Canadian Election: WTF happened? “You have to outrun the bear” and other iron laws of politics

  • Published on May 3rd, 2011

In which I make sense of the Canadian election results, as near as one can…

So a lot of you are asking “WTF happened last night?” How did the Liberals implode and the Tories get a majority?

But that’s a foolish question. It was all right there. It was all in the numbers and the momentum.

Rule #1 of politics: Parties that are flaming out do not come back from the brink.

Everyone saw this coming for the Bloc.

Well, not everyone. Some folks continued to predict 25-35 seats for the Bloc, based on God knows what. How was that result ever possible, with the NDP polling at 40% and the Bloc at 25%?

Final numbers for Quebec:

  • NDP 43%, Bloc 23%.
  • Seats: NDP 58, Bloc 4.

No, the mystery is why the pundits insisted that the rules didn’t apply to the Liberals.

Pollster Frank Graves of Ekos came pretty close to nailing it: “New Ontario vote splitting favors Conservatives (PDF)”. Graves predicted a Tory win of 61 seats in Ontario, based on 40% Tory and 28% Liberal, NDP 26%.

Final numbers for Ontario:

  • Tory 44%, Liberal 25%, NDP 26%.
  • Seats: C 73, L 11, NDP 22

But even Graves missed the key point, and that’s the next rule:

Rule #2 of politics: People want to vote for a winner; they hate to vote for someone with no chance in hell.

Sure, a party will hang onto a handful of their die-hard supporters as they sled down the slippery slope into oblivion, but most of their erstwhile supporters are going to seriously consider better options.

This translated into the second-biggest mistake of the campaign: All the pundits who said the NDP support would drop off in the final days, the way it always has before.

When the pundits said, “Oh, the NDP always fades in the stretch”, what they ACTUALLY meant was “Oh, the party running third always fades in the stretch.” They just kinda forgot that this time around it was the Grits in that position.

That would explain the Liberal flame-out… as their softest supporters pulled a perfectly normal “I’d better vote for an actual contender,” and jumped ship to one of the two leading parties.

Which leads me to the biggest mistake of the election:

->Next Page: Rule #3 of politics: Outrun the bear

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.


  • First Off The Post election is a selection process that favors any party that does NOT have to compete for its share of the political spectrum.

    Does anyone want to speculate as to how the Conservatives would have fared if the Reform Party was still in existence? Or is the Wildrose Alliance had entered the federal political scene to represent Western interests a la Bloc?

    A form of proportional representation has been promised ‘for ever’ but will NOT see the light of day until there is a form of voter revolt demanding it. Parties in power have too much vested in preserving the ‘system’ that got them a majority, however flawed it may.

    I believe that to become ‘truly democratic’ we need to move away from the current situation whereas any one party (your pick) makes most (all?) of the major political decisions, with others waiting in the wings for their ‘crack at it’.

    Otherwise we are stuck with the Dictatorship of the Majority.

    I do not condone dictatorship however ‘benevolent’ it may be.

  • Yes, I was put off by the Liberal attacks on the NDP in the late stages of the campaign. The two parties have much in common. They should’ve been working together. I hope they merge.

  • boi, you _are_ incompetent! you ask “wtf happened?” Chretien was the last proper liberal leader. look at what McGuinty did in Ontario… not even people who voted for him will vote liberal in federal nor provincial elections… it was expected.

  • A generally astute and correct assessment of what happens but one that concentrates a little too much on # of seats versus % of voting for my taste. Of course # of seats are important because seats give a party power in Ottawa. But that’s more a reflection of the ‘deeply flawed’ First off the Post voting system we do have in Canada (and elsewhere for that matter) than anything else.

    Looking at what Canadians said in terms of %, we see that 14% of electors voted ‘differently’ than last time. Losers were Liberals – Block – Green while PC and NDP gained.

    So where did those 14% of votes go? What was the ‘split’?

    A whopping 12% went NDP, bringing them from 18% to 30+%. On the other side of the coin, a mere 2% joined the PC. From these preliminary numbers I deduce that yesterday Canadians witnessed a significant shift towards ‘left of center’, clearly AWAY from the PC. Meanwhile 2% shifted ‘right of center’ towards the PC.

    If we are talking trends, this is a most significant one! Notice has been served that Canadian voters are NOT afraid of the NDP being in power one day and that they look to a more ‘people centric’ approach to government than what the PC have been giving us.

    Only a partially (totally?) proportional representation system can prevent the skewed results we have now. I can only hope that I live to see that day!

    The PC wanted a majority: they now have it! What will they do with it? Will the PC majority become a ‘Dictatorship of the Majority’? We soon shall find out.

    For what it is worth, I look very favorably upon minority governments where compromises and negotiations must occur to achieve results. Requiring of our political leaders that they have the skills to generate a national consensus over issues is a must in my opinion. Every party has good points to bring to the table, often softening the impact of strictly doctrinal programs. Others are free to disagree with this assessment.

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