Politics·Analysis

Election night winners and losers, and other surprises

Election night winners and losers. Ira Basen on the big 'duh!' and other surprises.

In the winners column:

The Conservatives and Stephen Harper

Duh!

  • Destroy the Bloc - check
  • Devastate the Liberals - check
  • Win a majority - check

Not a bad night's work! Turns out he could have gone to the Royal wedding after all.

Perhaps the only thing that might nag slightly is that no majority government in modern Canadian history has been so lacking in representation from Quebec.

But that's a worry for another day.

The NDP and Jack Layton

The NDP wins more than a hundred seats and Jack Layton becomes leader of the Official Opposition. Excuse me?

A victor's kiss. Jack Layton and his wife, MP Olivia Chow. (Reuters_

Go back to the beginning of the campaign and think about the odds you could have gotten in Vegas on that parlay.

Here's something else to contemplate. A party that began in the 1960s as an alliance of Western farmers and Ontario unionists now has more than half of its members from Quebec.

This, also, is not something you would have anticipated. In 2000, the NDP polled less than two per cent in Quebec. By 2008, they were up to 12 per cent but still only won one seat.

But we've seen this sort of behaviour before from Quebecers. When the bandwagon rolls through town, everybody jumps on.

In 1980, the Conservatives won one seat in Quebec, and polled 12.6 per cent of the vote. Four years later, they garnered more than 50 per cent and won 58 seats.

A turning point? Not so fast

Or take the ADQ. Mario Dumont's party went from four seats to 41 in the 2007 Quebec provincial election. They were just seven seats off the total won by the ruling Liberals.

On election night Dumont declared "I hope it will be a turning point for Quebec society."

Not so fast. The thing about Quebec voters is they can jump off bandwagons almost as fast as they jump on.

After the December 2008 election, the ADQ found themselves right back where they started with four seats.

Same with the federal Tories. By 1993, those 58 seats had melted down to one.

Note to Jack Layton: Enjoy this while you can.

How did Jack do it?

Conventional wisdom: Jack Layton's rise in Quebec was triggered by his performance in the French language debate.

Fun fact: In an Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the French language debate, 42 per cent of Francophone viewers thought Gilles Duceppe won the debate, 22 per cent thought Ignatieff won, Layton scored 19 per cent and Harper 12.

Also in the winner's circle: Elizabeth May.

Welcome to the debate!

Almost as happy as Elizabeth May tonight: the broadcast consortium. Now they won't have to go through the same agony over letting her in to the TV debates next time.

The losers

Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals

They've been down before. In 1984 they crashed to 40 seats and 28.3 per cent of the vote.

These are numbers that the current crew would be happy to trade for.

Two Liberal supporters in Toronto look on with shock as the results roll in. (Reuters)

Four years later they more than doubled their seat count and four years after that they won 177 seats and a majority government.

But they've never had to resurrect themselves from third place and they have never been so regionally ghettoized. Who will lead them out of this wilderness?

Michael Ignatieff? He, of course, will be running back to Harvard. At least, that's what the Conservatives have spent the past couple of years telling us that he will do. He's only been visiting.

Will he disappoint them and stay on?

Unlikely, but there are parallels to be found. On election night 1958, the Liberals were clobbered by John Diefenbaker's Conservatives and won only 48 seats.

Their leader, Lester Pearson, had a very cushy job offer waiting with the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.

Like Ignatieff, Pearson was more highly regarded abroad than at home. It would have been a lot easier to take that job than spend years in the political wilderness trying to rebuild the party.

But he stayed, much to the chagrin of his wife Maryon. Unlike Ignatieff, Pearson had won his seat that night.

"Mike, you've lost everything," she told him on election night. "You've even won your seat."

Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc

And so ends one of the oddest chapters in Canadian political history. Remember they once spent four years as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Quebec voter are fickle (see above), but it is hard to imagine these guys ever making a comeback.

Admit it; you'll miss Gilles Duceppe in the debates. Whatever you thought of his politics, he was pretty good at getting under the skin of the other leaders.  

Pollsters and predictors

Where to begin? It was not a good night for the pollsters. There will be much hand wringing. It is too early for a detailed analysis, but here's a rough idea of how badly things went off the rails.

ThreeHundredEight.com is a website that aggregates poll results. Pollsters have had a good track record in previous campaigns. This year, not so much.

The final aggregated poll results on ThreeHundredEight.com had the Conservatives winning 36.4 per cent of the vote, the NDP at 27.3 per cent, the Liberals at 22.8 per cent, and the Bloc taking 28.1 per cent of the Quebec vote.

When the votes were counted, none of these aggregate totals fell within the standard margin of error. However, some pollsters were accurate for one party or other — and some did better than that.

For those who tried their hand at seat projections, an iffy enterprise at the best of times, the results were even worse. ThreeHundredEight, for example, projected 143 seats for the Conservatives, 78 for the NDP, 60 for the Liberals, and 27 for the Bloc. You could probably have drawn random numbers out of a hat and done as well as they did. Maybe the seat projectors will try that next time. They've got four years to get their act together.

Corrections

  • This story has been edited from a previously published version to make clear that some pollsters' numbers were closer to the election night outcome than previously stated.
    May 04, 2011 5:55 AM ET