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"Why are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls so Variable When Votes are so Predictable?"

Wonks: neat find.

Hasn't EMH been discredited? I guess not...

The two parties with the clearest and most unwavering campaign platforms stole the show. If there's one thing I'd take away is that political parties that, on the surface and in the media, look robust may be anything but when the surface is marred. The fast implosion of two major parties far more parallels to tenuous debt-laden financial systems than it does to EMH. The trigger is in many ways irrelevant; their "fundamentals" weren't sound.

As in finance , the problem is in identifying what constitutes a relevant "fundamental". Do anyone believe that 4 millions Québécois turned federalist and began slapping their children when they speak french?

"what new information arrived during the course of the election (or even since the last election) that could explain the opinion polls and the final results?"

The final vote count (40% CPC) was actually pretty close to the final poll numbers, but FPTP (First Past The Post) means that the relationship between votes and seats is highly non-linear.

So I think it's basically a matter of explaining the poll numbers.

And, especially, why the Liberals did so badly.

Despite the vote splitting on the left, there were quite a number of seats where the Liberals lost by just a few hundred votes. Without Liberal to Conservative defections, we'd be in a Conservative minority or Liberal/NDP coalition situation. There is no way people like Ken Dryden or Michael Ignatieff should have lost their seats - these are very high profile candidates who should have a solid base.

I've got a few hypotheses about why the Liberals did badly.

One is that they had nothing to offer in terms of policy. Universal day care is not a vote-getter - it is an expensive way of benefiting a tiny demographic. The few hundred thousand voters who would get charged up about universal child care are voting Liberal or NDP anyways.

And that RESP thing - there was no real money, there was obviously no real money, and RESPs this kind of stupid, Paul Martin, overly-complex and costly way of trying - and failing - to reach a worthwhile policy objective. (I wrote a piece on my G&M blog about the problem of low-take-up rates for RESPs).

So the Liberals weren't willing to be radical or creative on policy. To some people that might count as new information.

A huge amount, also, came down to the personality of the leaders, and especially Michael Ignatieff. I was genuinely surprised at how wooden he was in the debates. I figured - o.k., Harper - like him or loathe him - is not a retail politician. Ignatieff should be able to out-debate Harper.

I was expecting Michael Ignatieff to start channeling Barack Obama. Instead, he started channeling Howard Dean.

I've just been having a gossip about politics with a student who is in a key Liberal target group - the type of person the Liberals should have voting for them. He was concerned about the elitism of the Liberals. Although there is lip service paid to ethnic communities etc., when it comes down to it, too often high profile candidates are helicoptered into what are seen as safe Liberal seats. That's not exactly news, though.

So my explanation: inability of the Liberal party to adapt to changes in the values of Canadians.

What I've taken away is that it seems that Canadians want ideology, not pragmatism, in their politics. Or possibly that there are a lot of pragmatic Canadians who didn't bother to investigate whether 'Conservative' in this case meant socially or fiscally.

Not being a Canadian, I don't know. Are the Tories fiscally or socially conservative? What are the major policy differences?

'As in finance , the problem is in identifying what constitutes a relevant "fundamental"'

In many investments, it is abundantly clear what a "fundamental" is; earnings, for example. That's not what I meant here.

The election showed me that two "companies" (parties) that are competing on the same turf can look to be on even footing when trying to capture market share, but one will be in much more precarious a position than the other due to underlying weakness. In political parties' space this includes: core support and constituency organization, organized and competent management and leadership, track record of performance, clarity of direction and message, and perceived quality of brand. Regardless of these factors, all four parties put on a good show, as any marketing campaign or business plan will, but look a bit deeper and the rust is evident.

Wonks anonymous
The Tory lesders ( actually Reform, not being Canadian you will be even more confused) doesn't really care about neither as long as they hold on to power and slowly deliver the country to the oil companies. The base is merely a bunch of useful idiots. Like the Repuglican leadership they are bolsheviks ( proclaiming you are the majority even if it is not and having the other side agreeing) and have used trtskyite method to infiltrate and hijack a perfectly respectable small-town conservative party and turning it into a sinister evil organisation without many people noticing...

Jacques Réné - "Do anyone believe that 4 millions Québécois turned federalist and began slapping their children when they speak french"

What I do believe is that if Quebeckers and BCers could just hang out together they would find they had a lot in common. Perhaps the new NDP will be a place where that can happen.

jesse: I interpret you as saying that the evidence for bubbles is about as prevalent in elections as in asset markets. That was sort of the conclusion I was hinting at/leaning towards.

Like Jacques, the Quebec results are most surprising from any sort of efficient market hypothesis. Did 20% of Quebecers suddenly learn that the Bloc was sovereigntist? Or that Jack Layton could speak passable French? (But didn't they elect one NDP MP who can't speak French and who sat out the whole election in Las Vegas?)

I would say the Conservatives are a bit more socially conservative than the others, but not enough to register on the US scale. They are smaller government than the others, but I can't see any obvious differences on which party would want to run the smallest deficit/biggest surplus.

"What are the major policy differences?" Damned if I can say. More of a spectrum of probabilities/degrees.

The new information, which isn't really new is: when in opposition it's stupid to trigger an election when d(employment)/dt is positive.

Wonks: A mix. They old Progressive Conservatives are center right, with emphasis on center. It seems that the old PC element holds the reins, and as long as that's true you can think of them as middle of the road to blue dog Democrats. On the other hand, if some of the old Reform Party take the reins it'l start to look more like the Republican party.

Wonks: "Not being a Canadian, I don't know. Are the Tories fiscally or socially conservative? What are the major policy differences?"

Between the Canadian Tories and the Liberals? There aren't many (despite the rabit assertions of partisans from both parties).

For the last 5 years there have been no substantive differences between the Tories and the Liberals on the most significant matters of: (i)foreign policy (both support the war in Afghanistan), (ii)taxes (Tory corporate tax policy is Liberal tax policy, or was, until the Liberals lost their mind and decided to emulate our social democrat/socialist party), (iii) economic stimulus (the Liberals demanded that the Tories spend a ton of money on stimulus, the Tories did, and the Liberals spend the next two years complaining about the deficit), (iv) crime (despite their allegations that Tory crime policy is "dumb on crime" the Liberals have voted for a number of Tory anti-crime bills), (v) heath care spending (their positions are identical).

