Monday, September 17, 2007

Canadian by-elections

By MSS

There were by-elections (i.e., to fill vacant seats) in three Canadian federal parliamentary ridings (districts) today. All three are in Quebec: Outremont, Roberval/Lac Saint Jean, and Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot.

Why are these seats vacant. Canada.com explains:

Liberal Jean Lapierre, elected in Outremont in the past two federal elections, stepped down to resume his media career. Yvan Loubier, elected five times for the Bloc Quebcois in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, switched to provincial politics and ran unsuccessfully for the Parti Quebcois in the March Quebec election. Five-term Bloc member Michel Gauthier quit his Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean seat, partly for health reasons and to work in the media.

Given the unexpectedly large swing in Quebec during the 2006 general elections from the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) to the Conservatives, which resulted in the current minority Conservative government (the smallest minority government in Canadian history), the by-elections might give us nationally relevant information about voting trends.

Following are the 2006 and 2004 results in these districts (independents with small vote totals excluded).

Outremont
2006: Lib 35.2, BQ 29.0, NDP 17.2, Cons 12.7, Green 4.8
2004: Lib 40.9, BQ 33.2, NDP 14.0, Cons 6.0, Green 4.3

Roberval/Lac Saint Jean
2006: BQ 45.2, Cons 37.2, Lib 7.7, NDP 5.5, Green 4.3
2004: BQ 59.4, Lib 23.3, Cons 8.7, NDP 5.7, Green 3.6

Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot
2006: BQ 56.0, Cons 24.8, Lib 9.8, NDP 5.5, Green 3.9
2004: BQ 62.4, Lib 22.1, Cons 11.0, NDP 2.5, Green 2.0

Note that even though the Conservatives did not win any of these in 2006, their votes surged in each from very low levels in 2004.

The Globe and Mail reports that Liberal leader Stéphane Dion leader could be in trouble if his party fails to hold Outremont, which has not been won by a Liberal only once since 1935. If the Liberal lose this seat, it would most likely be to the NDP candidate, who may be picking up some tactical voting from BQ supporters. The NDP previously has been shut out in Quebec other than a by-election win in 1990, so a win there would be significant for both the Liberals and the NDP.

The other ridings are in rural areas, and the BQ may hold them both, but if it does not, it will be interpreted as another sign that the party is faltering badly. In Sainte-Hyacinthe the Conservatives are getting help from the provincial ADQ (which had surprising success in the recent provincial election), and the Conservative candidate in Roberval is the local mayor. So a pick-up of a seat (or two) for the federal governing party is possible.

Aside from extrapolations to possible trends in party support, the other potential impact of these by-elections is that, if the NDP wins Outremont, it would be in a pivotal position to support the Conservative government in exchange for policy concessions, given the current party standings. FPTP* parliamentarism in action: on a single local race the national power balance rides.

(Cross-posted at Fruits & Votes.)

*"FPTP" = first-past-the-post, or the single-member district, plurality vote system used in Canada, the USA, and the UK.

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