Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

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The 2019 Election by (Some of) the Numbers

Seat Distributions

Regional distribution of seats, 2019 Canadian election

The Liberals elected as many MPs west of Ontario as the NDP did: 15. (That number doesn’t include the North.) Not entirely sure why the CBC commentators made a fuss about the Liberals having no cabinet representation in the West: “the West” is more than just Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Even so, the Liberals elected more seats west of Ontario than the Conservatives did east of Ontario: 15 vs. 14. The NDP elected only two seats east of Ontario.

The Liberals elected more Quebec MPs than the Bloc Québécois—35 vs. 32—and edged them out in the popular vote in Quebec.

Half of the Liberal caucus will be from Ontario (79 out of 157). Nearly half of the Conservative caucus will be from the Prairie provinces (54 out of 121). Nearly half of the NDP caucus will be from British Columbia (11 out of 24).

Regionalism is a thing, in other words.

The Conservatives got fewer seats than the Liberals despite having more votes. Having the largest popular vote while coming up short in the seat count is what happens when you win your own seats by gargantuan margins (see Alberta) but lose by narrower margins. Happens to the Quebec Liberals provincially all the time: they win anglo Montréal seats by margins that would make Jason Kenney blush, and end up losing elections while winning the popular vote.

(If your response to this is “we need proportional representation,” please see my earlier post from 2015: The Unintended Consequences of Proportional Representation.)

Local Results

Pontiac went Liberal, to no one’s surprise (see Pontiac in the 2019 Federal Election: A Preview).

Pontiac results, 2011-2019

Incumbent Liberal Will Amos was easily reelected with 48.9 percent of the vote. That’s down 5.6 points (and some 4,400 votes) from his 2015 result: still a comfortable win by a comfortable margin. There was a lot of movement further down the ballot. The Conservative vote recovered somewhat, the Bloc Québécois vote more than doubled, and the NDP vote was less than half of what it was in 2015. Looking at these numbers, which are much more in line with what I saw in the Chrétien and Martin years, you’d be hard pressed to believe that the NDP took this seat in 2011. They got just over a quarter of their 2011 vote this time around.

Voter turnout was nearly 61,000: down only 1,700 from 2015, and some 10,000 above the (redistributed) 2011 turnout.1 Quite strong, in other words. The Liberal vote didn’t stay home as much as I thought it might.

Foreign Affairs

Axiom: For a politician, interfering in the politics of another country, especially a friendly country, is a super-bad idea because it will have diplomatic repercussions down the road: the side you come out against may win, and hold your support for the other side against you.

Therefore:

  1. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair calling Donald Trump a fascist and demanding that the Trudeau government condemn his candidacy was a bad idea in 2016, because Trump went on to win: whoever lives in the White House, even if he’s horrible, the Canadian government has find some way to work with him. We know that Trump never met a grudge he wouldn’t nurse forever.
  2. Current NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hoping that Trump is impeached is also a bad idea, for the same reason. I think Trump should be impeached too, but I’m not trying to be prime minister. In the black-swan scenario where Singh ends up as prime minister next week, what does the incoming prime minister being on record hoping for the U.S. president’s impeachment do to Canada-U.S. relations? There’s a reason the Trudeau government has been treading delicately.
  3. Andrew Scheer coming out in in support of Brexit was also a bad idea. (It was also mystifying: I’m trying to think of what domestic constituency Scheer was trying to appeal to, other than certain other right-wing politicians abroad.) Supporting Brexit is not an obvious way to good relations with the EU—nor, should Britain turn on its heels, reject Brexit in a second referendum, and elect a pro-Remain government, the U.K. itself. Again: should Scheer be elected prime minister next week, this will complicate things.
  4. What about Barack Obama tweeting his support for Justin Trudeau? A bit more complicated: there are no direct diplomatic implications for Obama’s support, because Obama is no longer the president: he’s technically a private citizen. Trouble might come for Trudeau from other U.S. politicians who detest Obama enough to spite him by torpedoing Canada-U.S. relations, but I doubt that changes very much: the Obama-Trudeau bromance was very much a thing in 2015-2016.