Nominally the Tories are socially and fiscally conservative. In practice, they govern from the center. The Liberals have no ideology, other than staying in power, although during elections they like to pretend that they're a center-right party. In practice, they govern from the center. I think the expression "narcissism of small differences" probably accurately describes the relationship between the two parties (aggravated by the fact that, for most of the 20th century, the Tories were the decidedly less successful of the two parties leaving the Tories with a long-standing sense of resentment).

"Did 20% of Quebecers suddenly learn that the Bloc was sovereigntist?"

@Nick, no of course not. The point, perhaps, is that there are complex systems that are multi-stable. Once the NDP is seen as gaining traction through cascading information flows, it causes others to change their vote to an equally acceptable outcome. There is no new information, merely transient triggers, that will cause them to shift -- the trigger that exacerbated a significant movement is merely a catalyst and the entropy (i.e. available information) of the system is the same before as after (to use a chemistry analogy). In political races, it seems far more likely for such a shift to occur when a competitor has significant overlap. In the rest of Canada this was seen too, not with the BQ of course but with the bifurcation of the vote towards the nearest alternative. Here the shift was not as stark as Quebec because, likely, the alternatives were inferior substitutes. I don't know enough about EMH to comment on how these conjectures might be explained within its framework.

Fun discussion!

In markets too, when there are increasing returns to scale, you get multiple equilibria.  It may not be very efficient, and it's certainly not very stable.  Seemingly entrenched monopolies can be displaced by new technologies on very short time scales if the market sees a better global equilibrium. These are locally optimal equilibria though; not bubbles. In our case, there are huge returns to scale in the first past the post system. The "market" for a progressive government doesn't want a split vote on the left, and so will throw votes at whomever's got the best shot.  And so Stephen Harper's playing whack-a-mole, and obviously did a pretty good job of it.  

Quebec is a bit different from the rest of the country, mostly because the Liberals (sponsorship), as well as the Tories, are unacceptable to the progressive vote. So the available moles were Bloc and NDP.  And the Bloc were getting *really* long in the tooth...  And seriously, Red Deer voters wouldn't care either if the Tory candidate didn't speak English, if the alternative was electing a Liberal or NDP.  Unless the candidate can actually land some pork, what difference, from an efficiency perspective, does it make?

Personally, I find that you need to define your terms when you talk about the Canadian Tories.

From the Wikipedia article of the same name: Fiscal conservatism is a political term used to describe a fiscal policy that advocates avoiding deficit spending. Fiscal conservatives often consider reduction of overall government spending and national debt as well as ensuring balanced budget of paramount importance. Free trade, deregulation of the economy, lower taxes, and other conservative policies are also often but not necessarily affiliated with fiscal conservatism.

So. When we say 'fiscal' conservatism, what we usually mean is 'social' conservatism.

While they talk up a good game of being fiscally conservative, they have been any but. They pursued stimulus, they lowered the GST into deficit-creating territory, they want to spend billions of dollars... how precisely is this even a fiscally centrist party?

They certainly are socially conservative, though. Big investments in jails, getting rid of a long gun registry, giving the wealthy new tax breaks - sounds like social conservatism to me.

The Liberals have deep problems, many of which have nothing to do with Ignatieff per se. As with Frances and Bob, I agree that the Liberals were an ideology-free zone. They have always been the Party of Power in a way. The way that Ignatieff came to head the Liberals wasn't unique, Louis St. Laurent and Pierre Trudeau came to head the Liberals exactly the same way. The trouble is that doesn't work anymore. That strategy requires a very strong party organization to back up the leader and make up for his weaknesses, especially in retail politics. The Liberals don't have that anymore.

Iggy's loss is symptomatic of the shift in Canadian leadership styles. Trudeau and Iggy were both Philosopher Kings, intelligent men who came to Ottawa and entered at the top. In contrast Harper and Layton are both bottom-up leaders. They put in years as lowly backbenchers and party organizers. The did retail politics because they had to. They also learned the art of "politicking" and manoeuvre very well. It served them to great effect in minority parliaments. It was no surprise to me that Harper and Layton were able to outflank and out-debate Iggy most days.

Third, we come to money. Jean Chretien, for reasons I can't explain, dramatically overhauled Canadian party finance rules. He drastically limited corporate and union donations and personal contribution limits, as well as introducing the per-vote subsidy. Harper cut the personal limit even more and eliminated corporate and union donations entirely.

Money is the lifeblood of parties. Money makes the machine work. The Liberals were used to a high level of corporate donations, money which I feel was not donated out of ideology but to contribute to an electoral winner and a likely government. Institutionalized bribery in other words.

The Tories on the other hand have a very, very strong retail donation base thanks to their Reform roots. The Liberals don't. The NDP actually does well on this front, surprisingly so. Ideology motivates retail donors which are the only kind allowed in Canada anymore. The Liberals were hobbled my an inability to connect to do retail fundraising and its wider problem of being unable to connect on an ideological level to individuals. This means their riding-level base was weak.

Fourth, the one thing the Liberals did really well, identity politics is no longer a viable strategy. The Liberals long ran as the "Immigrant-friendly" party in the GTA. They were the party of recent immigrants. Then the Tories copied the same strategy and tweaked the message a bit. All of a sudden communities that had been targeted exclusively by the Liberals had the captive attention of two parties. Who wouldn't want to be courted by two parties? No more Fortress GTA.

The Liberal role as an English-French bridge has been in decline since 1980 and how its in a tailspin. The NDP is as much English Canada engaging in French-Canadian politics if not more than it is French Canada voting for an English party. And the NDP has four years to make this work. That's a big asset and a Liberal nightmare. The Liberals have been rare out West for years. Identity politics doesn't work anymore.

In important ways this is the Bilingualism election. We have a majority of NDP members from Quebec. The Tories have a Quebec base. The Bloc is off the stage. We have national politics again and for once we will be reading from the same songsheet in both official languages. It's important to remember that not long ago federal politics wasn't functionally bilingual. Pearson's ability in French was laughable. It was said that Mulroney was so successful in getting two majorities because the PC's were finally able to find a bilingual Quebecker as leader. This time every leader is functional in both languages and can campaign adequately in both. Bilingualism is necessary if you have any hope of serving on the front benches, either in Cabinet or as an opposition critic. English Canada is finally comfortable with bilingual leaders and Quebec is finally comfortable that national parties will conduct themselves in French just as well as in English and will listen ans serve them adquately.

