When Green Party leader Elizabeth May said, to Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, in last week’s English language leaders’ debate, “With two weeks left in this election campaign, Canadians can know one thing. At this point, Mr. Scheer, with all due respect, you’re not going to be Prime Minister. The question is going to be on a seat count —” it was possible to take this simply as false bravado.
But, as journalist Steve Paikin reminds us in Why winning the most seats doesn’t always mean winning the election, becoming Prime Minister isn’t (only) about seat count, it’s about obtaining the confidence of the house to govern, and in this practice the opening move goes to the current Prime Minister.
This means that even in the case where the Conservatives win more districts than any other party, they won’t automatically–and indeed, are unlikely to–form government, as Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will have an opportunity to negotiate a coalition with the other parties, a negotiation that would have a good chance of success. Paikin relates the aftermath of the 1925 federal election to illustrate his point:
So whoever can command the confidence of Parliament wins the right to govern, even if they haven’t won the largest number of seats. Perhaps the best example of this happened in 1925, when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s government went down to apparent defeat at the hands of the Conservatives. King returned with only 100 Liberal MPs; the first-place Tories had 115. But the third-place Progressives won 22 seats and opted to back King, who concluded that he could continue to govern with their support.
At this hour the CBC Poll Tracker is showing the Conservatives with an 8% probability of winning a majority of seats; the remaining 92% of probabilities are situations where there is a solid possibility that the government will be a Liberal-led coalition or majority.
A friend who told me yesterday, by way of explaining his plan to vote “strategically” for the Liberal candidate in Charlottetown, “as I see it the only clear thing to do is to vote Liberal, to stop Scheer.”
Earlier this week Peter Bevan-Baker, provincial Green leader, made the case for voting your values to get the kind of government you want:
Strategic voting sucks. Voting for candidates & parties you don’t particularly like or want gives us governments we don’t particularly like or want. Voting for a person or party you trust and are inspired by might finally give us a government we trust and are inspired by.
If you are not swayed by this approach, and are determined to vote not by looking inside yourself but rather by trying to game out a situation to prevent what you see as the worst-worst, please take a moment to consider the nature of the minority government we’re likely going to see formed after this election, and consider who you want representing your district in that coalition.
I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, so I know a little bit about (not) voting strategically. And, indeed, the mathematics of that US election are, I think, where the modern strategic voting era began, and the Bush presidency that resulted from that election cast an understandably long shadow that has intruded into our Canadian elections.
But we elect a parliament in Canada, not a Prime Minister, and your vote for your local candidate, especially in this election, is not about Trudeau or Scheer, it’s about who you think capable of truly collaborating in what promises to be the most important coalition ever formed in Canada.