I still think it’s bad form to endorse candidates in elections you don’t vote in: it’s easy to support a political position if you’re not effected by the outcome. I try not to comment on other provincial elections: it’s none of my business. But none of my business is on a different level than diplomatic incident. The latter does more damage than you might think.

Consider what has happened when foreign politicians inserted themselves into our political debates. We didn’t like it one bit.

In 1988 Margaret Thatcher addressed the Canadian House of Commons. In her speech she assured her audience that Canadians had “nothing to fear” from the just-signed free-trade agreement with the United States. (Said trade agreement was a bitter point of contention, and would become the single issue on which the 1988 election was fought.) When Thatcher said that, the opposition parties flipped out. John Turner declared the statement “inappropriate”; Ed Broadbent accused the government of being “colonial Conservatives.” Just imagine the impact on Canada-U.K. relations if Broadbent or Turner had gone on to be prime minister.

Or, to take another example: De Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre!” Which did have an impact on Canada-French relations: it created a serious diplomatic incident, and was a major political scandal back in France.

If we don’t like British, French or U.S. politicians offering their opinions on contentious Canadian issues, we should probably resist the temptation to do the same to other countries. Especially since doing so tends to blow up in your face.

By no means is this to say that we should remain silent when another government is engaging in acts of aggression, crimes against humanity, or other human rights violations: these are appropriate, even necessary things to speak out about.

But gratuitously inserting yourself into the domestic political debates of an ally? Endorsing one candidate or platform over another? No. Don’t do that. Are you stupid?

When Federal Politicians Talk About Provincial Matters, and Vice Versa

In law there is the concept of ultra vires: “beyond the powers.” It refers to something beyond the power of a person, entity or government. An organization cannot do something beyond what is set out in its by-laws, or the laws that regulate organizations like it; and a government cannot do something beyond its legal authority.

A town council, for example, cannot raise an army or issue its own currency, because (at least in Canada) its powers are strictly delimited by provincial municipal legislation, legislation that says a municipality may only enact by-laws in these specific areas.

Canada’s constitution assigns different powers and responsibilities to the federal and provincial governments. It’s all set out in Part VI of the Constitution Act, 1867. But that doesn’t stop Canadian politicians from trying to legislate in areas that aren’t theirs.

Provincial governments can’t help themselves from mucking around in the federal arena: they open trade offices in other countries or demand control over culture and immigration. And as we’ve seen in the current election, federal politicians can’t help but campaign on matters that fall under provincial jurisdiction.

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Status Quo Ante

The Liberals’ key attack line against the Conservatives in this election is that their leader, Andrew Scheer, is simply the second coming of Stephen Harper. It’s a standard line from the political playbook: tie the new guy to the unpopular old guy. But the Conservatives seem to be doing their best to make their point for them: a good chunk of their platform seems to be the restoration of a lot of policies, credits and benefits that were brought in during the Harper years and subsequently scrapped by the Trudeau government. As Andrew MacDougall writes in the Citizen this morning, “by picking up many of the Harper planks discarded by Trudeau in office—transit, sport and arts tax credits, small business tax changes—Scheer is literally promising to be Harper 2.0.” One wonders whether they’ll shut up the scientists and cancel the long-form census again, too.

If status quo ante as election platform—we’re going to put things back exactly where they were—strikes you as a bit strange, it shouldn’t: “returning things to normal” is what you campaign on when you think the other guys have broken things irredeemably. It wouldn’t be out of place in the U.S., for example. But in this case it seems a bit more brazen and a bit less self-aware: as though the Conservatives haven’t quite encompassed the fact that they lost the last election for real; that Trudeau shouldn’t have won, or didn’t deserve to win, or his win was a result of some random cosmic accident. (The NDP indulged in this sort of thinking after the last election as well.)

