Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Roll Call Parliamentary Votes Say About Minority/Majority Governments in Canada:: The Truth About Coalitions

Map by Toronto Star showing GTA ridings targeted for Conservative majority
Stephen Harper isn't answering questions about his future if he doesn't get a majority, even flubbing his metaphors in Val d'Or when queried about stepping down if he fails at his quest a third time, "I'm not going to take the bite on that one." Harper is fighting for his political life and must feel he's both at the doorstep of fulfilling his destiny and on the outside looking in to his destiny. The Toronto Star lists the 30 ridings the Conservatives are watching closely seeing them as a path to majority, with 16 in Ontario. There's quite a bit of overlap with my Ontario Swingdex of 21, with difference being the Conservatives taking on Liberal ridings they feel are weak, along with NDP-held Welland. I also think that even with the Conservatives relative strength in Ontario in the polls, a majority is slipping away.


Roll Call Voting Dimensions in Canada
While there's speculation of what kind of Canada with a Harper majority look like, I thought it would be informative to look at what story the vote patterns in recent Parliaments tell. I've been looking at two papers by Godbout and Høyland [see 2008 pdf; update pdf]. First off, a bit about roll call votes in Canadian Parliament. Individual votes tend to follow a pattern of party loyalty rather than ideology and there's two dimensions of voting:: (1) government/opposition and (2) Québec. In two dimensional space, this can be depicted in three viable quadrants::

                                |
Québec/Opposition    |   {null}
                                |
__________________|_____________________
                                |
Federalist/Opposition|   Federalist/Government
                                |


Majority Under the Liberals-35th. Parliament
Let's go into the wayback machine to the 35th. Parliament. {I won't go into the bayesian math behind this, which you can peruse in the PDFs.}

Liberal majority showing its distance from the opposition,
while occupying middle ground with on Québec

The horizontal dimension is government/opposition. The pattern of votes shows how votes are clustered around party loyalties. The Liberal majority is on one end with opposition parties on the other. The NDP occupies the closest thing to a "middle ground." On the vertical dimension, the Reform and the Bloc represent each end of the Québec dimension. The PC, NDP, and Liberals straddle the middle.

A Liberal Minority-38th. Parliament
What happens under a Liberal minority? 

Liberal minority showing closer proximity of all parties

The minority Liberal government saw a narrowing of the gap between the parties. The NDP occupying the middle on the government/opposition dimension, but the Liberals are also closer to the Bloc on the vertical Québec dimension. Nothing surprising here. In order to stay in power and pass legislation, the Liberals needed to get closer to the opposition, namely the NDP and the Bloc.

Conservative Minority-39th. Parliament
What about Harper's first minority government? How did the pattern of votes align?

Minority Conservative government showing relative close proximity of parties.
Opposition/Government divide shown on the horizontal dimension,
but Conservatives move towards the Bloc on the vertical.
While the ill-labelled "cutting lines" {based on specific bills} make the diagram harder to interpret, note the dimensions are the same. Horizontal is government/opposition support {cabinet} and the vertical is Québec support. The Conservatives now occupy the position that the Liberals did under Martin. This shows Harper's power play by shifting from the old Reform stance of being anti-Québec to "embracing" Québec, e.g., the Québec nation status bill that Conservatives voted for under threat of expulsion from caucus by Harper. It is quite disingenuous for Harper to decry a Bloc/Liberal/NDP coalition when he has crafted his own. This is a natural state of Parliamentary politics in a minority government. Moreover, the NDP votes in diametric opposition to the Conservatives. Also of interest is how close the Bloc and NDP are on both dimensions, which can explain the recent surge in the polls in Québec for the NDP as a federalist alternative.

It would be interesting to see the results for the 40th. Parliament. I would suspect a similar pattern as the 39th.

Implications
A Harper majority would mean that the Conservatives could embrace policies that are further away from the opposition and could ditch any appeasement of Québec. What should be illuminating is how the Conservatives are talking from both sides of their mouth. Stephen Harper warns against the separatist menace in his quest for majority, yet, has not taken a stance in Parliament opposing the Bloc {unlike the Reform Party of old} and in fact has embraced the Bloc.

Could a socially conservative agenda come of this? Well, there's nothing to stop it. Could there be a more neoliberal economics stance, as opposed to Harper's ad hoc powernomics, i.e., economic policies aimed at staying in political power? Absolutely. The divisions between the government and opposition on wedge issues aren't going away, but the Conservatives will have the votes to push their policies through on crime and healthcare. I think there's a huge question mark what some of these policies will look like, particularly in light of $11B getting cut from the budget...somewhere.

I see a curious mix of increased federal regulation in some areas where there's room for economic liberalization {e.g., securities regulation} and a shift towards market-based solutions managed by the provinces. The economic promises that the Conservatives are making really boil down to a "trust us" mentality. I'm not a Margaret Atwood fan {I bristle at her self-proclaimed red Tory leanings no matter how they're qualified}, but her "dark fiction" in the Globe and Mail squarely makes its point regarding the Conservatives under Harper. While many economists are singing a tune of lower taxes and turning to OECD reports and selective examinations of their data, the opposition should be hitting the point home that having a large economy like Canada's move towards economic liberalization would be a huge experiment. Chile's 1970s-80s neoliberalization under the Chicago boys created a new economic order by suspending democracy and privatizing in the worst possible way...by allowing oligopolies to control the newly privatized enterprises [see Edwards & Edward, 1991]. Chile may be quite an appropriate comparison, given Harper's take on democracy, his historical pro-corporate stance, and how Chile's tax policies at the bottom of the OECD are the envy of every neoliberal economist.

Another Conservative minority would mean the Conservatives need to move towards the opposition parties. Harper's days of placation of the Bloc may be over and it would be interesting to see how this played out in the 40th. Parliament. I also don't see Harper moving towards the opposition, although, he's proven that he likes being in power. While it's easy to blame the opposition for the election, it's just as easy to point the fingers at the Conservatives for their policies not moving more towards a coöperative stance. I see another minority government as something Harper doesn't even want to think about and it probably would make sense for another leader to take over.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Historical roll call parliamentary vote analyses show #cdnpoli reality of minority govts & coalitions #elxn41  @Prof_K

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