As Frances said, once people from Quebec and BC actually start talking to each other, the rest flows naturally.

I'm not sure you can qualify Harper helicoptering in from the world of think tanks and academia as a "bottom up" leader. It makes for a nice narrative though, consistent with the conservative "oh, but teh smart people with their edjukashuns are elitists" message.

No, I meant he was elected as a Reform MP first in 1993, left in 1997, returned in 2002 and spent his time as a political organizer in between. That's what I call bottom-up. He learned the hard knocks of being an MP before becoming leader. Layton has a similar background, actually.

Ignatieff came back for the leadership. He didn't have the MP experience first. The difference showed.

The story I heard about the collapse of the Bloc that makes sense to me is just that the NDP and the BQ are similarly left wing, but the BQ has had a decade to deliver some value to Quebeckers, and hasn't, and that's come at a cost to Quebec of disengagement at the federal level that translates to a loss of influence. There was a widespread defection of soft sovereigntists to the NDP, who recognized that a federal separatist party was simply marginalizing their other concerns.

"They certainly are socially conservative, though. Big investments in jails, getting rid of a long gun registry, giving the wealthy new tax breaks - sounds like social conservatism to me."

I'm not sure those are necessarily traits of social conservatives. The opposition to the long-gun registry is more driven by populist libertarian principals (and, is primarily a function of the rural/urban gap rather than ideology - witness the difficult for the NDP in its rural seats), tax cuts are not, per se, socially conservative policy (though, admittedly, one of the Tory's proposals - albeit in a relatively minor one - is a sop to social conservatives), and spending money on jails - well, the Liberals voted for the same amendments to the criminal code as the Tories did (and the Canadian prison population crew expansively in the 1990s - was Jean Chretien socially conservative?).

I suppose its easy to define a party as being socially conservative when you have a flexible definition of socially conservative.

What I found interesting about the shift to the NDP was the timing. If I remember correctly, it started to really move after the provincial PQ convention or whatever, where their leader was confirmed with a high level of support and started talking immediately about holding another referendum.

Nick: Your question made me wonder about the "efficiency" of having a lot of parties. To many similar goods is inefficient, since nobody has economy of scale. Too few, and you can't get the good that's exactly right. Same goes for political parties. In the case of goods, you can tell how similar they are by looking at the correlation of price changes (assuming the prices are not sticky: think commodities or financial markets). If the prices of two goods move in tandem no matter how the world changes, then they are probably close substitutes. Which made me wonder if you could uncover the similarities between political parties by looking at the correlation of their votes across the 308 Canadian ridings. I.e. if the votes move together no matter what the change, e.g. wealth, language, industry, etc, then those parties are viewed as close substitutes (and would likely benefit from a merger).

So I downloaded the data from Elections Canada and calculated the correlations. Here they are (sorry about the formating. Typepad doesn't allow tables in comments):

Con Lib NDP Green Bloc
Con 100 5.6 -45.7 32.3 -55.0
Lib 5.6 100 -21.5 2.2 -23.7
NDP -45.7 -21.5 100 -6.0 56.4
Green 32.3 2.2 -6.0 100 -18.2
Bloc -55.0 -23.7 56.4 -18.2 100

So, as expected, Conservatives are strongly negatively correlated with NDP and Bloc, and those two are strongly correlated with each other (close substitutes). Liberals are also negatively correlated with Bloc/NDP but uncorrelated with both Conservatives and Greens. Finally, the Green partly is *negatively* correlated with the Bloc/NDP, *positively* with the Conservatives and not correlated with the Liberals.

I don't know if there are too many parties, but it seems possible that there could be some efficiency gains from mergers. The Bloc is basically untouchable, so that leaves possible combinations of the NDP, Liberals and Greens. I'm proposing that in a merger of weak parties (ones that lose a majority of ridings), they should be looking to combine the ones that are the most strongly correlated. If both are strong in the same riding, that maximizes the chance of winning the seat and also if they are viewed as close substitutes, not much diversity will be lost in a merger. Parties that are negatively correlated are less likely to get sufficient boost to win. Furthermore, negatively correlated parties don't split the vote, and could therefore win seats independently if there is a surge in progressive voting, and could form a coalition after the election. To test this, I tried to see what would have been the effect on the seat count if the mergers had happened in the case of this election, assuming that anyone who voted for a particular party would also vote for a merged version of that party:

No Merger:
Con: 167, NDP: 102, Bloc: 4, Lib: 34, Green: 1

NDP-Green (correlation=-6%):
Con: 160, NDP-Green: 116, Bloc: 2, Lib: 30
This does the least of any of the mergers. Conservatives only lose 7 seats, and much of the gains are at the expense of the the liberals (-4) and Bloc (-2).

Lib-Green (correlation=2.2%):
Con: 157, NDP: 100, Bloc: 4, Lib-Green: 47
Here the Conservatives lose 10 seats and barely hang on to majority. NDP only loses 2 seats, Bloc loses none. Note that this gain is especially impressive given the very low absolute numbers of both the Greens and the Liberals.

NDP-Liberal (correlation=-21%):
Con: 121, NDP-Lib: 186, Bloc: 0, Green: 1
This is the end of the Bloc and a major juggernaut to overcome for the Conservatives who are now at proportional representation. Conservatives: -46, Bloc -4. But there's a real loss of diversity here. These parties are definitely not perceived as substitutes by many Canadians. And definitely not by each other either.

Con: 113, NDP-Lib-Green: 195, Bloc: 0
Just to see what would happen. The addition of the Greens deprive the Conservatives of an additional 7 seats.

Liberal-Green, the merger that has the highest correlation is the one that seems the most interesting. Very large gains for the parties, with the least possible loss of diversity (though perhaps still too much). It would put a Liberal-Green plus NDP coalition on essentially equal footing with the Conservatives. You'd have to do more analysis to make a stronger case for using vote correlation as a measure of suitability for merger. But I don't have more than an evening to work on it, so I thought I'd share what I'd done.

"So my explanation: inability of the Liberal party to adapt to changes in the values of Canadians." - Frances Woolley

What changes do you mean?

A tangential question: Nick (or others), do you have favorite books, articles, or papers that categorize government failure in a manner analogous to the common categorizations of market failure?

