much, really: it either shows loyalty to one star candidate or another or otherwise shows location in Montréal. Still, they're five interesting ridings, wildly atypical at present:
  • Beauce, at 83.2. Beauce's deviation is due to its remarkably strong support (62.4%) for local Conservative hero Maxime Bernier (which leads, of course, to relatively dimmer support for his competitors). Beauce is also an Eastern Townships riding, though it's closer to Québec City than the others we've looked at. It has also existed since Confederation and has a long and proud history of lending strong support to newsmaking MPs, including Bernier's father Gilles, elected twice as a PC and once as an independent, Fabien Roy, the last major leader of the Social Credit Party, and three-time independent MP Raoul Poulin. It has never returned a BQ MP.
  • Jonquière-Alma at 79.9. This Côte-Nord riding, like Beauce, has a strong Conservative MP in Jean-Pierre Blackburn, who got 52.6% of the vote. This riding is noteworthy for having almost no Liberal presence in recent years: in 2008, they got 5.16% of the vote, and in 2006 before that, they got less than 3%, the lowest Liberal performance in the whole country.
  • Mount Royal at 76.6. Réal Caouette's famous comment that a mailbox could win an election in Mount Royal (merely because it's red in colour) holds true. Mount Royal is the safest Liberal seat in the country, having returned Liberal MPs in every election since 1940. It was Pierre Trudeau's own riding. An amazingly diverse riding where Francophones are a smaller population than either Anglophones or Allophones and the largest religion is Judaism, it has never seen a BQ candidate get more than 7% of the vote (in 2008, the BQ candidate finished fifth). Current MP Irwin Cotler was first elected in a 1999 by-election with 92% of the vote.
  • Outremont at 74.3. Outremont is Mount Royal's neighbour on the island of Montréal, and like it tends to return Liberal MPs, though not with such resoundng majorities, as the Bloc tend to do well too in this riding that straddles East and West Montréal. A 2007 by-election saw both parties lose support to the NDP's Thomas Mulcair, who in 2008 became the first NDP candidate ever to win a Québec riding in a general election. Obviously it is his high numbers that skew this riding.
  • Westmount-Ville-Marie at 73.7. Neighbour to both Mount Royal and Outremont, this riding occupies a very 'deviant' area of Montréal. Again it's a Liberal stronghold, with high Liberal numbers by Québec standards, but it also brought in the province's second-best NDP numbers in 2008. The two parties combined for almost 70% of the vote. At 7.3%, the Bloc are no threat in this riding., where Anglos are a larger number than the statistically-tied Francos and Allos. This is where Marc Garneau in 2008 finally managed to get elected.
I've also done the very same thing for Ontario and BC. We'll see those numbers soon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2008 Alternate Scenarios #1: D'Hondt, Part One

Prince Edward Island farm rainbow 2009Image via WikipediaSo I've decided to look back at the 2008 election and crunch some numbers to consider how the votes cast in 2008 might have brought a different parliament had Canada had a different voting system than it currently does. I'm starting with the D'Hondt Method, a proportional representation system that delivers MPs in a ratio approximating the ratio of votes they recieved. It's a 'party list' system in principle, meaning you vote for a party and not an individual, and the MPs are chosen from lists. It might not necessarily have to be that way, but that's how it's applied generally.

Now, 2008 gave is the following result:
CPC 143, Lib 77, BQ 49, NDP 37, Ind 2.

A simple nation-wide proportional representation calculation using the D'Hondt method would have returned this:
CPC 118, Lib 82, NDP 56, BQ 31, Green 21.
Which is a huge decrease for the Conservatives and the BQ but a huge increase for the NDP and Greens. I'm surprised to find the Liberals actually gaining seats in a prop-rep simulation.

I can't really see a system like this flying with the Canadian people, mind you. It's too anonymous, and it sees Canada as one huge mass as opposed to a federation of provinces. It might go over better to apply the D'Hondt method to the results of each province (retaining the current number of seats per province). If we do that, we get the following:
Newfoundland and Labrador: Lib 4, NDP 2, CPC 1.
Prince Edward Island: Lib 2, CPC 2.
Nova Scotia: Lib 4, NDP 3, CPC 3, Green 1.
New Brunswick: CPC 4, Lib 4, NDP 2.
Québec: BQ 29Lib 18, CPC 17, NDP 9, Green 2.
Ontario: CPC 42, Lib 37, NDP 19, Green 8.
Manitoba: CPC 7, NDP 3, Lib 3Green 1.
Saskatchewan: CPC 8, NDP 4, Lib 2.
Alberta: CPC 20, NDP 3, Lib 3, Green 2.
British Columbia: CPC 17, NDP 9, Lib 7, Green 3.
Yukon: Lib 1.
Northwest Territories: NDP 1.
Nunavut: CPC 1.
Which gives us a grand total of:
CPC 122, Lib 85, NDP 55, BQ 29, Green 17.
Not radically different from the nation-wide D'Hondt: a few extra seats for the Conservatives and Liberals, a few fewer for the Greens - closer to reality, maybe, except for a further BQ drop. But you can see how having this additional distribution of numbers might make for a more convincing system: Prince Edward islanders, for example, would be able to identify the two Conservative MPs and the two Liberal MPs who were 'theirs'. The North, incidentally, remains exactly the same, since a prop-rep region of one seat is effectively a FPTP region.

Ontario and Québec in particular, however, remain pretty impersonal. How would someone from, say, Trinity-Spadina or someone from, say, Nickel Belt know which MP was 'theirs'? Which one to write a letter to for whatever reason it is that normal citizens write MPs? Sure, with 105 riding and 105 MPs, we could arbitrarily allocate one MP to each riding, but that would be a sheerly bureaucratic decision. Which eight ridings would get Green MPs?

The smaller a D'Hondt region gets, the less useful the D'Hondt system is. But if you broke up larger provinces into smaller regions, you might have results that gave an increased sense among the public that the MPs actually represented a constituency and not merely represented their parties. That's what I'd like to do, but it'll take a bit of time, and number-crunching...

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