The Liberal Party of Canada’s minority Parliament remains virtually unchanged after the Sept. 20 general election increased its share of seats by two, from 157 in 2019 to 159.
The Conservative Party of Canada correspondingly lost two seats from 121 in 2019 to 119 in 2021, and with an increase of one seat the New Democratic Party climbed from 24 seats in 2019 to 25 seats in 2021.
In Winnipeg’s eight federal ridings, the election was even less eventful. Not a single seat changed hands from 2019.
While the outcome of the election appeared uneventful, the U of M’s post-election panel titled “What happened? 2021 Federal Election Debrief” dug into the underlying political trends that impacted the race.
The first panellist to speak, adjunct political studies professor and St. Paul’s College rector Christopher Adams, analyzed the accuracy of the polls in the days leading up to the election. According to Adams, the number of publicly available national polls in the final two days before the election had doubled from seven in 2019 to 14 in 2021.
The day before the election, Adams found six polls and determined that they were largely accurate.
“The difference in terms of […] assessing the Liberal support in the country ranged from as low as zero difference to the actual outcome […] up to three points difference,” Adams said.
“So, I think the answer to the question ‘Were the polls accurate in this election?’ the answer is yes.”
Interestingly, Adams observed a relationship between the sampling methods used and higher predicted support for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).
“The interview mode of some of these polls really did seem to be linked to whether PPC was high in popularity or not,” he said.
The second panellist, political studies professor Royce Koop, described the disparity between the popular vote and the allocation of seats.
For context, in 2019, the Liberals received roughly 33 per cent of the popular vote but secured just over 46 per cent of the seats in both elections.
“[In 2019] government is formed […] with about [one-third] of the votes cast. A lot of us saw that result and said, ‘Wow, how much lower can we go? This must be the lowest a party can get to form a government,’” Koop said.
“Well, no — 2021 comes along and we see another minority with a very low share of the vote […] and, of course, this raises important normative and democratic consequences. These are single-party governments that are being formed with [roughly a third] of the votes cast. The electoral system is not falling apart, it’s not malfunctioning, it’s working the way it’s supposed to work.”
Koop explained the disparity is tied to vote efficiency. A party’s votes are efficient when it yields “the highest number of seats from the lowest number of votes.”
“The Liberal party is […] winning seats on a marginal basis, the Conservatives have a lot more landslides, and this, by the way, is what leads to this result that we saw,” Koop said.
“Even if you win by one or two votes, you still win the entire seat.”
As a consequence, the Liberal position has become extremely “precarious.”
“If you think about a party [whose] ability to form a government is based on a relatively small number of seats where the margin is low, it’s not going to take that much,” Koop explained.
“You just move a few votes in a few constituencies [and] there could be big seat losses for the Liberals.”
The third panellist, political studies professor Kiera Ladner, explained the election’s significance to Indigenous communities.
While Ladner counts this election as successful — though not as successful as 2015 — she is concerned about the decline of the Indigenous vote in this election.
“While we see the success, we also see the Indigenous vote going down from an all-time high in 2015,” she said.
“We see some really significant voting issues, perhaps relating to the Indigenous vote going down, perhaps the cause of the Indigenous vote going down.”
Ladner went on to describe the voting problems in the Kenora, Ont. riding. In 2019, the riding was decided by less than 1,200 votes. Voter card errors and a lack of polling stations in three First Nations communities could have limited 1,600 electors from voting, thereby deciding the race.
Ladner concluded by discussing the election’s emphasis on reconciliation and the tension between Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives on reconciliation.
“We’re going to continue to speak two different languages,” Ladner said.
“We’re going to continue to speak, really, as two different nations, and how do we reconcile that in the House, where we’re confined by parties.”
The final panellist, Susan Prentice — a professor of sociology and the Duff Roblin professor of government — focused on how child care played into the race.
Prentice began by describing how the pandemic revealed a “care crisis” in Canada.
“The degree to which a formal economy rests on a foundation of care became more visible,” Prentice said.
Prentice expressed disappointment with the “impoverished” level of discussion surrounding child care, but remained grateful for the defeat of the Conservative child-care plan.
“I think the discussion was remarkably constrained and confined,” Prentice said.
“As important as the Liberals’ proposals are — they’re the most comprehensive interventions we’ve seen yet in Canadian history — it’s not yet the move to public services and an end to a market model that many advocates in social policy had been calling for.”