Blikktheterrible: "What changes do you mean?"

- Canadians are older than they used to be. The single largest age group in the 2006 census was 45-49 year olds. As you get older, your values change
- Fewer of us are of European origin than was the case 20, 30, 50 years ago. There's lots of evidence - see e.g., Harvard economist Nathan Nunn's work - that the culture of our ancestors shapes the way we think now. Heterogeneity of preferences (people being different) has an effect on government decision-making. For example, it's harder to build community consensus to spend lots of money to build a hockey arena when many people are from non-hockey playing cultures.
- earnings inequality has increased and with it social distance between rich and poor
- the centre of gravity of the population has changed, and moved West.

In my earlier comment I suggested some Liberal policies that were particularly out of touch with those values.

Ken - James M Buchanan is one of the founders of the field of 'public choice' which is the area of economics that specializes in studying government failure. His classic books are still worth reading, or you can look for any book that talks about public choice. If you would like something more textbooky, Mueller's "public choice" is the classic text.

K: I like that way of approaching the question, and your attempt to put some numbers on it. But those numbers are like correlations of quantities, rather than correlations of prices. For example, we might observe a strong correlation between quantities of cars and tires. But that's because they are complements, rather than substitutes.

Ken: Buchanan is the name that came to my mind too. I don't remember which specific books or articles. Frances can answer that question better than me.

"So let's ask the same question: what new information arrived during the course of the election (or even since the last election) that could explain the opinion polls and the final results?"

What new fundamental information arrived on the weekend before the 1987 stock market crash, the greatest one day change in recorded market history? There was no new information. Something changed in people's mental landscapes, their ideas, biases, etc, and this internal "revolution" was not directly linked to the external information-emitting physical environment. The mind works in mysterious ways, I guess.

JP: Yep. That's one of the classic counterexamples to EMH. What I want to do here is use the same sort of arguments against the hypothesis that political markets are efficient.

Excellent analysis. But your most succesful progressive combination is also the one who leaves the most voters unrepresented ( Bloc). I was willing to swap votes in my former Bloc fortress (Sept-Îles have voted sovereingnist since 1966) to block the Cons as long as the Bloc is in and NDP votes are not wasted.. Otherwise I would not vote for a federalist party that leaves me out. And do not forget that the NDP base is as opposed to such things as bilingualism on the Supreme Court as most other anglos. The leadership is for, the membership is not. (Greens and Lib are also of the same opinion).
Your merger would ensure a PQ victory ans a winning referendum...and the canadian progressive losing 6 millions allies.

As I said a bit earlier, I think there was a significant piece of new information that emerged just before the big swing took place, in terms of the provincial scene in Quebec and the re-dedication of a strong PQ leadership to separation and a new referendum. Given the very soft support the Bloc had from people who did not support separation that may well have been enough to trigger a move, which became more credible and built on itself as it moved along.

On the question of Liberals and values, I think Frances has some good examples, but I think at the heart of it the changing reality that Canadians increasingly don't care about policy issues the way we do and the Liberals tend to. They don't want details from experts, they want catchy slogans and simple ideas that appeal to their ideological biases. The simpler the better because then they can't be twisted back on themselves by the other side.

Jim Sentance:
Soft nationalist had two decades to vote for somebody else. West Island anglos who ousted their Lib for unknown NDP certaily did not switch to because of fear of a referendum...

K - do you mind if I use your numbers for my blog in the G&M? Please feel free to reply privately to frances_woolley at carleton.ca.


The NDP didn't mount a serious campaign in Quebec until recently. It wasn't until Thomas Mulcair got in that they even thought it was possible. And it wasn't until Jack Layton became leader that the NDP had the ability to mount a serious French language campaign with a bilingual leader.

I said previously that we wouldn't have majority government until somebody figured how to get the Bloc off the stage. Turns out I was right, though not the way I thought. I am ever so glad that the Bloc have been reduced to four seats. Monday was a great day for Canada. They aren't even an official party in the Commons anymore.

Determinant, I don't know how you see Monday as being a great day for Canada. There's a distinct possiblity that the combination Harper-Layton will create the "conditions gagnantes" for Quebec to throw in the towel and separate. Jack may be bilingual, but he's proven over and over again that he has very little understanding or sympathy for details like provincial jurisdiction, so Quebec may come to miss the Bloc bitterly. If you think Canada would be better off without Quebec (a totally legitimate opinion of course), then yes, perhaps Monday will have turned out to have been the start of a new era. Well, I guess one way or the other (ie if the NDP raises to the challenge), it's the beginning of a new era.

Also, you said earlier "Bilingualism is necessary if you have any hope of serving on the front benches, either in Cabinet or as an opposition critic." Didn't the Conservative government prove the exact opposite, with a bunch of totally unilingual ministers? And Layton obviously didn't think there was a problem with putting unilingual Anglo candidates in Franco ridings (including Ottawa-Vanier and the absentee candidate who got elected in the Laurentians). Leaders need to be kinda bilingual (Harper is far, far from Layton), but parties don't.

It's hard to make a "winning conditions" argument when Layton's caucus is full of Quebec MP's. He has ballot box legitimacy by getting a majority of Quebec seats. That's a really, really hard thing for the PQ to argue against.

I think Canada is much better off without the Bloc. Quebec will be far better served by re-engaging in national party structures.

ACS, I think you give Quebec and the NDP far too little credit. Quebec turned on to the NDP and the NDP turned on to Quebec. They have four years to turn their caucus into a disciplined machine and I believe that will happen.

From what I have seen on Question Period most ministers in the last parliament were adequate in French.

Besides, what's a little freakery here and there? Said MP from the Laurentians can avail herself of MP language training. As for Ottawa-Vanier, Wikipedia says that they returned Mauril Belanger, a Liberal. He rain against Trevor Hache who lives in Sandy Hill. What's the problem?

What I do believe is that if Quebeckers and BCers could just hang out together they would find they had a lot in common.

Yes. 99.9% of people in their good days can sit together and agree that poutine is way too heavy for people our age. Yet there is a Gresham's Law of politics: ranters and extremist run out the sane. Yesterday's and today's take in TheGazette-National Post- Macleans was not the Bloc is dead ( hardly with almost 40% of the franco vote but evenly distributed and wasted) but "We don't need to listen to them anymore". In the same manner that the 2008 coalition could have been "Great! The Québécois are willing to collaborate" but turned into "No Québécois should be allowed to collaborate".


