Election post-mortem

Below blog will be on what happened and why and what this means. I will later do another blog on what the Conservatives need to do going forward so they have a shot at winning the next election. First will do a breakdown by region, then by party, then some general observations, and end with a final thought.

Atlantic Canada: On election night, first results to come in were in Atlantic Canada. With Tories picking up multiple seats including winning a seat in Newfoundland after being shut out for several elections (PEI now is only province without a Tory MP), it seemed like perhaps we would get a change in government. But the Tory gains in Atlantic Canada ended up being a false start as weren’t seen elsewhere in the country so unlike recent elections, Atlantic Canada may have given false hints. At same time as I scrolled through riding by riding, I noticed Tories either winning or coming in strong seconds in most rural ridings, but in urban ones were staying at 2015 levels. Since Tories already have most rural ridings in West and Ontario while in Quebec most are BQ or Tories in Quebec City region, that was first warning sign Atlantic gains may not continue. After all Atlantic Canada is only part of country where Liberals still have several rural seats and we know rural Canada doesn’t particularly like Liberals. While Tories were never going to win in Halifax or St. John’s, their poor showing in Saint John, New Brunswick which is the type of riding they need to be winning if they want to form government was first warning sign.

Quebec: Like country largely status quo here. Liberals remained strong in Montreal and Outaouais while most of rural Quebec stayed BQ. One interesting thing I noticed is while Tories didn’t gain seats, they won they seats they had by even bigger margins while once you got outside the blue wall around Quebec City region, Tory support plummeted while BQ support surged. This makes me wonder if many in rural Quebec voted strategically thus suggesting potential for Tories elsewhere. Also those saying Legault’s comments flopped may be wrong if this was the case. At same time this shows BQ is more like CAQ today than BQ of 90s. Most of the urban left wing separatist areas went Liberal like East side of Montreal while BQ support was largely in rural areas which tend to be more conservative. NDP only won one seat, but I would say their future in Quebec is areas where Quebec Solidaire wins provincially. The 2011 orange wave was a one off and not likely to repeated anytime soon.

Ontario: Back in 2019, I said Liberals won in big part due to voter efficiency. It looks like they took it to a new level as unlike 2019 where Tories won popular vote but lost election due to massive margins in Prairies, it seems this problem came to Ontario. Gap between Tories and Liberals was cut in half, yet few seats changed despite this. With only a 4 point lead, Liberals got double the seats Tories did. More interesting is Tories + PPC got more votes than Liberals but even if we take the dubious assumption all PPC votes would have gone Conservative (some would, but many would stay home) still would have won fewer seats. In particular Liberals were able to maintain their lock on the GTA while Tories made a few gains in mixed urban/rural ridings but unable to break into GTA which is key to winning. Looking more closely, it appears that in your white upper middle class areas, Tories improved but not enough to win whereas in areas with large visible minority populations they went backwards and are back to square one. If you compare Ontario 2018 to Ontario in 2021, in most ridings Tory + PPC support was pretty close to what Ontario PCs got in 2018, but in ridings with large minority populations, massive gap. Best example of this is Scarborough North where Ontario PCs won it with over 50% of the popular vote, but federal Tories couldn’t even crack 20% mark and Liberals had best showing in country at 66%. This says to me if Tories wish to breakthrough here, they need to do better amongst visible minorities. As Doug Ford in 2018 and Harper in 2011 showed, it can be done but it takes work. My guess why this happened is visible minorities much like whites have people across the political spectrum and percentage who hold conservative viewpoints is probably close to general population. Main reason some are reluctant to go Tory is party has a bad reputation of being intolerant so they want to know the leader and be comfortable with him or her before voting for them and if unsure stick with devil they know. Doug Ford through his presence municipally and many events is widely known whereas Erin O’Toole is not. Unfortunately due to pandemic, few opportunities to do so, but if Tories wish to win in next election, then getting out and meeting with people in cultural communities is essential. Another thing that helped Liberals was strategic voting. It appears NDP underperformed leading me to guess attack ads worked in getting some soft NDP voters to swing to Liberals to block a Tory win. This is a big problem in 905 belt as Tories have a solid base in mid 30s there and with a good campaign can easily get into low 40s. But without a stronger NDP, they need over 45% in 905 belt and that is very tough to do.