What this is, I think, is an example of a phenomenon I’ve observed in Canadian political parties before. When a governing party is defeated at the polls, it seems to take two electoral defeats to beat the entitlement out of them. One can be dismissed as an exception, an aberration—the electorate taking temporary leave of their senses. It takes a second drubbing at the polls to make a party reflect and take stock. Not for nothing did the Liberals lose in 2006, 2008 and 2011: not only did they deserve the time out, they needed it. Only when a party accepts its defeat can it regroup and sort itself out so that it can be electorally viable again. In fact, this process is almost essential to a party’s long-term health.

It’s one reason why most governments are re-elected to a second term: the opposition hasn’t accepted the fact that it lost the first time.

Pontiac in the 2019 Federal Election: A Preview

I live in the federal electoral district of Pontiac, which includes the rural counties and reserves of the Outaouais north and west of Gatineau, plus some suburban neighbourhoods in Gatineau. It’s about one-third anglophone, with a large concentration of rural anglophones, especially here in the namesake Pontiac MRC (an MRC is basically a county) that have much in common culturally with people on the Ontario side of the Ottawa Valley. The presence of those voters, who tend to vote Conservative, has made for some interesting electoral dynamics in the past.

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Quebec Election 2018: Pontiac Candidates

Every election, I try to take a look at what’s happening in my own constituency. For the 2018 Quebec provincial election now underway, that constituency is Pontiac, which takes up the Pontiac MRC, the Municipality of Pontiac, and most of the Aylmer sector of Gatineau.

While on the provincial level this election promises to be one of the most interesting we’ve had in decades, the outcome in my constituency is almost certainly a foregone conclusion. Pontiac concentrates most of the Outaouais’s anglophone population and as a result is one of the safest Liberal seats off the island of Montréal.

Pontiac constituency results by percentage, 1981-2014

The only time the Liberals got less than 50 percent of the vote in the last 40 years was in 1989, when Mark Alexander of the Unity Party1 took 30.6 percent of the vote. A Liberal candidate losing here would signal a province-wide electoral wipeout.

That being said, here are the candidates I’ve been able to find out about. A new twist this time: candidates for the provincial NDP and the provincial Conservative Party, both newly established (or re-established, if you like).

  • Roger Fleury (Green), an activist;
  • André Fortin (Liberal), the incumbent MNA and minister of transport;
  • Samuel Gendron (NDP), about whom no information as yet;
  • Olive Kamanyana (Coalition Avenir Québec), a federal civil servant with a fairly impressive résumé, and the only candidate likely to provide Fortin with any real competition;
  • Louis Lang (Marxist-Leninist), perennial candidate;2
  • Marie-Claude Nivolon (Parti Québécois), a longtime party activist from Châteauguay who looks to be a poteau or paper candidate;3
  • Kenny Roy (Conservative), a construction worker; and
  • Julia Wilkie (Québec Solidaire), a student.

The election takes place on Monday, October 1.

Strategic Voting Is Bullshit

My first encounter with strategic voting, and with using it to Stop someone, came during the 1997 provincial election in Alberta. I got a call from the NDP campaign in my riding, Edmonton-Strathcona. When I suggested that I might be voting Liberal, the caller insisted that the Liberals were way back in third place and it was a two-way race between the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives; if I wanted to Stop Ralph Klein and prevent the Tory candidate from being elected, I had to vote NDP.

In the end, the NDP’s Raj Pannu won the seat, with a narrow, 58-vote margin … over the Liberal candidate. The PCs were in third place—a close third place, only another 118 votes further back, but in third place nonetheless.1 I don’t remember how I voted in that election, but I took two lessons away from the experience:

  1. The NDP are a bunch of sanctimonious pricks who are just as willing to lie and engage in dirty tricks as any other party.2
  2. Strategic voting is a con—a way to trick you into voting for their candidate instead of yours.

I’ve been wary of strategic voting ever since. It has never, ever been a politically disinterested tactic. You always have to ask yourself who benefits from it, and you always have to question the underlying data being brought out to justify it.

