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Canadian Election Update

- April 30, 2011

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This is a guest post from “Richard Johnston”:http://www.politics.ubc.ca/index.php?id=2462, Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia:

bq. Observers seem to be picking up on the fact that something is afoot in Canada’s parliamentary election. “One site”:http://themace.ca/?p=209 claimed that the New Democrats (NDP), usually a distant third, had now overtaken the second-place Liberals and that the Liberals and NDP might together have more seats than the governing Conservatives. The site has “backed off slightly”:http://themace.ca/?p=245. What is clear is that the NDP began its move after leaders’ debates, in English and French, respectively, on 12-13 April. (The debates are noted with vertical lines in the graph above.) For a fairly conservative reading of the shifts, see “here”:http://pollob.politics.ox.ac.uk/index.php/index.html.

bq. What is not clear is the bottom line. Nation-wide, the NDP has gained at the expense of all three of the main alternatives. But it matters a lot where the NDP is actually making its gains. Gains in Ontario, where the NDP tends to start some distance behind the Liberals, are probably good news for the Conservatives. In the four western provinces, except for a few ridings in British Columbia, they are bad news for that party. But a disproportionate share of the NDP gains are coming in Quebec, and the net impact is very hard to discern. They seem to be coming mainly at the expense of the Bloc Quebecois. which runs candidates only in that province. It is entirely possible, however, that the NDP’s Quebec gains are too uniformly distributed to help the party much. They might hurt the Conservatives, then again they might help them.

bq. Matt Shugart “wonders”:http://fruitsandvotes.com/?p=5091 if we are witnessing Nick Clegg redux. The other parties have certainly turned their guns on Jack Layton and the NDP and his free ride is over. We may well see some retreat in NDP intentions. But the NDP are not the equivalent of Clegg’s Lib Dems. The NDP are clearly on the left and have local bases to build on. They are a major party in three western provinces and have governed at least once in the last 20 years in four provinces. In Canada, the Lib Dem equivalent is the party that shares the name and the history, the Liberal party. Unusually among Westminster systems, Canada was dominated for years by a party of the center. What kept the Liberals going for so long was their privileged position in Quebec, a position they no longer hold.

bq. Whatever happens on 2 May, its aftermath may be as significant as the election itself. If the Conservatives get a majority, they will move to alter the terms of competition. If they do not get a majority, the opposition might bring the government down. Depending on how the Conservatives respond, we could have a constitutional crisis. There are also major policy implications, not least for alliance politics, for example, whether or not Canada remains part of the multi-country F-35 procurement deal, whether Canadian troops stay in Afghanistan, and whether the Canadian air force continues to pay a combat role in Libya.