“A clear mandate”???

On election night 2019, Justin Trudeau trumpeted that Canadians had given him “a clear mandate.” He also said:

“From coast to coast to coast tonight, Canadians . . . voted in favour of a progressive agenda and strong action on climate change.”

Perhaps the newly re-elected Prime Minister had not yet had a chance to look at all the numbers from across the country, but even by the time he gave his startlingly arrogant acceptance speech, he knew that he was returning to power in a considerably weakened state compared to his decisive victory in 2015.

What the numbers tell us

Here is a snapshot of the numbers:

  • The Liberals held onto just 33% of the popular vote, down from 39.5% in 2015. This is only the second time in Canadian history that the party taking power is doing so with the support of fewer than 35% of those who voted. It begins the next Parliament with 157 seats; down from 177 in 2015 and not enough for a majority, but still enough to form the government.
  • The Conservatives nabbed 34% of the popular vote compared to the 31.9% they had in 2015 and, while they increased their seat count from 95 to 121, this number does not reflect their share of the popular vote.
  • The Bloq Quebecois, Canada’s separatist party, running candidates in only one province, secured 17% of the popular vote (4.7% in 2015) and 32 seats, making a comeback from the 2015 election, in which their leader lost his seat and after which they did not have official party status, winning only 10 seats.
  • The NDP, which enjoyed a sudden surge in popularity in the last two weeks of the campaign, took almost 16% of the popular vote (19.7% in 2015), but lost 20 of its seats, holding on to just 24.
  • The Greens, who seemed to be on the rise in popularity through much of the campaign, perhaps in part because of the surge of interest in the climate crisis due to activism by young people around the world, got 6.5% of the popular vote (3.5% in 2015) and increased their seat count to 3 from 2. For the first time, the party received more than one million votes.

Had Canada used some form of proportional representation, rather than the antiquated first past the post electoral system that no elected government in this country seems willing to relinquish, the seat count would have looked quite different. The Conservatives would have had a few more seats than the Liberals; the NDP and the Bloq would have had almost the same number of seats, and they and the Greens would each have had considerably more seats.

Such an outcome would have more closely reflected how people voted and would have led to a potentially more interesting Parliament. Perhaps, for example, there could have been a formal coalition government, with MPs from different parties sitting in the Cabinet.

 Increasing diversity, slowly

Equal Voice, an organization that works to increase the number of women who run and are elected at all levels of government, had hoped to see women reach 30% of all MPs in this election. It almost got there: the number of women elected rose from 89 to 98, making the proportion of women MPs 29% of the total. Even with his increase, we still have a long way to go until our share of the seats in government reflects our 50.4% share of the population.

The number of Indigenous MPs fell by one, from 11 to 10. Among those 10 is 25-year-old rookie NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who handily won her Nunavut riding with 41% of the vote.

Fifty MPs identify as racialized and four as LGBTQ.

Holy moly!

One of the most closely watched ridings in this election was Vancouver Granville, where Jody Wilson Raybould, formerly the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the Liberal government, ran as an Independent, having been booted out of the Liberal caucus, along with her colleague Jane Philpott, by Trudeau earlier in the year.

Philpott, too, ran as an Independent, in her riding of Markham Stouffville, but we learned early on election night that she was not successful.

JWR won the riding with 32% of the vote, making her one of a very small number of people ever elected as an Independent.

She began her acceptance speech with “Holy moly!” and then said that her victory showed “that independent, strong voices matter and that we can do politics differently.”

With a humility that could serve as a lesson to other politicians, she took the time to acknowledge Philpott’s integrity and contribution to the country as well as to acknowledge not just all the candidates in her riding but Yvonne Hanson, in particular. Hanson, a 25-year-old climate change activist, ran in Vancouver Granville for the NDP, and JWR made the point that she and other young people like her have something important to offer to Canadian electoral politics.

Humility never hurts

If Justin Trudeau wants any possibility of a return to the sunny ways he promised us after the 2015 election, he needs to dig deep to find some humility. As Neil Macdonald wrote, it’s time for him to learn that most of us are not interested in voting for someone with:

“[a] cynical, patronizing, condescending, arrogant, insulting belief that voters don’t deserve a straight answer – that preachy, gauzy, meaningless aphorisms will suffice.”

Most of us want something different; something better.  As JWR said on election night, integrity matters. She committed to working with all parties for climate change; democratic reform, in particular election reform; pharmacare, and true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in this country.

That’s a commitment I can sign on to.

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