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Thoughts on Electoral Reform, and the Abandonment Thereof

The government has abandoned its promise of electoral reform, and a lot of people — including many of my friends — are hopping mad about it.

I have some (likely unpopular) thoughts on this.

1. Trudeau promised an end to first-past-the-post electoral system. He did not promise proportional representation. They’re not equivalent.

2. Every party’s position on electoral reform reflects their narrow self-interest, not just the Liberals’. The Greens and NDP would stand to benefit from PR, the Liberals from ranked/preferential ballots, the Conservatives from the status quo. Any change will benefit one or more parties at the expense of the others.

3. This was never going to work except by general consensus among the political parties. But because any electoral reform would reward some parties and punish others (see #2), such consensus would be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Any party left out of that consensus would litigate the hell out of it, work to undermine its legitimacy and campaign against it in any referendum that followed.

4. The polls I’ve seen (e.g., this one) suggest that

(a) a majority of the population supports some kind of electoral reform;

(b) mixed-member proportional representation is the most popular electoral reform option; BUT

(c) a plurality of poll respondents preferred the status quo — first-past-the-post — over any single electoral reform option.

5. It’s a logical fallacy to assume that support for some kind of reform translates to support for this particular reform. Again: they’re not equivalent. Proponents of ranked/preferential ballots will not necessarily prefer PR over the status quo. (I support ranked ballots but have strong reservations about PR: you better believe I’d support the status quo over PR.)

6. Canadians appear to be strongly in favour of a referendum on any major change to the electoral system. I predict that if put to a referendum, any electoral reform proposal — any proposal — would be defeated. Because absent a general consensus, there will be too many people campaigning against it: the parties that stand to lose from it, people who prefer a different kind of electoral reform, and people who actually like first-past-the-post voting. In other words, lots of reasons to say no: there’s a reason referenda on electoral reform at the provincial level have always failed.

(This is leaving aside the legitimacy questions that would inevitably arise from low voter turnout or a narrow result.)

I don’t blame Trudeau for giving up; under the current circumstances, this wasn’t going anywhere. And it’s now clear that the Liberals’ heart wasn’t really in it.

For this to work, literally everybody needs to be on board — needs to agree that (a) the system needs fixing and (b) this is the right fix. We aren’t there yet. We may never be — especially not if electoral reform is seen by some as a way of changing the rules for someone else’s benefit.

Postscript: I’ve talked about electoral reform before. My blog posts from the earlier iteration of this website are collected on this page.

Party Databases and Privacy

I’ve been concerned about the privacy implications of party databases for some time now: political parties are exempt from privacy legislation like PIPEDA, and as far as I’m aware there are no real limits on what data they can collect on voters and how it can be used. As Susan Delacourt notes on iPolitics,

because political parties are neither entirely private nor public institutions, they fall into a grey area when it comes to privacy protection — and those databases, as the outgoing Chief Electoral Officer put it, are operating in the “Wild West” of privacy laws.

The lack of a firewall between party and government bothers me even more: contacting your MP, which is something every engaged citizen ought to do, is a good way to get your details entered into a party database, and during my ministerial correspondence years I handled a number of letters forwarded by the Harper PMO to our department for a response that were tagged with the Conservatives’ party database, CIMS.

But now it looks like party databases are finally getting some overdue scrutiny, with a House of Commons committee set to explore whether there should be rules on how parties collect and use data.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it. At a minimum, I’d like it if I had the right to see exactly what data the political parties keep on me. That ought to go some way toward keeping the parties in line.

How the Pontiac MRC Voted in 2015

More than 14 months after the election is hardly the definition of timely, and it’ll be a few years before the next one, but I suddenly remembered that I meant to look at the poll-by-poll results for my electoral district, Pontiac, and see how much the vote in my particular sector — the Pontiac MRC (municipalité régionale de comté, roughly equivalent to a county) — differed from the electoral district as a whole.

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