Winning conditions are not about not having a franco on Parliament Hill. It is about not constantly writing and us reading that we are a bunch of ( let's keep the tone down here, but I have read enough in the National Post advocating mass deportation (Diane Francis in 1995)). And I just wish that ,not me, just my money could be respected at the Air Canda counter gate 120 at Pearson ( the one for Montréal flights.)
I am old enough to have voted for Trudeau from 74 to 80 and see the results. Voted Mulroney in the 80's and again saw the results. Trudeau wouldn't deliver, Mulroney would but couldn't and seeing what the Toronto press is up to, Harper would not and Layton can't. Anyway, his seats are in QC but his member and money is in Ontario and they are as opposed to bilingual judges on the Supreme Court as every other parties. The leadership is for, the membership is not.

BTW, thank you for rejoicing that 40% of my people are shut out of Parliament...I understand what you are trying to say and that you don't say it meanly but,believe me, it hurts bad.

Political equilibria are unstable.
In the early 90's , my parents sponsored a Bosnian family. Izbet ( the father, former owner of a building company) was constantly whipping a few photographs, weeping in broken french " Nous pas barbares, nous maison, nous télévision". A picture of your burned bulldozer can be as emotion-inducing as that of a dead baby... His neighbor and childhood friend had tried to kill him.

Most new NDP are rank incompetent. Like in all revolutionnary situations a few gems formerly hidden will show through the overturned mud ( 25 year olds French and Russian revolution marshalls ) but most will be disapointments. My new MP just said yesterday that his priority will be his law office and that he intend to go to Ottawa once a month. He will be read the riot act but if a lwyer can't understand what are an MP duties...

Nick; not conservative enough to register on the U.S. scale?
This morning, a friend at Environment Canada emailed me that yesterday, the climatology section has been told that all non permanent researchers will be terminated and that most travels to conferences and even review subcription will be cancelled. Those people ( the leaders) are not conservatives but bolsheviks and trotskyites ( like the neo-cons are in the U.S.). The idea that once he has a majority S.H. will go soft is absurd. As Orwell pointed out , the goal of power is to exercise power. You have no idea of the era of darkness we are entering. And perennial optimists like Jack Layton are not equipped to fight back.
At some point you must realize your opponent is not a gentleman. You can't play checkers if one play with a Jack and the other with a jackknife.


I rejoice over the fact that the Bloc, whose agenda I found deplorable and disagreed with in its entirety and whose presence was a blight on the national body politic have finally been shown the door. They contributed nothing.

If you don't like First-past-the-post, you'll have to get in line with the Green Party.

Please, don't mention disrespect. My family came from Montreal. I have no time for those tactics when I have heard the same disrespect dripping from the mouths of PQ cabinet ministers.


The 2008 Coalition debacle was not about "No Quebecois could collaborate" it was "No Separatist belongs in government." English Canada would not stand for a government whose mandate was based on the votes of MP's who were not fundamentally loyal to Canada.

Nobody cared where they came from, what we cared about was the separatist thing. Loyalty to Canada isn't too much to ask in government, is it?

OK. That's a bit overboard. Cool it please. This is about efficient election markets.

Hi all - let me go to the original request for someone who changed his mind. I did. By default I am a technocratic centrist and have voted mostly liberal. I voted NDP because I reaaly voted "Not Harper" and I had a very good NDP incumbant, who won.

I just deleted a few paragraphs on Iggy. See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/05/magazine/05iraq-t.html his 2007 NYTimes piece.

Here is my theory: politics is hard. You make your mistakes running for mayor; get better, be a provincial cabinet minister; take some time off; learn something/teach in university/run a business; run for federal politics; get elected leader. Time effort and sweat. Iggy made a huge mistake: he allowed Harper to define him. he should have learned this running for mayor. Then he wouldn't have wiped out the Liberals in the process of making his first mistake.

It is very easy to attribute the outcome of this race to fundamentals, though you need to distinguish between the fundamentals that mattered in Quebec and those that mattered in English Canada.

Layton significantly moved the NDP position on the decentrist-centralist scale, towards decentralization (advocating constitutional reform, and French on federally regulated businesses). This left left-leaning separatists/nationalists with little reason to stick with the Bloc (especially since the 2008 coalition crisis had illustrated that English Canadians consider a coalition with the Bloc to be toxic). Layton got a bump after the French language debate, precisely because he was able to deliver this message to a large number of French-Canadians.

Your notion that people vote for the "best party" for them is missing something. People consider the likelihood that their vote will affect outcomes. In English Canada this has meant that many social democrats and fellow travelers (I call them yellow Dippers) have voted Liberal, even though they prefer the NDP. The NDP surge in Quebec altered that strategic dynamic. Since an NDP government was increasingly plausible (in fact, more plausible than a Liberal one), yellow dippers switched from the Liberals to the NDP.


My analogy was two companies competing to supply the greatest quantity of goods versus two parties competing for the greatest number of votes. The correlation of stocks is just a way to discover how similar those companies are perceived to be as providers of goods. An equally good way of measuring the similarity of two companies, which would have made the analogy more obvious, is if we could compare the amount of goods sold by each company in each sub market (e.g. online, high-end retail stores, factory outlets, by language, age, sex of customer, time of year etc). If the sales are perfectly correlated across sub-markets then they are perfect substitutes. But you are right that sales of goods may be correlated because they are complements. But in the election "market" there are no complements. You don't get to vote in a Liberal *and* a Tory, even if you think they'd look good together. You only get to "buy" one. So it's like goods markets that don't have complements. :-)

What is important, though, is that in the "markets" of products *and* votes, increasing returns to scale cause multiple equilibria. And if two "sellers" are providing the same good, the market can shift to widely different outcomes if you are starting in an unstable equilibrium (two firms with equal market share). This is especially fast when stock markets are available to extrapolate small relative advantages to eventual dominance. Polls can provide a similar feedback mechanism, as voters pile on to whomever (of the substitutable parties) is most likely to win.

