It was possible going into last night’s election that it would be a close result that would leave us guessing late into the night. But it wasn’t, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has secured himself enough seats in the House of Commons to continue as Prime Minister, albeit as the head of a minority government.
His win comes despite the Liberal Party finishing with around 240,000 fewer votes than the Conservative Party. But in Canada’s parliamentary system, it is seats in the House that matter, and while the Liberals don’t have enough to claim an outright victory, they are in the strongest position to form a minority government, with support of either the New Democratic Party or the Bloc Québécois.
The Conservatives achieved a swing of 4.4% against the Liberals, and if this swing were uniform across every riding in Canada, we would be talking about the possibility of a Prime Minister Andrew Scheer. So why did they finish so far behind?
Where the Conservatives Outperformed
The Conservatives achieved significant swings in two particular regions of the country. Unfortunately, those regions weren’t the most optimal place for the Conservatives to pick up seats.
The region where the Conservatives achieved the largest swing was in Atlantic Canada, where a 13.8% swing went partway to reversing the large swing in the other direction in 2015. But the Liberals won all 32 seats in the region, many of them by very large margins, and taking these seats back would be difficult. But on a uniform swing, the Conservatives should have picked up a few more than this, including seats like Saint John — Rothesay (NB) and Egmont (PE). I don’t see signs I’d expect to see if this were down to tactical voting, as the Conservative candidates in these ridings underperformed their vote change.
The Prairies is another area where the Conservatives achieved a large swing against the Liberals. This has, in recent history, consistently been a very strong part of the country for the Conservatives; in 2015, they only lost in 18 of 62 seats. Five of the seven Liberal losses to the Conservatives could have been won on the national uniform swing, as well as both the seats they picked up from the NDP, and so the extra swing on top of that only got them two additional seats (though the satisfaction of defeating Ralph Goodale, which they wouldn’t have done on the national swing, must be worth something).
The Conservatives did slightly over-perform in their swing in British Columbia. There were a handful of Conservative targets in BC for them to go after, including in Mission, Coquitlam, and Kelowna. Here, the Conservatives finished roughly in line with what I would expect them to achieve if the national swing were applied across the province.
And because it would be rude for me to completely ignore the North, it’s worth mentioning that they did achieve a large 14.5% swing in Yukon, larger than in the other territories. Unfortunately for them, they finished 72 votes behind there, so just missed out on the seat.
Where the Conservatives Underperformed
The big story in Québec was the surge of the Bloc Québécois and the collapse of the NDP in the province. There were a couple of seats here in the Conservative target list, and they did hold the seat they took from the Liberals in a by-election last year. But they missed out on very little by under-performing here.
Where the Conservatives underperformed the most is Ontario, the one province that had the majority of battleground ridings. In fact, the Conservatives’ vote share was actually down nearly 2% in this province, and the only reason they managed to gain seats is because the Liberals went down even more. They did even worse than that in the key battleground areas, losing nearly 3% of the vote in the 416 and, even more critically, 4.3% in the 905 (the Liberals dropped less in the 905 and gained votes in the 416, allowing them to keep nearly all of those seats).
The Conservatives only picked up two seats net from the Liberals in this province (the NDP lost one each to the Liberals and Conservatives). If they were able to take the swing they achieved nationally and apply it in every riding in Ontario, they would have picked up another 17 seats, including Whitby, Burlington, Cambridge, Oakville, and both Lakeshore and Streetsville in Mississauga. Add to it a couple of NDP seats that they could pick up, and these Ontario seats alone would be enough to bring the Conservatives and the Liberals to a near-tie.
The Conservatives needed to gain over 40 seats from the Liberals, as well as a handful from the NDP, to finish in first place. On the battleground, this would require them to fill the entire first two columns, as well as a few seats in the third. While they would have done that if the 4.4% swing they achieved nationally were uniform in every riding, the inefficiency of their gains in vote share means that they missed many of the seats that would have put Andrew Scheer in 24 Sussex.