Overall the results of the 2021 election were unremarkable. The result was acutely disappointing for the Liberal government, but their expections for a majority may have been misplaced. What follows are some observations about 2021.
1963 & 1965
The 2019 and 2021 elections bear a striking resemblance to the 1963 and 1965 elections. Both 1963 and 1965 produced Liberal minorities that were disappointments for the Liberals as they had expected to win a majority in both cases. Clearly the 2021 election was called by Justin Trudeau because numerous polls prior to the call of the election suggested that a majority was within reach, quite similar to the calling of the 1965 election by Lester Pearson on the urging of Walter Gordon and Keith Davey.
|Lester Pearson & Walter Gordon|
Because the Liberals slumped initially before recovering, expectations rose among some observers
of a possible Conservative win. These expections were unrealistic. Among other things it involved forgetting that the Conservatives had already won more votes in 2019 but ended up with far fewer seats. My seat estimate, applied to the point where they peaked in the polls in late August, would have had them somewhere close to a tie with the Liberals in seats or even slightly ahead, but a long way short of a majority. In other words the Conservatives were not close to winning even a significant plurality of the constituencies. Once the campaign became focused the dynamic changed. It became clear that the Conservatives were attempting to come down on both sides of issues
ranging from abortion to vaccination. This was a clear indication that they had no confidence in key parts of their platform.
An important Liberal mistake was anticipating that gains in Quebec would carry them much of the way towards a majority. In part the Bloc got lucky gaining ground based on the aggressive behaviour of the host of the English TV debate, which overall she handled badly. However, it revealed how brittle Quebec nationalist sensibilities can be. The Bloc portrayed the host's question on Bill 21 as an attack on Quebec. The political dynamic in Quebec is at best elusive; a similar unexpectedly strong performance on the part of the Ralliement créditistes of Real Caouette in rural Quebec in 1965 contributed to the Liberal failure then. I remember a pollster on the 1965 CBC election night coverage excusing his results by saying they were off base mainly in rural Quebec.
Pork Barrel Politics
When there is an impending election the party in power tries to take advantage of it by funding local projects to pick up a marginal seat. I wrote about this last summer: "The Liberal government gives every signal that they intend to call an election in late summer or early autumn with the goal of converting their minority into a majority. One such sign was the announcement of federal money on July 9 for the extension of the Skytrain in BC in Surrey and Langley, which is aimed at shoring up existing Liberal ridings while targeting narrowly held Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) constituencies such as South Surrey-White Rock and Cloverdale-Langley City." So how did that turn out? The results were mixed: the Liberals did win Cloverdale-Langley City, a new seat for them, by three points, but lost the South Surrey-White Rock riding by a similar amount. The Liberals did keep their existing ridings in the region.
The Liberals picked up three constituencies with large Chinese populations: Richmond Centre and Steveston-Richmond East in British Columbia, and Markham-Unionville in suburban Toronto. Given there was so little seat shifting the change is notable. Some argue that it was partly a product of a disinformation campaign by China, which was reacting to Conservative party policy proposals. However, it is conceivable the strong criticism of the Conservative party of Chinese human rights violations could have been interpreted by some members of the community as being anti-Chinese. Either way it did not affect the net outcome.
On the whole, with a notable exception, the polls were accurate in 2021. I compared both the national and regional polls to the results. The most accurate polling firms were Leger, Ipsos and Research Co when you include all the regional numbers. The exception was the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) polls - ie being phoned by a computer. They significantly overestimated support for the PPC (People's Party of Canada).
The PPC and Greens
The PPC measurably increased its support in this election, from 3.3% in 2019 to 4.9% in 2021 (but won no seats) essentially campaigning as an anti-vaccine party (its strength was strongest in rural Manitoba). Following its disastrous leadership change, the Green Party dropped 4.1 percentage points between the two elections and ended up with one less seat.
Third Party Interventions
There are always interests and individuals seeking to affect elections. Former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson Raybould, elected as an independent in 2019, wrote a critical memoir centred on the SNC Lavalin Affair and was, according to Jeffrey Simpson, "so determined ... to wound the prime minister and his party in the 2021 election that she apparently advanced the memoir’s publication date to maximize the hurt it might do to her former colleagues." As best I can tell it had no impact. Most intervenors in elections are similarly unsuccessful.
What should we expect in our political future
During the campaign, Earnscliffe Strategies sponsored weekly polls by Leger and provided discussion in the form of a webinar. One session focused particualarly on second choices. The election delivered a disappointing outcome for the NDP but the poll suggests the NDP may be well positioned going forward (see 8:20 onward). Nationally more voters indicated second choice support for the NDP than any other party
|Earnscliffe Leger Poll 2021 Election|
Earnscliffe's Allan Gregg, one of Canada's best pollsters, comments (at about the 10:04 mark): "Second choice support is a pretty good surrogate for potential growth.You can see how different it is for each of the three parties. You can see here the Conservatives only have six percent of the population versus fifteen percent for the Liberals and twenty-seven percent for the New Democrats. Historically you would never see anything like that. Secondly you look at Liberal voters, they have almost no propensity to vote Conservative whatsoever."
Gregg was referring in this instance to the short term of the election campaign but it might be appropriate to think about it in a longer run context.
As the Official Opposition, the Conservatives are generally thought of as the most likely alternative government, but if Gregg's comment is right, they will have a hard time getting there.
The NDP also benefits from Jagmeet Singh's popularity, although it is strongly correlated with age. Singh is quite popular with younger voters. There are a number of different questions used to measure personal popularity. One of the best measures is 'Who do you prefer as prime minister?'. This appears to be closest to actual vote choice. The Nanos poll asks more than one including preferred prime minister. Trudeau is almost always first around 30%. This week O'Toole was second and Singh third, near 20%. Last week it was the reverse. Singh has the most support when the question is about 'has the qualities of a good political leader' (note: not prime minister).
Will Trudeau Retire from Politics?
I like gossip as much as the next person but the Ottawa press corps is obsessed with gossip about Trudeau's departure so you see a great deal of coverage. When asked, Trudeau said clearly he is not leaving. If you want to figure out what will happen history strongly suggests that he is far more likely to hang on too long than leave early. Party leaders that have hung on too long in recent history include Brian Mulroney (leaving Kim Campbell not much time to get ready for the next election), Pierre Trudeau (remember the 'peace initiative'), Jean Chrétien (helping provoke the clash with Martin), and John Diefenbaker (he had to be ousted by Dalton Camp). There are several more. Ignore the gossip.