Results from last week’s Canadian election are now complete. The picture is substantially the same as in my earlier report: the Liberal Party of prime minister Justin Trudeau will continue in office, still without a majority of seats and still without winning a plurality of the vote.
The opposition Conservatives again topped the poll with 33.7% of the vote (down just 0.6% from 2019) and won 119 of the 338 seats (down two). The Liberals trailed slightly with 32.6% (down 0.5%) but won 159 seats (up two). Third place again went to the New Democrats (NDP) on 17.8% (up 1.8%) and 25 seats (up one), but the Quebec Bloc, with less than half as many votes (7.6%, unchanged) but highly concentrated, won more seats: 33 (up one).
The big loser was the Greens, who dropped from 6.5% to 2.3% and lost one of their three seats. The right-wing People’s Party more than doubled its vote, up 3.3% to 4.9%, but still won no seats. The single independent has retired, but one MP elected as a Liberal was disendorsed and will sit as an independent.
Only 23 seats changed hands, with most of the changes cancelling out. Liberal gains were mostly in the west of the country while Conservative gains were mostly in the east – due in part, no doubt, to the Conservatives choosing an easterner as leader. But regional differences remain strong, as does the urban/rural divide, with the Liberals heavily reliant on the urban vote.
In order for the Liberals to lose office the NDP and the Quebec Bloc would have to act together to put the Conservatives in, and that won’t happen. Both are philosophically more comfortable with the Liberals, and while they might try to rein Trudeau in a bit there is nothing the Conservatives can offer to make them both switch sides. (Electoral reform, for example, would appeal to the NDP but not, for obvious reasons, to the Bloc.)
There’s a sense (like last time) in which the electoral system got the right result: the majority voted for left-of-centre parties but didn’t give any one of them a majority, so a minority left-of-centre government is an appropriate outcome. But that correctness, such as it is, is a matter of chance rather than design. All too often it goes the other way.
So a very expensive and time-consuming exercise has produced essentially no change. Trudeau failed to win the majority that he wanted, but also was not seriously punished for the early election. It seems unlikely, however, that the Liberals will risk another election under his leadership; most probably there will be a changing of the guard before 2025. The Conservatives will also be subject to their usual internal warfare.
No-one, it seems to me, has hit on a perfect solution to the problem of unnecessary early elections. Some countries (mostly, but not exclusively, those with presidential systems) have fixed terms, which offer no escape route when parliament becomes dysfunctional. Others have terms fixed subject to stated exceptions; these are always open to political manipulation, but they at least provide some deterrent, although they may also create problems if the exceptions are drawn too narrowly.
Other countries leave open the option of early elections, but have strong conventions against using it other than in cases of genuine need – New Zealand is a good example. This works well, but is of limited use to countries with a different tradition. Conventions cannot be manufactured out of whole cloth; they arise from long observance, and many different politicians will have to do the right thing before it becomes established as a norm.
Trudeau, who in most respects has been a successful leader, conspicuously did the wrong thing here, just as he had done earlier on electoral reform. He will probably not be the last offender.