The NDP and Bloc (correlation 56%) are fairly substitutable goods in the eyes of voters. An initial shock (perhaps the PQ convention) knocked us out of the old stable equilibrium. Political polling did the rest. Surely, at this point, you can cede the point that Quebecers aren't (necessarily) irrational? :-)


I understand that you consider your vote to have been wasted on a powerless opposition party. I, and 60% of Canadians, share your frustration. I don't know how *most* francophones feel, but I have good friends who used to vote Bloc and who are happy to now be represented by a party also supported by many anglophone Quebecers as well as other Canadians. And yes, they are disappointed not to be a part of government yet again, but they are somewhat hopeful for the next election, and cautiously optimistic that quebecers might have a role in shaping the form of that next government over the next four years.

I don't consider NDP-Liberal the "most successful" merger. Sure they get a lot of votes, but not in an efficient way: it involves a big loss of "product" differentiation so the seat gain is smaller than it should be for a vote base that large. A real value loss. I like Green-Liberal, especially a reverse takeover of the Liberals by the Greens. The Liberals get brains and youth, and the Greens get respectability and "seriousness".


"Jacques"! Sorry I called you "Rene".

Determinant "Loyalty to Canada isn't too much to ask in government, is it?"

It depends what one means by Canada. The grassroots of the NDP and the Reform wing of the Conservatives is thick, prairie turf. They share with many Quebecois voters a distrust and resentment of an Ontario-driven central-Canadian agenda that is perceived as being unresponsive to, and indifferent towards, regional concerns. A few generations ago, regionalist feelings were forged in depression-era hardship - remember that drought meant the great depression hit the prairies like no where else. A generation ago, it was the National Energy Policy.

The job of MPs is to represent their constituents - and if those constituents have strong regionalist or nationalist views, MPs are well within their rights representing those views.

This, plus common economic interests (hewers of wood and smokers of weed), is a key reason why there is potential in a western+Quebec based NDP.

On that note, it's also worthwhile to recognize that we now have a Christian Right party in government and a Christian Left part in opposition. The NDP descends from the CCF which emerged from the Social Gospel movement on the prairies, a theological movement that was big in the Baptist Conventions and the United Church.

To this day the NDP has or has recently had several United Church ministers sitting in Parliament and provincial legislatures. Bill Blaikie was one (left Ottawa a few years ago) and Cherie DiNovo in the Ontario legislature.

"The job of MPs is to represent their constituents"

Depends. What you mean by represent?

It's a strongly held view in Western Canada (well, AB at least) that MPs should simply be hollow shell through which the majority opinions of the riding flow. As if the MP is a robot programmed by constituents. If you swapped a robot for the MP you wouldn't notice any difference. I think this is a disastrous misunderstanding of parliamentary democracy and the role of an MP. Parliamentary democracy is NOT direct democracy by proxy and treating it as such diminishes the role of the MP in the eyes of the public.

Contrast this with the view that an MP is entrusted to make decisions on behalf of the constituents. That the MP is expected to actually know something about policy and issues so the constituents can go about their lives (specialization of labor?). Thus being an MP a position of importance and trust, and it means voting matters a lot.

Anyway, sorta an OT rant. I'll shut-up now.

Karl Smith has a post just out using Pew data, and sketches a forecast in which the old-style "staunch conservative" demographic of the GOP disappears and is replaced by an equally numerous group of "cultural traditionalists" (I'm not clear on what he means). He predicts libertarians will make peace with the Dems. All very cloudy of course.

It is interesting to speculate what the NDP will do. Canada, like Britain, has a quiet right and a very vocal left. If I were on the left-wing branch of the NDP, I'd be looking at what the left in the US has had to put up with in terms of Obama's move to the centre. I suspect a lot of people who voted for Obama in '08 didn't think they'd be voting in corporate welfare, new wars, Bush tax cuts, and special access for Jeff Immelt.

Bob Smith,

The Conservatives have social conservative instincts in a way the Liberals do not, whether they act on them or not. They don't support access to abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Their support extends as far as "This is not a winning issue for us politically, so let's drop the subject."

Since the majority of Canadians are not socially conservative, any party with these instincts will face a certain degree of suspicion, regardless of their actions. Their best hope is to so thoroughly marginalize the social conservatives in the party so that no one is wary of what they might do should the mood strike them.

Andrew F - it is one of the most enduring stereotypes amongst intellectuals that conservatives - in the delightful words of Pres Obama, "cling to their guns and religion". And indeed there are conservatives who do hunt and are religous.
But should anyone attend a CFIB event or local Chamber of Commerce event or engage with the financial services community, one will discover large numbers of business conservatives who are not social conservatives.
I would hazard a guess that no more than 25% to 1/3 of those that vote conservative in Canada fit the social conservative profile you assume above.
However, if one was to use "class" as a tool to measure differences ...
Why are there so many NDP and Lib lawn signs in uber affluent downtown Toronto in the Annex or Beaches, downtown Van, Montreal, Ottawa in Glebe or Westboro, where the average income and average education is much higher than the burbs and exurbs which votes Conservative e.g. Pierre Poilivere in south Ottawa i.e. Nepean Carleton?

Frances: have to admit I have a hard time imagining the prairies going NDP in a big way, at least federally. At the provincial level the NDP are Chretien centralists. When Gary Doer went to work for Harper in Washington, Buzz Hargrove wrote a scathing review of his premiership and his unwillingness to incur deficits or bail-out union heavy industries; he had his facts right. Lorne Calvert cut health care spending. Doer castigated the federal NDP at their last leadership contest for being, basically, a bunch of socialist loons.

My sister in Winnipeg recently moved from a heavily Jewish area that the federal Liberals held, to a riding in that city that is hugely Asian and African. Both went to the Tories, the latter by a landslide.


I did in fact change who I voted for, in part because of my friends, and in part because of the candidates in my riding. I'm personally fiscally conservative and socially liberal (and would be completely in favour of a Green/Liberal merger). There was a decent chance that the NDP would take my riding (as opposed to no chance for the Liberals), and I was turned off the Conservatives by my above-stated view of their fiscal and social position.

A general inquiry (bleg?): I'm very interested to what degree WCI readers think we need electoral reform. Are you satisfied with first-past-the-post? What kind of system would you prefer, if not?

Iron Troll: To those who say we need electoral reform, I have two comments. First, do countries with other electoral systems have better or worse policies that correlate with their electoral practices? I don't see it. The serious discussion is about policy, anything else is just a day at the horse-races. I do think that political parties that lose gain from talking up representative voting, because it stirs up the base and fits into a things-gotta-change narrative.

