Friday, October 16, 2015

Inside Politics from 'E-day' to 'Shy Tories'

     ‘Inside baseball’, is an expression that describes something that is so detailed in sports that only true aficionados would understand, see here.  In American politics, a comparable expression is 'inside the Beltway', named for the highway that circles Washington.  Similarly, some Canadian pundits describe Ottawa centric issues as 'inside the Queensway'.

     The fact is, like sports commentators, political analysts often use a range of unfamiliar language. Below I identify and describe some of these terms and phrases, that are ‘inside politics’, which people will likely hear in the next few days before the 2015 Canadian National election.
     Election or 'E'-day, on Monday October 19, will be the final showdown in a long political season.  Broad details of the campaign, like party platforms, major debates and advertising are all part of what is sometimes called the ‘air campaign’. On E-day, all parties shift focus from the ‘air’ to play on the ‘ground’.

     The ‘ground’ battle in politics largely involves the employment of as many volunteers as possible to ‘pull’ or ‘get out’ the vote.  That is, each political party makes a maximum effort to encourage its own identified supporters to mark their ballots.

      The increased likelihood that supporters will vote is called ‘vote efficiency’.  Though ideology plays less of a role in party affiliations in Canada, left-leaning New Democrats have traditionally been viewed as more committed political activists, with a very efficient vote because they are better at turning out their supporters on E-day. In modern times, the same high commitment may be true of some Canadian Conservative voters, whose core base of supporters are characterized as both strongly loyal and motivated, see here.

       However, most political wisdom has it that ‘people do not vote for an opposition party, they vote against a government’.  Canada’s 42nd election appears unusual in that there has been a large increase in the number of people who have voted before the official E-day, in advance polls held last weekend, see here.  If the high turnout in advance polls reflects increased participation after E-day on Monday, and the accepted wisdom is sound, this may presage a change in government.

      Canada has a ‘first past the post’ electoral system, see here.  No matter how many candidates are in a specific riding, the one who gets to the ‘finish line’ of the most votes, will win.  In a campaign with 3 or more candidates, this means that someone can win with a ‘plurality’, or less than a majority, of the votes. In fact, pluralities are more the rule than the exception in Canada.

      For the last 100 years there have been a host of 3rd parties that have split the vote, making actual majority support difficult for anyone in Canada at the Federal level.[1]  In 2015, this means that there are even some ridings with four-way races, where a successful candidate may only need 25%, or less, of the votes cast, see here.

       It's sometimes said that the only poll that matters is the one on E-day. One phenomena to watch for in 2015, apparent in other elections, may be what has been described as the ‘shy Tory’ vote, see here  That is, advance polling has repeatedly understated the level of actual support a governing Conservative party may garner on E-day, since supporters may be reluctant or ‘shy’ to admit their voting intentions to pollsters.

      If this 'shy' voter factor is real, it’s not clear that it applies only with respect to conservative voters.  For example, advance polls in one recent Canadian provincial election also appeared to understate support for the Liberal incumbents, who went on to win a 'stunning' victory, see here.  Moreover, in the face of sustained advertising targeting Canada's Liberal Leader, see here, its possible that people might also be 'shy' about admitting their support, but will vote for him anyways.

      In any event, the end of any political campaign is something like the playoffs in sports. While sportscasters and political pundits may similarly employ ‘inside’ language to describe things, 2015’s Federal election also features a more direct overlap.

     Canada’s major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, have a scheduled playoff game of their own on October 19, when they will play in the 3rd game of the American League East Championship series.  Even though there is a possibility that divided political views will result in a minority Parliament, it seems likely a strong majority of Canadians will, at least, be supporting the Blue Jays on E-day - Go Blue Jays!. 
Update:  On Monday October 19, 2015, the Conservative Party lost its bid for re-election to Justin Trudeau's Liberals, who won a majority victory.  Turnout for the election approached 68% of registered voters, the highest in 20 years at the Federal level in Canada. The Blue Jays, playing at the same time, beat the Kansas City Royals 11 - 8 in the American League Championship series.

