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Politics

Tories won the popular vote but the Liberals will govern. Here’s why

Justin Trudeau will continue his time as prime minister after his party won the most seats in the House of Commons during Monday’s federal election — but his party didn’t get the most votes.

The Liberals garnered 33 per cent of the popular vote, less than the Conservatives’ 34 per cent. New Democrats followed with 15 per cent, while the Bloc Québécois earned eight per cent and the Greens got six per cent. 

However, under the current first-past-the-post electoral system, the number of seats won by a party determines who wins — not the number of overall votes. 

READ MORE: ‘This is the first step’ — Scheer delivers concession speech, praises Tory election performance

The votes translated into 157 seats for the Liberals and 121 for the Conservatives, leaving New Democrats with 24, including a near wipeout in Quebec where the resurgent Bloc grabbed 32 seats.

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This has happened before and the main reason why the Tories earned more votes was because of the “overwhelming support” they received in parts of Western Canada, such as Alberta, Lydia Miljan, an associate professor of political science at the University of Windsor, told Global News.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he will ‘fight for’ Alberta, Saskatchewan
Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he will ‘fight for’ Alberta, Saskatchewan

In some Alberta ridings, the party won with roughly 80 per cent of votes.

“It was way more than they needed to win,” Miljan said. 

Had the electoral system been different — as Trudeau promised in 2015 — she doesn’t suspect the outcome of the election would have been dramatically different. 

There had been a possibility Canada would adopt the proportional representation electoral system. In that system, a voter casts a ballot for a party as opposed to voting for a prospective MP. Parties are then awarded a number of seats in proportion to the percentage of votes each has received.

Had that happened, Miljan explained, it would likely still be a minority situation, with talks of a coalition between several parties.

“NDP potentially could rise in a proportional representation system,” she said, noting that it’s difficult to predict exact outcomes.

An Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News on election day found that had there been a proportional representation system, 30 per cent of Canadians would have voted for Conservatives. Twenty-six per cent would have voted Liberal, while the NDP would have garnered 21 per cent. 

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Federal Election 2019: Singh committed to end ‘unfair’ First Past the Post system
Federal Election 2019: Singh committed to end ‘unfair’ First Past the Post system

The Greens, Bloc and People’s Party of Canada would have earned eight, seven and four per cent, respectively. 

Audrey Brennan, a political science PhD candidate at Université Laval and Université libre de Bruxelles, told Global News it’s difficult to say who would have won had the system been different because the results are not “transferable.” 

“People don’t vote the same way in a proportional representation system, and parties don’t campaign the same way.”

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Brennan said in the current system, voters may also be more likely to vote strategically rather than for the party they truly support. She also noted that proportional representation calculations can work in a variety of different ways, which would affect the results.

Both Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh spoke out after the election on the popular vote results. 

Scheer boasted in his concession speech that more Canadians supported him and the Conservative platform than any other party. He suggested that indicates Trudeau’s time in power is limited. 

“This is how it starts,” he said. “This is the first step.”

READ MORE: NDP’s Jagmeet Singh calls for electoral reform, says system is ‘broken’

On Tuesday, Singh said he plans to push for a proportional representation system, which would have given his party more seats based on its 16 per cent of the popular vote.

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While leaders may focus on popular vote results, Brennan noted that from a political science perspective, the popular vote results, in this case, are not too noteworthy.

“You can say, ‘Well, Justin Trudeau has a lower percentage than Andrew Scheer,’ but that’s one per cent less,” she said.

“Technically, it’s not a big deal, because either way he needs to get the confidence of the House.”​