Second, my own take on FPTP is that it's an indifferent deal for voters but a great deal for parties. If you lose, you lose, regardless of how badly. True, second place is better than third, but you are still shut out of power, especially with a majority government. However, as we all know, you can get disproportionately high parliamentary power with a lower proportion of the popular vote. This means that parties can focus their resources on certain districts, rather than spreading the love all around. If you can win even while effectively writing off 25% of the potential seats, that is a good deal.

So, although you lose big in FPTP, you win really, really big with incrementally smaller gains. Chretien did this even better than Harper. It's like paying for a 2,000-sf house and getting an extra 1,000 to lord around in (actually it was Chretien who got 1,000...Harper only got an extra 300 sf). I'm sure there is some games theory to back this up....

I'm indifferent to electoral reform, but I can't imagine any party seriously wanting to turf FPTP when they see the bonus ratio.

my legal name is Réné.The new vicar didn't knew my grandmother had a lisp and took her pronunciation at face value at baptism time. The trouble I had since at the passport office...

Frances has a very good point: "Canada" has extremely different meanings.

First Nations saw people coming with guns and wanting either to trade furs or steal their land.

The ancestor (in QC we don't say "my" but "the" ancestor) came in 1660 and my cousin in the 13th degree still farm the estate ( 18% ice cider available at the Québec City Vieux Port market, thanks for the plugola).

Most Anglos came after the Conquest and were very surprised to find someone was already there.

Ukrainians in SK recreated their mir in the form of the coop movement and later the western branch of the NDP.

In AB, they came from the southern U.S. and were not indoctrinated in the history of the place in the same manners as those coming through Pier 21 or Grosse-Île.
(standard Pierre Berton here)

The U.S. have a similar situation with different civilisations settling there ( Yankees and Quakers in the north, Cavaliers in the Tidewater, Yeomen in Appalachia ), with these groups then migrating en masse somewhere else or absorbing others ( Quakers submerged into Yankees). The U.S. is still fighting its war of Civilisational merger. As we are, though less violently.

All of them have different political projects. In any ordinary country, first-past-the-post defines whatever bizarre structure history and foundation myth a country will have.

Champlain tried to mix equally Indians and Europeans but had not enough people to pull it off.

The majority group in Canada , the one who defined the main narrative is the 3rd wave, the Wasps.
Eveybody else is uncomfortable with that project. Agree with some parts , disagree with others, not a single group havving the same likes and dislikes.
Each model is different, not inferior and certainly not bad or evil. I don't mind how they work things out in AB (I say don't mind not don't care).

When the French and Indians signed the Great Peace of 1701 ( aka the Peace of the Braves)


they made the Great Peace wampum : two canoes on the same river , going in the same directions but not touching each other.

This what we should ask each other : cooperation and friendship between different peoples. Not loyalty as it implies a common freely chosen project. And I take that from John A. Macdonald ( "Treat them like free men ...you know the quote).

And if we have a not very efficient political market, it is because we don't have identical products and customers with identical tastes. It' tough to find the most efficient producer if you don't know what product you want.

Condorcet and Arrow would have a field day with us.

S.H dicovered that the numbers are in Ontario and is now adopting the Wasp narrative. How long can he hold on AB as the Wildrose is already shouting "Treason" and playing footsie with the ADQ?

frances, northern mines generate enough drudgery that QC-BC merger could be weed on weed...

I'm deeply unsatisfied with FPTP. Yes it is good for parties, but it is not good for representation. It is in theory possible for a 100% 1-party Parliament in Canada to be elected with a small number of votes...and a 60% Parliament elected with 40% of the votes is what exactly happened.

How could that be fair?

Yes we should have more parties and more coalitions. It isn't a question of some external being deciding whether the policies generated by other systems are "better or worse" by some objective criterion. It's a question of whether it's what the people really chose, for good or ill. And a Harper majority government is not what the people chose. I would say this for the Liberals and the NDP in that position.

Mandos - Canadians value "peace, order and good government" and the corresponding stability of governance while we rightly and properly recoil from the pizza parliament instability of Europe (where proportional rep is common) that has contributed to unsustainable public expenditures, rapidly increasing sovereign indebtedness (see 2011 OECD analysis with average debt to GDP of 80% today across EU forecast to rise to 100% within two years), not to mention collapsing birth rates and a failure to integrate their low levels of immigration, which (while not caused by), are difficult to address with mutiple splintered parties, none of whom holds a majority of seats in the Parliament.
Indeed, more parties and more coalitions produce more instability, enhanced fiscal profligacy and at the electoral margins the le Pens and other extremist parties are able to obtain a voice under proportional representation (as we have seen recently in Europe).
We want to help poor befuddled Europe (not emulate them), as we did in both the first and second world wars when many of our fathers went over to save the Europeans from the Europeans.

Ian Lee
Unless everybody belongs to the Borg collective, politics is about coalition. FPTP forces the coalition before the election, proportional push it after the vote. Proportionnal seems unstable but allows for gradual changes. FPTP constrains members and voter into awkward combinations Ontario and Québec in the former Libs
Québec and ALberta under Mulroney
Ontario and Alberta currently ( and even then only 46% Cons in ON)

The resultat is that, like in a bad dying marriage, you endure till the catastrophic failure (Libs booted out of french Qc in 84, QC and AB bolting out of the PC in 93. Instability is not avoided : it takes place in another form at an other time. INstability doesn't come from the structure but from the lack of commonality in voters plans and vision for the polity.

S.H courted ON. Alresdy the Wildrose is unhappy...

The current Con arrangement will crash. In 5 years , 10 years, there will be a surprise wave of the Inuit-and-potato-growers Party.
And we still not have answered "What does Québec want?"

Jacques Rene - very clever arguments - which I accept with the following modifications.

Coalitions arranged a priori i.e. political parties, are much stronger structures with greater resilience and endurance similar to marriage (but yes can eventually decay).

Coalitions arranged after elections - due to proportional representation - are more analogous to short term hookups, with much lower levels of commitment, greater levels of opportunism which require more log rolling, back scratching et al - dare I say, a more commercial, utilitarian calculus, which while acceptable for commercial contracts fails to provide a stable foundation for politics.

