Monday, March 28, 2011

Majority versus Minority

Since 1957 Canada has had 18 elections, this will be the 19th on May 2nd.   I chose the 1957 starting date because it was a major change in Canadian politics of the country, it is the first election in 27 years where there was any party that could challenge the Liberals.  It is also the start of a long term trend in which Canada has been just as likely to see minority governments as majority governments and we have nationwide third parties added to the mix.

1957 is also the first election that saw full slates from the two major parties and to have a third party have candidates in more than 60% of the ridings.   Canada had a period from 1904 to 1917 when the Liberals and Conservatives ran close to full slates but there were virtually no other candidates at all.

By the 1962 election the CCF and Social Credit were close to full slates as well.  

Once the Progressive Conservatives were competitive in 1957 and we had four parties being elected to the parliament we had six minorities and three majorities in the era that followed.

1979 saw the Creditistes reduced to six seats and then they disappeared in 1980 and we had an era of only three national parties.  

From 1980 to 2004 we had six majority governments in a row, but the popular vote of the Liberals in 1993, 1997 and 2000 were the lowest levels of support for a majority government.   It is in 1993 that we went from three parties in parliament to five parties.  In 1997 we had all four opposition parties manage to get more than 10% of the vote in the election.     It is the split between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance that allowed there to be a Liberal majority government for three elections.   With four parties instead of five it is probable that Jean Chretien would have been hard pressed to achieve a majority government.

Since 1993, in six elections, only twice has any party managed to break 40% of the vote nationally.   Before 1993 there were only two elections in the more than 100 years where no party managed to achieve at least 40% of the vote, that being in 1962 and 1972.

The fragmented nature of the parliament we have now does not seem to be moving towards one in which anyone is likely to see 40%, let alone 45%, of the vote.

We are now at  point where five parties are certain to take at least 5% of the vote nationally, though only four will elect MPs.   For us to return to majority governments being the norm, we need to see the number of parties that elect MPs drop to three nationwide.

There is a reasonable chance the Conservatives could squeak out a majority in this election, but if they do so it would be a very narrow majority, as narrow as a single MP.  If Stephen Harper manages a majority, it is a reasonable expectation that the election in 2015 would return a minority.

Honestly, we should expect minorities to be the norm of Canadian politics for the foreseeable future.

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