The Canadian province of Quebec went to the polls on Monday, after its parliament – called, somewhat provocatively, the National Assembly – served a full four-year term. At the previous election (see my report here), the moderate nationalist party, Coalition for Quebec’s Future (CAQ), won government for the first time, topping the poll with 37.4% of the vote and winning 74 of the 125 seats.
Voters obviously liked what they saw [link added], because this time CAQ got a swing of another 3.6 percentage points, taking it to 41.0%. With a big margin against its four opponents it’s not entirely unreasonable that it won a majority, but being Canada, it was an exaggeratedly large one: up 14 seats to 90, a majority of 55 against all comers.
But the real craziness was in the results for the other parties. All four were close together in the low to mid-teens, but the seats they won bear no relationship to the votes. Solidarity Quebec came second with 15.4%; it won 11 seats. Next was the Parti Québécois (PQ) with 14.6% but just three seats. Close behind were the Liberals on 14.4%, who remarkably won 21 seats. The Conservatives, not far back with 12.9%, won no seats at all.
Nor did swings do much to match seat movements. The Liberals suffered a huge swing against them, dropping more than ten points (from an already record low), but lost only a third of their seats; the PQ, with an adverse swing of just 2.5%, lost seven of its ten seats. Solidarity Quebec went backwards slightly in votes but picked up a seat, and the huge swing to the Conservatives (up from just 1.5%) brought them no benefit.
CAQ’s position is even stronger than it looks because its opponents are ideologically far apart. The PQ and Solidarity Quebec both support independence, while the Liberals and Conservatives (who are not related to their federal namesakes) are strongly federalist. CAQ is the one in the middle, making a combination against it unlikely.
The Liberals, as the main party for the non-Francophone community, have a bunch of reasonably safe seats in the suburbs of Montreal, so they retain a respectable representation even as they are massacred in the rest of the province: they will still be the official opposition, despite coming fourth. Solidarity Quebec, as the main left-wing party, can rely to a lesser extent on working-class districts. But the PQ and the Conservatives, with more broad-based support, lose out badly.
A quick calculation of a Gallagher Index, the standard measure of electoral unfairness, gave me a shocking 25.8, even worse than the 22.6 that Ontario recorded last June (higher numbers mean more distortion, up to a theoretical maximum of 100). Unlike the Conservatives in Ontario, however, CAQ is theoretically committed to reform: a bill was introduced for a referendum on mixed member proportional representation, only to be shelved last year, with Covid-19 given as the improbable excuse.
Since the present system is working so well for the incumbents, don’t count on it reappearing.