The key point is that FPTP encourages the establishment of a "hegemonic period" of party dominance e.g. PC Party in Ontario for 42 years. During those periods, we experience stability which facilitates planning, hard decisions, reallocation of resources - in short, rational strategic planning.

In the proportionate voting system, at very most a period of stability can only be achieved for the period between elections - if at all.

Moreover, it facilitates fringe parties e.g. Netherlands, France, Austria, which destabilizes the polity and politics.

Following Thomas Hobbes and the Chicago thinker Eric Voegelin and close friend of Hayek, order is the overarching value which permits liberal values to flourish (Order and History).

FPTP is far from perfect but is similar to Winston Churchill's description of democracy as the worst possible system of all - except for all the rest.

Ian Lee
Instability in Europe is not caused by fringe parties. They are a symptom of stagnating incomes for the working and middle-classes ( 30 of economic growth confiscated by the happy few),bad immigration policies and the loss of social mobility. So is the Tea Party. in the U.S. Sometimes the target is misgguided, the group is instrumentalized by other interest groups but they are a symptom. FPTP merely puts a band-aid over a festering wound, ensuring you will get gangrene.

The whole choice is between a facade of stability followed by abrupt changes or slow adaptation. Get an election in two ridings every week and see how you are forced to behave respectfully toward everyone instead of hoping for the kill and good riddance to ( select your target group).
You quote Hayek. I'll qote LaMennais: "Between the strong and the weak, freedom oppresses and the law liberates." And in a civilized world, the law must have the consent of the governed. Parties and FPTP enables the minority to govern the majority, without their consent ( except in the sense that you had a shot at dictatorship and lost ). Coalition are messy. It's also called life.
And Hayek, for all his talk about liberty, was perfectly comfortable with freedom for the select few. Like the Chamber of Commerce...

Jacques Rene - While we can agree that the European countries have poor immigration policies (and birth rates around 1 to 1.5 depending on the country), the idea that Europe "lost its social mobility" is a bit of stretch. My father left England after the war because as he told me ad nauseum, if your father was a bricklayer, you were going to be a bricklayer without any exception whatsoever (see the very unconsciously humorous references to Kate - daughter of multimillionaire - as a "commoner" in marrying Prince William). Europe and social mobility are not words that are generally concatenated in conversation or analysis.

In my many visits to West, Central and East Europe over the past 50 years, I cannot recall marvelling, a la de Toqueville, at the entrepeneurial vibrancy and social dynamism and mobility in UK or France or Germany. Rather, I marvelled at the great cathedrals and historic architecture as monuments to a gradually dying civilization (and each time makes me think anew of Mackenzie King's insight that Europe has too much history and not enough geography and Canada has too much geography and not enough history).
And indeed, incomes are stagnating in EU - creating a new industry - "what is wrong with Europe studies" - by the various EC agencies, think tanks, scholars et al, to explain lagging productivity, far fewer new business startups per 100,000 or GDP growth consistently and steadily below USA and Canada for over 30 years or why GDP per capita is roughly 1/3 lower in EU.
Empirically, European countries have larger government share of GDP (than Canada or US) measured by expenditures or taxation, and it certainly appears, according to reports such as the Economic Freedom Index and the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report, that Europe has significantly greater regulatory burden.
To use Foucault's phrase, "governmentality" is much more deeply rooted and pervasive across Europe.
However, European governmentality really only emerged after the war when new constitutions and new legislative arrangements were created to replace the old systems swept aside by the war. And reforms included proportional representation in some countries.
It seems to me that proportional rep played a role in creating “governmentality” which contributed to stagnating economic growth, stagnating productivity, stagnating business formation, stagnating incomes.
As we saw in Canada over the last 5 years, splintered Parliaments create a dialectic, a pressure, an opportunity for e.g. BQ or the NDP or the Libs 2005-2011, to "blackmail" the govt by threatening to vote against the govt if its demands were not met.
Minority govts - fostered by proportional representation - drives up spending - and difficult choices are kicked down the road. Does anyone really think that Chretien and Martin would have attacked and resolved the deficit in a minority in 1995-98?
Revolution or just plain old fashioned chaos and uncertainty are a lot of fun when we are 22 or 25.
But order and stability seems OK as we get older.

Jacques Rene - one quick clarification. Above, I am using "larger European govt" as a proxy or stand in for anti-competitive policies, policies that do not promote efficiency, protectionist policies,and policies that discourage trade, property rights or an open economy. It is not the size of the govt per se, but the type of policies adopted - do the policies foster or discourage economic growth.

That argument ("good government") for FPTP only makes sense if you think you're going to be part of the majority-winning minority who reaps the benefit of said "stability" and "good government". For the rest of us, it is unmitigated bad government. FPTP contains no mechanism for the losers to obtain redress for their losses.

But Mandos, Albert Hirschman taught us in 1970 that each of us face three choices: exit or voice or loyalty.

While exit i.e. emmigration is extreme, voice is always available, inasmuch as one can write letters, Op-Eds, organize a new political party, join an existing political party, organize protests etc.

Book review of Exit, Voice and Loyalty:

An innovator in contemporary thought on economic and political development looks here at decline rather than growth. Albert O. Hirschman makes a basic distinction between alternative ways of reacting to deterioration in business firms and, in general, to dissatisfaction with organizations: one-exit-is for the member to quit the organization or for the customer to switch to the competing product, and the other-voice-is for members or customers to agitate and exert influence for change "from within."

The efficiency of the competitive mechanism, with its total reliance on exit, is questioned for certain important situations. As exit often undercuts voice while being unable to counteract decline, loyalty is seen in the function of retarding exit and of permitting voice to play its proper role.

The interplay of the three concepts turns out to illuminate a wide range of economic, social, and political phenomena. As the author states in the preface, "having found my own unifying way of looking at issues as diverse as competition and the two-party system, divorce and the American character, black power and the failure of 'unhappy' top officials to resign over Vietnam, I decided to let myself go a little."

Professor Hirschman's small book is bursting with new ideas. The economist has typically assumed that dissatisfaction with an organization's product is met by withdrawal of demand, while the political scientist thinks rather of the protests possible within the organization. Hirschman argues that both processes are at work and demonstrates beautifully by analysis and example that their interaction has surprising implications, a theory that illuminates strikingly many important economic and political phenomena of the day. The whole argument is developed with an extraordinary richness of reference to many societies and cultures.
--Kenneth J. Arrow

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