The Most Pointless Election Since 1965


2019 & 2021

We have just undergone a futile election which has produced substantively the same outcome as the previous general election in October 2019: a Liberal plurality around 15 to 20 seats short of a majority.

On 21 October 2019, Canadians elected the 43rd Parliament as follows:

PartySeat CountPopular VoteVote Total
Liberals15733.1%5,911,588
Conservatives12134.4%6,150,177
Bloc Quebecois327.7% 1,377,234
New Democrats2415.9%2,845,949
Greens36.5%1,160,694

As of around 0900 on 21 September, the preliminary results show that on 20 September 2021, we have elected a 44th Parliament virtually identical to its predecessor. The results in some ridings might change as Elections Canada counts the rest of the mail-in ballots this week, but the general result of a Liberal plurality at roughly the same level as two years ago will not.

PartySeat CountPopular Vote
Liberals15832.2%
Conservatives11934.0%
Bloc Quebecois337.7%
New Democrats2617.7%
Greens22.3%

Thus far, the Liberals have lost one seat, from 157 to 156, and the Conservatives have held steady at 121.

1963 and 1965

This scenario has occurred once before with respect to the 26th and 27th Parliaments elected in 1963 and 1965.

On 8 April 1963, Lester Pearson’s Liberals won the plurality of seats. John Diefenbaker later resigned the premiership, and Pearson became Prime Minister and head of a single-party minority government.

Election of 8 April 1963[1]
PartySeat Count
Liberals128
Conservatives95
Social Creditists24
New Democrats17
Liberal-Labour1

The House of Commons then sat 265 MPs, which made the threshold for a majority 133. By 1965, Pearson believed that the Liberals could gain those extra five seats and win the majority that he so coveted. Opinion polls throughout 1965 favoured the Liberals, which only enticed Pearson even more.[2]The House of Commons adjourned and rose for the summer on 30 June 1965 with the intent of returning on 27 September.[3]However, Diefenbaker provided Pearson political cover by declaring on 3 July, during the summer recess, that the Dorion Report would force the House of Commons to withdraw its confidence from the Pearson government as soon as it reconvened in September.[4]Pearson decided to trigger a snap election and advised Governor General Vanier to dissolve the 26th Parliament on 8 September 1965. But Canadians denied him a majority and instead elected in the 27th Parliament almost a direct transcription of its predecessor on 8 November 1965.

Election of 8 November 1965[5]
PartySeat Count
Liberals130
Conservatives97
New Democrats21
Ralliement des Creditistes9
Social Credit5
Liberal-Labour1
Independent Progressive Conservative1
Independent1

The Liberals gained 2 seats but still fell 3 short of a majority. The Conservatives also gained 2.

Conclusion

This election of 2021 has already made history as the most futile and pointless election since 1965; perhaps not coincidentally, Trudeau in 2021 called a snap election under similar circumstances after a similar amount of time as did Pearson in 1965. The 44th Parliament will look virtually identical to the 43rd, and the Liberals and Conservatives even won similar percentages of the popular vote in 2019 and 2021. Preliminary results show that the Conservatives once again won the plurality of the popular vote by two to three percent but did not win the plurality of seats. This election has also confirmed that Canada has entered a prolonged phase of minority parliaments. In the 21st century (which began on 1 January 2001), Canadians have gone to the polls in general elections seven times – in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2019, and 2021 – and have returned majority parliaments in only two out of these seven elections, in 2011 for the Conservatives and in 2015 for the Liberals. Perhaps the next cycle of electoral reform will begin very soon; Trudeau himself even mused again on 18 September that he prefers ranked ballots in single-member districts, the system by which Australians elect members to their House of Representatives, but lamented the lack of “consensus.”[6]

The incumbent Trudeau government shall remain in office and test the confidence of the 44th Parliament later this fall. Under the Privy Council Office’s Guidelines, “[The caretaker period] ends when a new government is sworn-in, or when an election result returning an incumbent government is clear.” As in 2019, this leaves a great deal of ambiguity. Since the tenure of the Prime Minister determines that of the ministry as a whole, the first condition does not apply in this case because a “new government” will not be sworn in at all before this 44th Parliament first meets. The Trudeau government, the 29th Ministry since Confederation, took office on 4 November 2015 and will remain in office until Trudeau resigns. That leaves the second condition, “when an election result returning an incumbent government is clear.” The atrocious phrasing of that second clause notwithstanding, Television told us around 22:30 on 20 September of the “Liberal victory” and then project a “Liberal minority government,” which might constitute a “clear” outcome “returning an incumbent government.” I found a similar ambiguity in October 2019, and I am not sure on what date that year the Privy Council Office regarded the caretaker period as having ended. But contrary to what Television says, we have not returned “another” Liberal minority government – we have apparently sustained the same Trudeau government in office. Our prime ministers only serve more than one term if they resign and the Governor General reappoints them.

In any event, Trudeau announced in his victory speech that he regards the results of this election as a “clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic to the brighter days ahead.”[7]

As Trudeau remarked in one of the French-language debates, we can expect to go to the polls yet again within 18 months, perhaps unless the Liberals and New Democrats enter into a confidence-and-supply agreement as their territorial counterparts in Yukon did earlier this year, or a formal coalition.

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Notes


[1] Audrey O’Brien and Marc Bosc, “Appendix 12: General Election Results Since 1867,” in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition (Ottawa: House of Commons, 2009), 1277.

[2] John T. Seywell, “Election Background,” chapter 1 in Canadian Annual Review, 1965 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), 68-69.

[3] Journals of the House of Commons of Canada, 27th Parliament, 2nd Session, volume 112, (30 June 1965), page 333.

[4] John T. Seywell, “Election Background,” chapter 1 in Canadian Annual Review, 1965 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), 68.

[5] Audrey O’Brien and Marc Bosc, “Appendix 12: General Election Results Since 1867,” in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition (Ottawa: House of Commons, 2009), 1277.

[6] Morgan Lowrie, “Trudeau Open to Electoral Reform, Says He Is a Fan of Ranked Ballots,The Canadian Press, 18 September 2021.

[7] City News, Justin Trudeau Delivers Victory Speech After Federal Win,” 21 September 2021. He says this at 3 minutes, 20 seconds.

About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively in my field. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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5 Responses to The Most Pointless Election Since 1965

  1. wilfredday says:

    In 1965 Walter Gordon took the blame for advising the futile election and resigned. Who will fall on his sword this time? Gerry Butts cannot do so twice.

    Like

    • Christopher says:

      Consider that almost nobody resigned because the Afghanistan debacle (except for the Dutch defense minister), I doubt anybody will resign. Accountability is dead ideal in the modern West.

      Like

  2. PierreB says:

    “He has no shame, no ethics, no honesty…this just confirms it.” I concur. But the results of this election also confirm that the electorate is infected with the virus of systemic Liberalism, giving a pass – repeatedly – to the myriad missteps of JT and his ministry. Woe is us.

    Like

  3. Roger Bowden says:

    Amazing how T2 could not govern with his minority and needed a mandate from the voters…Canadians need to decide…then he gets the same result and somehow this has become a mandate! He has no shame, no ethics, no honesty…this just confirms it.

    Like

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