Manitoba/Saskatchewan: There it was status quo in seats, but in both provinces unlike Eastern ones, Tory vote fell, but it appears most of it was due to gains by PPC. More importantly biggest drops were in rural ridings where Tories can afford to lose a lot of votes without losing any seats. Still in Winnipeg Tories performed quite poorly and appears despite Pallister’s resignation, unpopularity of Manitoba PCs had some spillover. Another interesting tidbit is for first time since merger, Saskatchewan not Alberta was the best province for Tories in terms of share of popular vote. I have suggested this would happen as Saskatchewan is more rural, less diverse, and fewer with post secondary degree which nowadays is where parties on right do best unlike past where income was main driver. Saskatchewan will be the only province which will not have an MP on the government benches. Likewise NDP once again shut out although they did have some support in two cities, but are irrelevant in rural Saskatchewan. Days of rural Saskatchewan voting NDP or CCF earlier are long gone.

Alberta: To no one’s surprise, once again Tories won vast majority of seats. But underneath that, they took a big hit here. Saw a 14 point drop which was by far their biggest one in the country. In fact if you removed Alberta, Tories led by O’Toole actually did better than Tories led by Scheer. Some of that went to parties on right, but a lot went to parties on left. Big reason for this was unpopularity of Jason Kenney. O’Toole’s endorsement of him and Kenney endorsing him likely pushed some who normally vote Tory to go elsewhere. Kenney’s handling of the pandemic has been an unmitigated disaster and Tories in Alberta paid a price for that. NDP for first time ever got more than 1 seat and at 19% of the popular vote, that is their best showing in province since 1988. Liberals likewise won two seats meaning Alberta will get some representation in government. And despite not being a fan of Liberals, I am glad they won seats in Alberta. Ideally it would be nice if there was at least one Tory MP and one Liberal MP from every province that way every province has a seat at the table. And unlike 2019, both won seats in 9 of 10 provinces instead of 8 of 10. That being said I had thought a steep drop in Tory vote in Alberta would make national vote more efficient thus wouldn’t see a repeat of the inefficiency in 2019, but it looks like this was offset by Ontario and BC seeing even greater efficiency for Liberals. Also Jason Kenney with this should really consider resigning. Unlike federally where left is split, almost all NDP, Liberal and Green supporters will unite behind Notley come 2023 while some Tory supporters may go for WIPA, some may go Alberta Party, some may stay home, and even a few might hold their noses and vote NDP just to dump Kenney. Trudeau is very unpopular in Alberta and Singh is not exactly popular with his energy stance so fact Tories took such a big tumble and much of it, particularly in two cities (Rural Alberta will never go NDP provincially, but two cities could) shows just how much damage Kenney has done to Tory brand there.

British Columbia: Two themes here were Liberal vote efficiency and Tory disappointment. If Tories were most happy about gains in Atlantic Canada, it was other end of country that provided biggest disappointment. Yes they lost seats in Alberta, but that was expected whereas losses in BC were not. Likewise Liberals came in third in votes in BC, yet first in seats. Tories were strong in BC Interior and Fraser Valley as expected but only won one seat west of the Langley/Surrey border. I remember back in 2000 in my first election when the Canadian Alliance absolutely dominated Lower Mainland suburbs and even Vancouver Island. Likewise even as recently as 2011, things looked good in GVRD suburbs for right. Unlike GTA where you had some close ridings and PCs winning there provincially, it is clear Lower Mainland suburbs have seen a dramatic shift left in last decade. Last time a party right of centre won majority of Lower Mainland suburbs was BC Liberals in 2013. Not sure exact reason, but unlike GTA, I think Tory future in GVRD is looking a lot grimmer. Perhaps high housing prices or climate change is causing big shift? Also it appears there was a strong correlation between size of Chinese community and shift from Tories to Liberals. We saw this in GTA too so its clear the Chinese community which was perhaps only visible minority group Tories won in 2019, clearly swung to Liberals. I don’t know exact reason and want to avoid speculating, but party needs to figure out why if they want to make gains in either metro areas. NDP not surprisingly had their best showing in the country in BC. Since provincial and federal wings are linked and BC NDP is without question the strongest provincial NDP party, it makes sense that would have some spillover federally.

