Here we are—heading into the last weekend of Summer 2021. We made it. The kids are back in school, people are back to work. Everyone’s trying to find their way back to “normal” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues throwing unnecessarily nasty curveballs.
But hold up. What’s this other thing to stress us out?
Well, citizen, it’s a snap federal election! (Cue the trumpets!)
According to a poll from Abacus Data, 58 per cent of people are paying only a little or no attention to this election.
A lot of voters just aren’t very engaged.
So, maybe it’s time to make the elections a bit more accessible by breaking down some of the election lingo.
How influenced are our elections by strategic voting? Frankly, no one can say for certain, but what can be said for certain is that it happens. Every election.
Left-leaning voters in Canada have historically been split between three federal parties. The Green Party, the New Democrat Party, and the Liberals. Whereas, on the right side, the only major party is the Conservatives.
When election are announced, voters are presented with access to view poll trackers. These polls analyze trends and voter behaviour to look at what an expected outcome may be.
Strategic voters will examine the polls to get a sense of which candidates have the best shot of winning.
Candidate A is your first choice. You like them a lot, but it doesn’t look like they’re doing so well in the polls.
Candidate B on the other hand is doing pretty well in the polls. Not your first choice, but not the worst option for you.
Candidate C is also doing well in the polls but, oh, you don’t like them, at all.
If you’re a strategic voter you will pick Candidate B over your first choice, Candidate A, in an attempt to keep Candidate C from winning.
So far in this election a shift has been noted by pollers in the percentage of people who plan to vote strategically.
“I’m not so sure that people will be super strategic in this election,” said Oksana Kishchuk, a consultant for Abacus Data.
“People think a little bit more critically about that kind of thing when, when they view an election as a bit of a ‘change election’ and they really do want to change the government.”
Just a few votes can make it or break it for candidates in swing ridings.
Swing ridings are where you find a lot of strategic voters. Leftist voters in these regions will often use poll trackers to sway their decision of who to cast their ballot for.
During the 2015 federal election, Amir Fleischmann lived in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding, a Liberal-Conservative swing riding.
Fleischmann made the choice to vote strategically in order to oust the Conservative incumbent, and even volunteered for the strategic voting campaign, Lead Now.
“I was coming into my political age during the Harper era and I was very critical of the Harper Conservatives,” Fleishmann said. “I really wanted to see them defeated.”
Though the Liberals won the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence in both the 2015 and 2019 elections, conservatives voters still make up a large percentage of the riding.
Swing ridings like Eglinton-Lawence are particularly important to candidates and they often spend a lot of time and resources campaigning there to sway the vote in their favour.
First past the post
In Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign, he promised to abolish the first-past-the-post system and work towards electoral reform. This promise seems to have been abandoned shortly after he entered office.
Let’s talk about what first past the post system, what it is, how it works, and why it’s not working.
First past the post is a plurality voting system. Basically, the federal party with the most ridings wins.
In Canada there are 338 electoral ridings, so the party that has more than any other party will form the federal government.
The problem with first past the post is that it’s a winner-take-all system, and not an accurate representation of what voters want.
“It’s completely undemocratic,” said Fleischmann, now a student of political science. “It presents a really distorted image of what Canadians actually want.”
“If we weren’t under a first-past-the-post political system, a lot more people would be voting for the Green Party and a lot more people will be voting for the NDP. It’s not hard for me to imagine that a significant chunk of Liberal voters would vote something else if they thought that was an option for them.”
Under first past the post, the most common outcome in elections is that the majority of voters are left feeling under-represented in parliament.
When Trudeau promised election reform six years ago, it meant Canada’s democratic system might be switched to something called proportional representation.
Proportional Representation is a system used in countries around the world where the popular vote dictates party seats rather than whoever wins an electoral riding.
This method means that even if your preferred candidate loses in your riding, members from your preferred party will get placed in legislature based on vote percentages.
A Proportional Representation electoral system can lead to more parties and representation, less likelihood of majority governments, and more collaboration on how to work best for the country.
Majority vs. minority government
A majority government happens when one party holds the majority of seats in parliament. It means one party has 100 per cent control, which of course is the ideal for the government in power, but is it ideal for the people?
Majority governments can lead to backroom dealings and flat overruling of proposals and/or complaints put forth by other parties within parliament.
“As the governing party you would prefer to be in a majority government because it would be a lot easier to to get things done,” Kishchuk said. “But, I think there’s also the argument that if it’s minority government, there’s more sort of consensus-building needed.
Minority governments occur when no party holds the majority of legislative seats.
According to the First Past The Post system Canada currently uses, one federal party still holds high-office and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister.
In minority situations, the governing party relies on the support of other parties to keep their position of power, making it less stable than a majority government.
According to Kishchuk, “That sort of discussion, and consulting with different parties for their vote could maybe be a better form of representation, although it’s certainly more difficult and creates a lot more complexities for the governing party.”