 [1] Since the early 20th century this includes, inter alia, Progressives, the CCF party, the Reconstruction Party, Social Credit, New Democrats, Reform Party, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Who Gets Stornoway If There's a Tie for Second Place?

The big electoral prize in any election is always the capacity to form government. However, the closeness of Canada's 2015 federal campaign between Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats also raises an unlikely, but real possibility, of a tie in the number of seats won by two second-place parties. 

Opposition is an important consolation for an electoral runner-up in Canada's Parliamentary system.  Official status brings both prestige and profile as a 'government in waiting', and the very real benefits of money and resources for administration and research.  Compared to conventions for determining the winner though, there are only a few practices in place to choose who is entitled to take the residence at Stornoway, the official home in Ottawa of the Leader of 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition'.[1] 

Based on the limited precedents,[2] and the uncertainty of outcomes in the current 3-way election, there are a few possible scenarios in the event of a second place tie.

Scenario 1

The governing Conservatives win and Liberal and New Democrats tie for second place in the number of seats. 

Unlike concerns about who would form government, determined by the Governor-General, Opposition status is determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.  The key factor in making such a decision in the event of a tie would likely be incumbency.[3] 

That is, the party that served in the Opposition role in the previous Session of Parliament would likely be awarded Official Opposition status if the second place parties had the same number of seats.  In this hypothetical, this would mean the current Opposition, led by Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats, would retain their official status

Scenario 2

Current Opposition, the New Democratic Party, wins election and the Conservatives and Liberals tie for second. 

In this case the incumbency principle would not apply.  Though there appears to be little precedent, I would argue that a reasonable corollary to the incumbency principle would be to award Official Opposition status to the party with the higher standing in the last Parliament.  In this hypothetical, as the former government, the Conservatives would consequently win the right to occupy Stornoway.

Scenario 3

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals win and Conservatives and New Democrats tie for second in the number of seats. 

What would happen in this situation seems uncertain.  As the incumbent Opposition, New Democrats would likely argue that they should form Opposition.  However, the Conservatives might well have an argument that, as the defeated government, their status in the previous session meant that the incumbency principle should be superseded. 

In this case, few precedents and no clear rules might mean other considerations are taken into account.  For example, the Speaker might well apply other minor factors to help determine the matter, such as who amongst the second place parties had the higher share of the popular vote.[4]

To be fair, all 3 scenarios described above appear improbable.  However, it’s worth remembering that unusual things do sometimes occur in Canadian politics.  Who would have predicted in advance, for example, the unexpected and seemingly unprecedented request by Prime Minister Harper for prorogation in 2008, in the face of the prospect that he would be defeated in the House of Commons within a few weeks of the previous election?   

In a similar unlikely, but not impossible circumstance, that there was a tie for second place in the 2015 election, who would form the Official Opposition and be entitled to the keys to Stornoway, is not entirely clear.

[1] Usually the party that wins the second highest number of seats in Parliament. For a good overview see Stewart Hyson, “Determining the Official Opposition in New Brunswick and the House of Commons”, (1996) Canadian Parliamentary Review, Vol 19 No 3.  A
[2] Though not exactly factually consistent with the scenarios set out below since ties occurred during the legislative session, rather than immediately following an election, the two modern precedents occurred in New Brunswick in 1994, see Speaker’s Ruling “Tie or Equal Number of Members in Two Opposition Parties” Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of New Brunswick, Third Session of the Fifty-second Legislative Assembly, December 16, 1994, pp 330-335, and; briefly at the Federal level in 1993, ibid.
[3] Supra note 1.
[4] In 1983 the Alberta NDP was granted opposition status in part on the basis of its popular vote.  Another possible factor that might apply immediately following an election might include party status, if there was an organized party as compared to a number of independents