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Oct 20 / Great Apes

2015 Election Musings

A few unrelated thoughts on the outcome of last night’s election.

1. The Liberals won more than the other parties lost

It is easy to view the results of last night’s election as an anti-Harper statement or a shift from the NDP to the Liberals, but I don’t think the data really supports either conclusion.  It’s easy to draw cynical conclusions about elections, but I think the Liberal victory suggests reasons for optimism even if you’re not a Liberal supporter (and I’m certainly not).

Take a look at this chart:


Party 2011 Votes 2015 Votes Difference
Liberals 2,783,175 6,930,136 4,146,961
Conseratives 5,832,401 5,600,496 -231,905
NDP 4,508,474 3,461,262 -1,047,212
Green 576,221 605,864 29,643
Bloc 889,788 818,652 -71,136


You’ve likely noticed something pretty important – the Liberals gained significantly more than the other parties lost.  The Conservative Party vote was virtually unchanged from the 2011 election.  It certainly doesn’t look like people who previously voted Conservative left the party in any significant numbers.

The NDP vote is down, yes, but it’s actually still quite high by historical standards.  3.5 million votes is still nearly a million votes more than the NDP has earned in any other election, save for 2011.  Most of the NDP’s support seems to have stayed with the party.

The real story here is that voter turnout was way up, and that increased turnout enormously benefitted the Liberals.  Even if you assume the entire difference between 2011 and 2015 for both the CPC and NDP went Liberal, that still leaves the Liberals with nearly three million new votes.  That, in my opinion, is the real story of the election.  The Liberals convinced an exceptionally high number of people who have not voted at all in other recent elections to support them in this one.

Why does that make me optimistic?  Because after two decades of steadily declining voter turnout, followed by all three major parties fighting for a smaller and smaller share of “swing” voters, a party managed to win a majority by convincing new people that they should want to vote, by increasing the number of voters they targeted.

[Aside: Some might argue that this had more to do with anti-Harper sentiment than with the Liberal campaign as such, but I don’t buy that.  Anyone But Harper sentiment was extremely strong in the 2011 election, but turnout was only up a bit over 2008, and was still nearly a historical low.  Something else has to explain the Liberal surge.]

2. Polling

I have been highly critical of Canada’s polling companies in recent years.  I think it’s been fair criticism, as they’ve incorrectly pegged the vote in numerous major elections, including the 2011 federal election.  But if I’m going to take credit when I’m right, I also have to admit when I’ve been wrong, and the major polling companies did a good job at the end of this campaign.  Here’s a chart showing their final polls to the actual popular vote:


Party Ipsos Nanos Ekos Forum Actual
LPC 38% 39% 38% 40% 40%
CPC 31% 31% 31% 30% 32%
NDP 22% 20% 22% 20% 20%


Now, I still believe that most polls during elections are essentially useless.  Indeed, polls showing things like that the Conservatives were leading in Quebec obviously turned out to be nonsense, and it does voters no real good to know who’s ahead in the polls weeks or months before an election – even if the polls are right – given how much things often change by the end.  But in the end the pollsters got it right, and they deserve credit.

[Aside: This does not alter my assessment of election projections in Canada, which once again failed dramatically.  But that’s a separate post I’ll write in the next day or two.]

3. I’m concerned for civil rights under the Liberals

Justin Trudeau spoke out against niqab bans, which was the right thing to do even if it wasn’t a popular position.  That’s a good start.  But on issues that affect a significantly larger number of Canadians, Trudeau’s record looks much worse.

Trudeau continues to support Harper’s deeply troubling security bill C-51.  Trudeau admitted his party only supported the civil-rights-curtailing bill so Harper couldn’t use it in attacks against him.  He wouldn’t even say whether he thinks the legislation is constitutional, despite voting for it.

Equally concerning to me is that he courted Bill Blair, elected last night as the Member of Parliament for Scarborough Southewst. Blair, you may recall, was the police chief in Toronto during the G-20 debacle, where police arrested hundreds of peaceful protestors, almost all of whom were released without being charged with any crimes.  In the aftermath of the G-20, Blair gleefully admitted to having lied to the public about the circumstances under which police could legally arrest protestors.  Blair also participated in a press conference where he displayed what he claimed were weapons seized from violent protestors; they turned out to be toys used by a live-action role-playing group that was not involved in the protests in any capacity.

Blair also oversaw Toronto’s racist carding policy, which he continues to defend to this day.  The effects of carding on peaceful, non-criminal black men are well-documented, and the practice is a blatant violation of the Charter right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

If Blair is given a Cabinet position such as Public Safety or Justice, that would send a disturbing message about our new government’s commitment (or lack thereof) to upholding the basic democratic rights of Canadians.

4. Niqab

There seemed to be a time when the niqab was the only campaign issue anyone wanted to talk about.  Pundits claimed that the issue was of particular importance in Quebec, where opposition to the niqab is highest.  Yet the Bloc and Conservatives (who both support various forms of niqab bans) made only minimal progress in Quebec, while the Liberals and NDP – both of whom oppose niqab bans – won 72% of Quebec’s seats, including many in rural ridings where the issue was supposed to have the largest effect.

This is the 2nd election in the past year and a half where Quebecers elected parties that opposed a hard-line stance on niqabs.  It certainly seems as though the issue is of considerably less electoral importance than people seem to want to believe (or, if it is important, it is the anti-ban side that is winning).

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