First debate may mean Harper majority is closer .. but what if Iggy turns out like Joe Clark in 1979?

Apr 13th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

A little girl cries as she is placed on the lap of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he visits the Chancellor Community Centre in Vaughan April 7, 2011. CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS.

The first great TV leaders’s debate is over. The second, tonight, is in French, and will have even fewer attentive viewers. And at this juncture, by almost all the conventional measures, it would seem that a Harper Conservative majority of seats in the Parliament at Ottawa is closer than ever.

(See, eg: “Harper stays his ground during fierce exchanges with opposition in debate” ; “4 in 10 debate viewers think Harper won: poll” ; “Opinion: Cool-hand Harper wins first debate” ; “Harper wins by avoiding looking bad” ; “Tory support unharmed by G8 spending, but debates yet to register” [the latest results of the daily Nanos poll, showing the Conservatives at 39.9%] ; and “The debate winner on Twitter: Stephen Harper’s stare; PM gaze gets top tweets.”)

And yet, and yet … it also remains true enough that a very solid majority of the Canadian people (anywhere from 57% to 63%, depending on just which recent polls you choose not to believe) do not want even a Prime Minister Harper, let alone a Harper Conservative majority government.

Jodie Emery, wife of Canadian Prince of Pot Marc Emery, now languishing in a US jail, thanks in part to the Harper Government. She will be pleased (and angry?) to hear that Ontario is one step closer to the legalization of marijuana, after its Superior Court struck down two key parts of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. And Marc Emery is nobody’s pinko commie etc. Look who he supported for US President in 2008!

(And for current evidence here see such assorted media reports as: “Walkom: Questioning Harper in a BC Tory riding” ; “Harper’s vision of how to form a government undermined by constitutional facts” ; “Ignatieff’s rebuke of Harper majority hailed as Liberal ‘turning point’” ; “Liberal spin doctors clear winners in debate sideshow” ; “Use the word ‘coalition’ carefully” ; and “Ontario judge: Marijuana criminalization unconstitutional.”)

Of course, it is true enough that, ever since the appearance of the old Progressive third party at end of the First World War, Canadian federal governments that win majorities of seats in Parliament do not always or even often also win majorities of the popular vote. Since the Second World War, eg., the St. Laurent Liberal majority governments of 1949 and 1953 won 50.1% and 50.0% of the cross-Canada popular vote respectively. The Diefenbaker Conservatives won 53.7% in 1958 and the Mulroney Conservatives 50.0% in 1984.

All other Canadian federal governments, with minorities or majorities of seats in the Canadian House of Commons, won less than 50% of the popular vote. In 1997 the Chretien Liberals won a majority of seats in Parliament with only 38.5% of the cross-Canada popular vote (largely because they managed to win almost every seat in Ontario!)

The Trudeau Liberals won more than 40% of the cross-Canada popular vote in 1979, and the Joe Clark (Joe Who?) Conservatives won less than 36%. But the Clark Conservatives won 136 seats and the Trudeau Liberals won only 114. This cartoon of the day is by Tom Innes of the Calgary Herald, compliments of the Glenbow Museum.

Yet again, as you ponder these historical statistics, you may notice an even less democratically rational feature of the current Canadian multi-party electoral system in Ottawa. Not only can a party with a mere 40% of the cross-Canada popular vote (or even as little as 38.5% sometimes) win a majority of seats in the elected Canadian House of Commons. Sometimes one party can win more seats than another party — even though the other party has a greater share of the popular vote! In the Canadian federal election of 1979, eg, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals won 40.11% of the popular vote, while Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives won only 35.89%. But the Clark Conservatives won 136 seats to the Trudeau Liberals’ 114.  And Joe Clark became the prime minister of a new Conservative minority government.

As an act of progressive desperation, if nothing else, this may prompt some deep thinking about the exact logistics of the seats seriously in play in 2011. Is it even remotely conceivable that Michael Ignatieff will finally go down in Canadian political history as 2011’s version of Joe Clark in 1979, side by side with the steely-gazed Stephen Harper as 2011’s 1979 Pierre Trudeau? Probably not, of course. But the thought does make the last 19 days of the 2011 federal election campaign seem a little more interesting. (O and btw, Ed Broadbent’s New Democrats increased their share of both the vote and seats in 1979, while in Quebec the dwindling Creditistes under Fabien Roy — supported by the provincial Parti Quebecois — lost ground.)

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