2011-05-02 The Canadian election: What just happened? [Updated 2]


Photo credit CBC.

As Stephen Harper thanked his constituents for electing him for the fifth time in nine years, and started the second half of what will now be at least a nine year term in office, onlookers could be forgiven for wondering where was all the upheaval in Canadian politics the media had been talking about.

Well, it was there. Everything changed, except the result. There are 308 seats in the House of Commons, and this is where they went.

  • The Conservative Party of Canada, formerly 37.65% of the vote and 143 seats, gained to 39.6% and 167 seats. Yes, that is correct, 2% change and 24 seats.
  • The Liberal Party of Canada, formerly 26.26% of the vote and 77 seats, crashed to 18.9% of the vote and 34 seats. The Liberal Party, frequently referred to as ‘Canada’s natural ruling party’ has never before been out of the top two since confederation.
  • The New Democratic Party, formerly 18.18% of the vote and 37 seats, rose to 30.7% and 102 seats. So the 50 year old NDP party is now more popular than the Liberals were even in the last election.
  • The Bloc Québécois, formerly holding 9.98% of the vote and 47 seats, all in Quebec, dropped to 6.1% and lost 43 seats, now down to 4. After 20 years, the separatist party is almost non-existent.
  • The Greens went from 6.78% support to 4.8% but finally won a seat in the House for Green leader Elizabeth May, the first seat in the House for the Green Party.
  • Party leaders of the former second and third biggest parties lost their own seats.
  • Voting results were the biggest shock of the night. After record high turnouts at the advance polls, Canadians decided to break their previous election record of low voter turnout (58.8% in 2008). This year’s turnout is currently being reported as 58%. So22.968% of eligible Canadians actually voted for the man who will be prime minister with a huge majority until fall/winter of 2015. (The Stanley Cup playoffs are on.) (See update.)

As to the actual Prime Minister, this vote is reminiscent of the 1988 election when the seemingly deeply unpopular Brian Mulroney won a second majority with 43% of the vote, also because of vote splitting between the Liberal and NDP parties. Indicative of emotions online was the appearance at number four on worldwide Twitter trending topics, just under Osama, of Justin Trudeau. The former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s oldest son managed to hold on to his own Liberal MP seat and is possibly the only thing that could resurrect the Liberals at this point, without a merger with the NDP. The more experienced other likely candidate, Bob Rae, did not rule out a merger between the Liberal and NDP parties. But with Justin Trudeau not outright denying that he would consider the job tonight, he may be seen as the only alternative exciting enough for the Liberals now. One of the two sons of the legendary Prime Minister Trudeau who were ‘born on the same day as Jesus Christ’, Justin Trudeau has long been seen as a future prime minister without having anything close to his father’s resume. He is however, a very charismatic campaigner and far less polarizing than his father.

Failing a new leader that can attract voters back to the Liberals, a merger between the Liberals and NDP seems inevitable. Unlike Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, who stepped down tonight, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is waiting to see what his party asks him to do. Until late 2015, it won’t matter.

Update: Elections Canada has posted a final voter turnout number of 61.4%.

Here are some more statistics that point to the need for electoral reform in Canada:

  • Quebec voters contributed 36% of the total votes cast for the NDP across Canada, but Quebec MPs will comprise 57% of the NDP’s national caucus.
  • The Bloc Quebecois seats were reduced by almost 92%. While almost 1 in 4 Quebecois voted BQ, only 1 in 20 of Quebec’s MPs are BQ. (Previously the Bloc always won far more seats than their vote percentage would indicate.)
  • In Ontario, the Conservatives increased their share of the vote by 5% but saw their share of the seats grow by 20%.
  • The NDP increased their share of the vote in Manitoba, but their number of seats was cut in half.
  • The NDP won almost a third of the votes in Saskatchewan without winning a single seat.

Update 2: According to Fair Vote Canada, Canada’s House of Commons would look like this today if seats were won in proportion to votes cast: Conservatives 122, NDP 95, Liberals 59, Bloc 19, Green 13.


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