Territories: Not to forget about them, it looks like status quo. Tories bombed Nunavut and Northwest Territories, but interestingly enough in Yukon, combined Tory + Independent easily would have beat Liberals and independent was former Tory candidate who got dumped for not getting vaccinated. While it was the right thing to dump him as would have done more damage nationally. It may have very well cost them the riding. NDP held Nunavut despite incumbent not running for re-election.

Below is my thoughts on each party.

Liberals: They won again, but failed to get their majority. More importantly for second time in a row, Trudeau has lost popular vote and gotten less than 1/3 of popular vote. Yes Liberal vote is extremely efficient and as long as support holds up, that is a good thing for them. But Liberal support doesn’t need to fall much for them to start losing a whole bunch of seats. They had a rough start, but I feel their attack ads is what saved them. People may say they hate attack ads but they work. And more importantly, to succeed you need to start early as it takes repetition and time before they sink in. Also part of reason for efficient vote is amazing data which allowed them to micro target all the close ones so shows importance of having good data. Tories a decade ago used to have advantage on this, but now Liberals clearly have edge here. At same time there will be tough decisions ahead so I suspect popularity is more likely to decline than rise. If I were Trudeau, I would work on achieving some legacy in next few years like maybe universal childcare, Pharmacare, high speed rail or something like that and then call it quits. And with Liberals winning again, I believe Freeland not Carney is clear frontrunner to be next prime-minister of Canada.

Conservatives: This was obviously a big disappointment. Yes back in July when party was polling at 25%, many would have been happy with this result, but by Labour Day many thought part had a good chance to win a minority. Considering the most accurate pollster, Leger showed more stable numbers, I don’t think party was ever at 25% in July nor at 37% going into Labour Day. O’Toole tried to moderate party and some on right will claim his failure to win is proof party needs to move back to the right. I will have more on this in another post, but I believe this would be a huge mistake. Fact is in more centrist areas the party did increase their share of the popular vote while mostly lost in Alberta due to Kenney and other strongholds where they can afford to lose votes but still win seats. Yes their gains weren’t enough to win seats they needed, but it takes time to build up support and 5 weeks is simply not enough time. Party should instead learn from their mistakes make some minor changes, but continue to stay moderate with the goal of building on what they have. And more importantly I don’t believe Canadians were ready to turf the Liberals. Some may be disappointed, but I don’t see the anger towards the government at levels you typically see when governments get defeated. It feels more like Harper in 2012 then Harper in 2015 in terms of mood towards government.

Bloc Quebecois: Largely status quo here and I suspect a lot of Bloc Quebecois supporters are people unhappy with Liberals but not comfortable going Conservative. Whether a federalist party can win them over or not, remains to be seen, but can be done, although not easy.

NDP: With high hopes of making big gains, this ended up being a major disappointment. Part of it was due to some NDP supporters at last minute shifting to Liberals to block a Tory win. That is always a risk NDP faces when polls are close so little they can do about that. At same time I think party relied too heavily on millennials where they are strong, but without stronger support from older voters who generally show up unlike younger voters, this is taking a huge gamble. Large millennial support only works if done in addition to being competitive amongst older voters like Obama in 2008 or Trudeau in 2015. It doesn’t work if you do poorly amongst older voters like UK Labour in both 2017 and 2019 as well as Quebec Solidaire. Still NDP does hold balance of power and they should use this to try and get some concessions from Liberals and if successful that can help them next time around.

Green Party: To no one’s surprise a disaster in votes, but managed to hold two seats due to local circumstances. While AnneMarie Paul is a decent leader, I feel she had no choice but to resign. It is unfortunate as problem was with membership and anti-Semitism, but clearly party needs a huge makeover. More importantly with already two other centre-left parties, question becomes is there really room for another?

