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Canada 2021: An Election in Disguise

Although it may have seemed formulaic, Canada’s latest general election was more significant than many realise.

Judging from the results, it may seem the Canadian federal elections were somewhat of a nothing burger. With marginal changes to the net totals of the national parties’ seat count, it may seem that a similar minority government will continue to govern similarly to the past couple of years. Exploring the results, the changes in voting totals and regional patterns show that this election was indeed significant.

Justin Trudeau won again with a plurality in parliament but no majority. With less than 33% of the popular vote (second to the Conservative Party’s 34%), the Liberal Party votes were highly efficient in achieving the most riding seats in parliament thanks to the Canadian first-past-the-post system. The Liberals got 158 seats of parliament’s 338.

The Liberal Party won almost 80 seats in Ontario (65%) while leading 39.2% vs 34.9% of the popular vote to the Conservatives. In British Columbia, the Liberals came third in polls, yet they achieved a plurality of seats. After these results, the Liberal’s promise of electoral reform is likely to be broken (again). Opposition parties might have reached a similar number of seats in 2019, but how they got there is different. 

In modern political convention, the Conservative Party represents the right-of-center voters of Canada, resulting from the merge of two major right-wing and center-right parties in 2003, ruling Canada under Stephen Harper’s leadership from 2006 until Trudeau’s election in 2015. The Conservatives concentrated their votes in Alberta and the Prairies (as usual), landing on a similar tally to the 2019 election. Their new leader Erin O’Toole ran on a strategy to gain additional voters with a platform closer to the center of the political spectrum and a new uplifting optimist message. While successful to a degree, this strategy won seats in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, at the cost of losing seats in Alberta and British Columbia (in combination with discontent to provincial Conservative premiers).

Additionally, a new right-wing party may have cost several seats to the Conservatives across Canada: The People’s Party (PPC). With just 5% of the votes, it did not gain any seats. It may have cost between ten to twenty seats by vote-splitting the right-of-center votes in key districts in Ontario (depending on the estimate of what percentage of the PPC’s base are former Conservative voters). The new party took an opportunity during COVID-19 times to embrace hard-right approaches in combination with an anti-vax appeal. The right of center Canadian voters will need to address the challenge of vote-splitting into the future.

Another party that lost votes a smaller share to the PPC is the Green Party. Considering these are two very different parties, the first anti-government while the latter for regulations and intervention, it is possible a few green voters found the anti-vax message attractive. At 2% (down from 7%) still maintained two seats in parliament, but their relevance lost ground. 

A party that should have benefited from Green’s collapse is the New Democrat Party (NDP). Left to the Liberal in the political spectrum, the NDP gained just two additional seats, even when the Liberal’s and Green’s decreased their voting share. Their young social-media-savvy leader, Jagmeet Singh, will probably face challenges from the party on the inability to make gains even after six years of the Liberals in power.

The only opposition party that may have saved their status quo is the Bloc Québécois, losing one seat to the Liberals but increasing their popular voting share.

In the media, some have suggested the election was inconsequential. The 2021 election results may seem similar to 2019. Still, the hangover of the popular vote results will probably have an impact across the Canadian political spectrum.

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