Do Canadians want political cooperation?

Do Canadians want political cooperation? According to a new survey by, the answer is a resounding "yes". Leadnow proposed the following proposition to electors:

"I call on the opposition party leaders to support political cooperation for electoral reform. During the next federal election, the NDP, Liberals and Greens should work together in key ridings to defeat Conservative incumbents. After the election, they should cooperate to pass electoral reform and make sure our government better reflects the values and priorities of all Canadians." asked Canadians whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed, or strongly disagreed. The results? Out of a total of 9,173 respondents, 73% strongly agreed and 22% agreed. A whopping 95% of respondents want progressive Canadian political parties to cooperate in defeating the Conservatives and to work together to implement electoral reform.

With 61% of Canadians having voted against the Harper Conservatives in the 2011 election, it is clear a large number of citizens are deeply dissatisfied with the resulting Conservative majority government. With Stephen Harper increasingly governing with little regard for Canadians who disagree with his policies, the survey clearly illustrates that 95% of progressive Canadians want the NDP, Liberal, and Green parties to find mechanisms of cooperation that will bring better governance, more social justice, stronger environmental policies, and a more vibrant and equitable economy to Canada.

This concept of cooperation between supporters of progressive political parties has been at the heart of what Project Democracy has been advocating, both in the 2008 federal election (under the banner of Vote For the Environment), and then during the 2011 federal election when over 405,000 Canadians participated in our informed strategic voting initiative.

Such a proposal, for electoral cooperation between the NDP, Liberal, and Green parties, is currently being proposed by NDP leadership candidate, MP Nathan Cullen (BC, Skeena-Bulkley Valley). Cullen has proposed a system whereby, in ridings where there are Conservative incumbents, riding association would determine if they wished to participate in a "primary" system in which candidates from NDP, Liberal, and Green parties would run for nomination. All members from all parties could vote to select a single candidate who would then be endorsed by all three parties, and would then run against the Conservative incumbent in the federal election.

So, supposing the Green, Liberal, and New Democratic partries agreed to cooperate in running a single candidate in those ridings where there are Conservative incumbents: what might the results of such an arrangement be?  Drawing on the 2011 election data it is possible to get a relatively accurate picture.

Before proceeding there is one important point to clarify: this analysis is not intended as an exercise in alternate history. In the case of the 2011 election, no such cooperative arrangement existed and the election did not take place on this basis. The analysis is intended to shed some light on what political cooperation between Green, Liberal, and New Democratic parties could yield based on the 2011 electoral data. Thus, the point is not to try and re-run the 2011 election based on different premises, but rather to shine a light towards the 2015 federal election and what fruit political cooperation could bear.

In the 2011 election, the Conservatives won 166 seats. In 109, the candidates received an absolute majority of 50% or more of the total ballots cast. In those ridings, cooperation between opposition parties would make no difference to the outcome. In the remaining 57 ridings, cooperation could tip the balance. However, not all of supporters of Green, Liberal, and New Democratic parties would support a candidate from one of the other progressive parties. To determine this one needs to factor in the party-by-party second choice preferences of voters, information that is available for the 2011 election as a result of polling by Ekos Research (April 26-28, 2011; n=3283).

For NDP voters the second choice of 13.5% was the Conservative party, for 37.7% Liberals, and for 19% the Green party. For Liberal voters, the second choice of 12.6% was the Conservatives, for 54.1% the NDP, and for 12.0% the Green party. Finally, for Green voters, the second choice of 11.0% were the Conservatives, for 40.3% the NDP, and for 17.4% the Liberals.

Based on these ratios, and assuming that the opposition party that polled the highest in each of the 57 Conservative ridings would be the one that fielded the joint opposition candidate, and that support for other parties (i.e. the Bloc Québécois and others) remains unchanged, what would the results in these 57 ridings be? Conservatives would retain 17 seats, whereas opposition candidates would win the remaining 40 — 29 by the Liberals* and 11 by the New Democrats†. The electoral map of Ontario, in particular, would be redrawn with the Liberals winning an additional 21 seats. 

Consequently, the Conservatives would be re-elected with a narrow minority of 126 seats, with the New Democratic Party forming the official opposition with 114 seats. If Conservatives were unable to form a government that had the confidence of the House of Commons, the NDP, Liberal, and Green parties would be in a position to form a stable, majority, coalition government with 178 seats. Such a government would reflect the support of 53.4% of Canadian voters.

Such an analysis is, of course, an academic exercise in that, in the case of the 2011 election, no such cooperative arrangement existed and the election did not take place on this basis. With vote-splitting, the Conservatives were able to form a majority government. However, this analysis provides a clear, emperical illustration of the electoral benefits that such cooperation could bring in a forthcoming election — a win-win scenario for both the NDP and Liberals — and thus an opportunity to form a coalition government that could introduce electoral reform.

Note 1: While all such exercises are to some degree speculative, this analysis is on strong statistical ground, in that it relies only on 2011 electoral outcomes (100% statistically accurate) and Ekos Research's polling data (the results are considered accurate within plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20) with minimal other assumptions.

Note 2: In 2015, if Conservative legislation to this effect passes, there will be 338 electoral ridings (and not 308 as in the 2011 federal election). When electoral boundaries are re-drawn, this information would need to be factored into the above analysis.

What is emerging with ever greater force and clarity is that a large spectrum of Canadians are deeply dissatisfied with the present government. The Harper Conservative's shoddy environmental policy, its wholesale dismissal of the pressing imperatives of climate change, its attacks on organized labor, the destruction of the long gun registry, the costly and counterproductive crime omnibus legislation, the potential squandering of tens of billions of dollars on the F-35 stealth fighter-jet purchases, its contempt of knowledge and information, the muzzling of climate change scientists, its wholesale collusion with multinational oil interests on the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipeline projects, its abrogation of responsibility for sustainable healthcare funding and devolution of costs to the provinces, its attacks on pension plans and Old Age Security (OAS), its shameful treatment of aboriginal peoples … the list goes on, and on, and on. And all this has occured in just the first nine months of their majority mandate.

Many Canadians want a better, more representative, and more inclusive government that respects science, knowledge, reason, and fact; that doesn't simply represent the values of corporations and the ultra-rich; and that doesn't bully and intimidate its citizens. They want political cooperation — not coercion — and they want progressive political parties to work together for our common good — not to stay mired in the zero-sum game of political gamesmanship. It is time the NDP, Liberal, and Green parties took up this challenge and began to reflect what their supporters want them to do: work together for a better Canada.

Christopher Majka
Project Democracy
[Revised: February 13, 2012]



* Seats that would be won by the Liberal Party: NL - Labrador;  NS - West Nova; NB - Madawaska-Restigouche, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe; ON - Ajax-Pickering, Brampton West, Don Valley East, Don Valley West, Eglinton-Lawrence, Etobicoke Centre, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Kitchener Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo, London North Centre, London West, Mississauga-Brampton South, Mississauga East-Cooksville, Mississauga-Erindale, Mississauga South, Mississauga-Streetsville, Nipissing-Timiskaming, Ottawa-Orléans, Pickering-Scarborough East, Willowdale; MB - Winnipeg South Centre; BC - Vancouver South; YU: Yukon.

† Seats that would be won by the New Democratic Party: NS - South Shore-St. Margaret's; QC - Lotbiniére-Chutes-de-la-Chaudiére; ON - Bramalea-Gore-Malton; Sault Ste. Marie; MB - Elmwood-Transcona; SK - Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River; Palliser; Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar; BC - Nanaimo-Alberni, Vancouver Island North, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.