Monday, August 03, 2009

The Elusive Majority

Jeffery Simpson recently wrote a column discussing the elusiveness of majority government in Canada. However, he focused on the relatively even division of opinion, describing four "blocks" of opinion.

In TC's view only one of these counts: the Bloc Quebecois. As long as it can win between 40 and 50 seats in the House of Commons each election in Quebec, it means that one of the pan-Canadian parties needs from 57.8% (BQ wins 40) to 60.1% (BQ wins 50) of the remaining seats in order to secure the 155 needed for a majority.

The difficulty is illustrated by looking back at previous majority governments pre-BQ. We find, for example, that the 1988 Mulroney PCs won just 57.1% of the seats overall. As a percentage of non BQ seats this mark would fail in current circumstances. The only two wins since 1960 that met the 57.8 to 60.1% benchmark were Mulroney in 1984 (75%) and Trudeau in 1968 (58.3%).

Chr├ętien's majorities were flukes in the sense that they depended on an even split between Reform/Alliance and PCs in Ontario and very low NDP numbers, which themselves were a product of a temporary decade-long depressed support level caused both by unpopular provincial governments (Harcourt/Clark in BC and Bob Rae in Ontario) and unusually weak federal leadership, principally Audrey McLaughlin. The NDP did begin to revive a bit under Alexa McDonough and gained new ground in Atlantic Canada but remained very weak in Ontario.

With the Conservatives reunited, looking ahead it is hard to see any majority scenario save for some kind of Liberal/NDP cooperation. While recent elections have not produced those numbers TC has seen a Liberal plus NDP majority in a fair number of polls in the past six months. It bears watching.

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