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People’s Party may have cost the Tories 6 ridings on election night

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Votes for the People’s Party of Canada may have cost the Conservatives up to six ridings in Monday’s federal election, an analysis of election results shows.

Polling before the election showed the Conservatives were the second choice of about half of PPC voters, according to polling done by Ipsos, implying about one PPC voters in two would have voted Conservative if the party hadn’t existed.

“The data suggests that the Conservative Party would likely get around half of the vote from the People’s Party, understanding that for many people the People’s Party was a none-of-the-above vote,” says Sean Simpson of Ipsos.

“The next most popular party among People’s Party voters was the Green Party,” he says. “You might say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense,’ but the Green Party is often used by people as a protest vote, a kind of none of the above or apathy party.”

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In five ridings Liberals won Monday, the Conservative vote total plus half the PPC vote total is higher than the Liberal candidate’s.

With half the PPC votes added, the Conservatives win these close ridings:

Miramichi-Grand Lake (Liberal by 414 votes)
Kitchener-Conestoga (Liberal by 273 votes)
Richmond Hill (Liberal by 112 votes)
Yukon (Liberal by 72 votes)
Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam (Liberal by 339 votes)

In a sixth riding, South Okanagan-West Kootenay, adding half the PPC votes to the Conservatives’ results in a two-vote NDP victory, which would have meant an automatic recount. With so small a margin, it’s hard to predict how that would have been resolved. (On Monday, the NDP won the riding by 796 votes)

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In an e-mailed statement, PPC spokesperson Martin Masse rejected the idea that large numbers of PPC voters would have voted Conservative on Monday if the party didn’t exist.

“I cannot tell you what proportion of our supporters would have (voted Conservative), but we know that many voted for other parties before, or did not vote at all, and would never have voted for the Conservatives this time,” he wrote.

“Moreover, it is a silly question. We are a different party with different policies, not a party that exists simply to take votes from the Conservatives.”

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Masse declined an interview request.

If the five ridings had been won by the Conservatives, the Liberals would still have the plurality of seats, but they also would have a more fragile hold on government.

  • The Conservatives would have had 127 or 126 seats (depending on the South Okanagan-West Kootenay recount), not 121
  • The NDP would have had 23 seats, or their current 24
  • The Liberals would have had 152 seats, not 157

That would have left the Liberals with NDP support with only a four- to five-seat majority instead of the 11-seat majority the two parties have between them now. With both NDP and Green support, they would have a seven- to eight-seat majority, not the 14-seat majority that would give them now.

And with a smaller minority, any tiny shift — like an MP dying, resigning, changing parties, or even skipping a vote — could have outsized consequences. (Joe Clark’s government fell on a narrow non-confidence vote in 1979 in part because two Tory MPs were travelling and a third was in hospital.)

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That Parliament would be a version of the one that was elected on Monday, but with “less of a margin for error.”

“The fundamentals of Parliament are the same,” says University of Toronto political science professor Peter Loewen. “For me, the most relevant question is: How many parties do the Liberals need to buy off on every vote to win?

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“The only thing which really materially changes stuff is if the NDP doesn’t have enough seats to bring [Trudeau] over to a majority.”
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However, an election without Maxime Bernier, or one where he had never left the Conservatives, would have had a different dynamic, he argues.

“What kind of pressure would Scheer be under, absent the presence of Bernier to speak to issues like immigration, to speak to asylum, to speak to the hot-button issues that Bernier was speaking to? Scheer looked more moderate because of the presence of Bernier.”

Vote-splitting on the left regularly gets attention in Canadian elections, but it hasn’t been seen to a significant degree on the right since the 2000 election, the last when the Reform Party and the federal Progressive Conservatives were still running against each other.

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment.