How a few ‘spoiler’ seats could topple the Conservatives

Posted on August 27, 2015 in Governance Debates – Globe Debate
Aug. 26, 2015.   Henry Mintzberg

Henry Mintzberg is Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University and the author of Rebalancing Society (2015)

This is written on behalf of Canada’s silenced majority – those of us who care deeply about our country but have been shut out by a government of micromanaged dogma. We consider Canada to be a nation of decency and balance, but for years we have been getting nastiness and bullying, alongside disrespect for basic democratic institutions.

This can end if the decent leaders of the two opposition parties act decently in this election, for the sake of country beyond party. This will require no coalition (one of those words bullied into submission). The Liberals and the NDP need only limit their efforts in those ridings where they are bound to lose, but by running vigorously, could again spoil victory of the other party.

I analyzed these “spoiler ridings” of the last election. I counted 18 where the Liberals ran well ahead of the NDP and would likely have won had the NDP limited its campaign, and another seven where the NDP would likely have won. For example, in Madawaska-Restigouche, N.B., the Conservative won with 40.7 per cent of the vote. The Liberal had 35.2 per cent; the NDP 18.6 per cent. Just more than a 5-per-cent swing from the NDP would have done it for the Liberals.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., the Conservative won with 41.4 per cent of the vote; the NDP lost with 37.3 per cent, and the Liberal had 18.8 per cent. One Liberal voter in four could have swung this riding the other way.

In some other spoiler ridings, barely 1 per cent separated the winner from the loser (for example, Mississauga East-Cookville, where the Conservative won with 39.9 per cent, followed by the Liberal with 38.4 per cent and the NDP with 19 per cent).

The Conservative majority was 12 seats in the last election. A shift of seven seats would have denied them that majority, and a few more, perhaps the capacity to govern at all. We might even have ended up with one of those dastardly coalitions – as exist in Germany and other primitive countries.

It’s not very complicated. Sure, there are new ridings and redistributions in some older ones. Sure voters can go any which way. But these figures are rather telling, especially with a Conservative party that is likely to come in well below its vote count of last time. Indeed, with the Liberals running closer to the NDP this time, the likelihood of such spoiling is increased.

An opposition party is supposed to oppose the government, not some other party. Why play the Harper game, to his advantage? A tacit understanding that each party reduce its efforts in even seven ridings could make a major difference in this election, with neither party risking the loss of a single seat. Indeed, both would significantly increase their chances of governing, maybe even – cover your eyes – together.

However much Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau magnify whatever differences do exist between them, these are small compared with their differences with Stephen Harper. The Red Tories are gone, as is the Progressive in Conservative, while both opposition parties are now moderate, and very much in the mainstream of traditional Canadian politics.

I want my country back, and so too, I suspect, do a large majority of Canadians. Politics being politics, I am not holding my breath about such an arrangement, however tacit. But maybe, just this once, there can be consideration for country over party. Otherwise we voters will have to do this for ourselves, bearing in mind that a vote for an opposition candidate who is bound to lose can amount to a vote for another Conservative government.

It’s actually rather simple: have a look at to see if yours could be one of those spoiler ridings, and vote accordingly.

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