PPC: They got 5% of popular vote so despite winning no seats, did see biggest increase in support of parties. Some blame them for costing Tories the election, but I disagree with this assessment. Undoubtedly PPC cost Tories some seats, but even if every single PPC vote went Tory, still would have fallen one seat short despite a 5% popular vote lead. Much of PPC strength was in areas Tories were already winning anyways. Never mind I don’t buy idea every single PPC vote would have gone Conservative in their absence. Without question they hurt them the most, but it seemed most PPC voters were often angry disillusioned types who would have just stayed home otherwise. Likewise many were single issue voters over vaccines and vaccine mandates. With this issue likely to no longer be an issue by next election, I am skeptical party has much future. Still those who oppose their extreme views would be wrong to dismiss them as I’ve found right wing populism globally tends to go through ebbs and flows and predicting its rise and fall can be a challenge.

My final thoughts are Canadians were happy with how things were working before the election and while one cannot control how every seat goes, fact election results were so similar to 2019 suggests Canadians got exactly what they wanted. At same time rural/urban divide is becoming worrisome. There is no easy solution, but parties should find ways to try to bridge divide even if it may not net them many seats rather than playing it up. It is interesting that a week before and a week after, Norway and Germany had elections and their main left wing parties in both were able to be competitive in many rural areas unlike progressive parties in Canada so maybe it can be done, but also those countries have very different cultures. This divide is even worse in US and in UK pretty bad and only reason Tories do better in urban areas there than in Canada is Labour is a lot further left than our Liberals so probably able to win over urban centrists that our Tories have not been able to. Also there are tough economic decisions ahead and while I realize fiscal conservatism is not so popular right now, parties cannot put off difficult decisions indefinitely. Maybe for a year or two, but they will have to face harsh reality sooner rather than later.

2 thoughts on “Election post-mortem

  1. You know Miles, your analysis reminds me that the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert said on CBC’s Issues Panel about the election that “This was the election that nobody (except Trudeau) wanted, and nobody got what they wanted”. I agree with her that none of the parties got what they wanted – but you have rightly noted that the since the 2021 election results were so similar to 2019, maybe “Canadians got exactly what they wanted”. Which suggests to me that all of the parties need to start listening a lot closer to Canadians, and spend a lot less time thinking about how to advance their own self interests. Too late for Trudeau to learn, but never too late for better leaders to do better…

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    1. Trudeau has only been in power for six years and while has plenty of haters, most don’t hate him. Maybe disappointed, but not yet at throw the bums out. Most are fine with him being PM, but want him on a tight leash which a minority does just that. Tories back in July were in dire straits so O’Toole’s move to centre helped save party from losing many seats, but re-building a party that is viewed quite negatively by many is going to take time, it won’t happen overnight. Point is party is finally getting message Harper era is over and it must change to win again, but that will take time. BQ seems to succeed less over support for separatism (which is at an all time low) and more appeal to Quebecers who dislike the three federalist choices. If any of the three federalist parties can find a way to appeal to Quebecers outside Montreal area, they could easily pick up most BQ seats. NDP while disappointing, needs to remember what their real purpose is. 2011 was a one time event and not likely to happen again anytime soon. Instead party is there to pull Liberals leftward in a minority. And most NDP voters want exactly that. And fact is Singh may have won only a quarter of the seats Layton did in 2011, but with a Liberal minority, he can have a lot of influence on legislation whereas Layton in 2011 facing a Conservative majority had zero.

      Green party had a bad election thanks to infighting, but with already two progressive parties, real question is do we have room for a third. If we had PR (which I oppose) maybe but in our first past post system I think that part of spectrum is already too crowded. PPC saw big gains in votes which is worrisome, but good news is unlike most of Europe which use PR systems thus allowing far right to gain foothold, our system does a good job of keeping extremists out. And with no seats, it will be much harder for party to grow. Never mind hopefully by next election pandemic is behind us meaning many of their voters who were single issue over vaccines and vaccine passports, they won’t be able to rely on. In 2000 when I become of age to vote, only a handful of Western European countries had far right parties represented in legislatures. Today vast majority do and while they’ve waned and waxed and none thankfully have come close to winning, their presence still brings in toxic ideas. By contrast UK which uses same system as we do has been able to keep them out despite the fact such ideas have just as much support there as they do in rest of Europe. And Australia who has run off votes has seen One Nation Party which is like PPC rise occasionally, but their failure to win seats has thankfully marginalized them. I think if anything PPC showing is one more reason to be thankful all referendums on switching to proportional representation have failed.

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