Politics

How often does the party with the most seats lose the popular vote?

The final installment of answering your election questions — from how long minorities typically last to what the future holds for the party leaders.

A final look at your election questions — from what a minority government can do to party leader reviews

Voters have given Justin Trudeau a second chance, but this time as a minority government. The situation has caused lots of questions — from how long minorities last to the future of the leaders. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

With results now in for all 338 ridings after Monday's election, the Liberals are again set to form the government, albeit a minority.

That means the road ahead will be bumpy, with the party having to bridge gaps, mend wounds and work together with other parties to cling to power.

It's been a while since we've been in this situation federally and it's generated many questions. We've been answering your questions throughout the campaign, so we thought we'd give it one last go now the ballots have been counted.

How often does the party with the most seats not win the popular vote?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer may not have won the election but he is boasting about his party's performance in the popular vote — having drawn more votes than the Liberals; some 34.4 per cent to their 33.1 per cent. (Official numbers are still being tabulated by Elections Canada.) 

It's happened before, but that was 40 years ago, during the 1979 election when Progressive Conservative Joe Clark topped Liberal Pierre Trudeau in seats to form a minority government, but Trudeau's party won the popular vote.

Similar situations happened in 1957 (when the PCs won the most seats but Liberals took popular vote) and in 1926 (vice versa).

Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives won more seats than Pierre Trudeau's Liberals in 1979, but Trudeau topped Clark in the popular vote. (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

Why can you only vote in your home riding on election day?

As election day progressed, we heard from several ticked-off voters who couldn't be in their home riding and tried to vote elsewhere but got turned away, and were ultimately unable to vote.

Elections Canada allows electors to vote from outside their home riding ahead of election day — via initiatives like on-campus voting or at an Elections Canada office. But on election day, you are required to vote at your polling station in your home riding.

Elections Canada spokesperson Matthew McKenna says being able to vote anywhere on election day would significantly slow down the results.

"There would need to be a major undertaking to ensure that all ballots for a single polling division were collected from all over the country, and counted," he said in an email. "And that would have to happen for each polling division."

How long do minority governments last?

Typically, less than two years. Joe Clark's Conservative minority government in 1979 lasted only six months; John Diefenbaker's in 1957 a mere 177 days. By contrast, each of Stephen Harper's minority governments lasted more than two years.

We've been getting questions about how long we can expect this Liberal minority government to last.

Stephen Harper basks in confetti after winning a second minority government on Oct. 14, 2008 in Calgary. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

It all depends on how well it can work with other parties — and how long those parties care to provide support. The Liberals were 13 seats shy of a majority. That means any bill they try to pass will need assistance from at least 13 non-Liberals. (That number may nudge up to 14 if the Speaker, who doesn't vote unless it's a tie, is a Liberal.)

Minority governments fall when the party loses a vote on a motion or matter of confidence in the House, such as passing a budget.

Can anything get done in a minority government?

Sometimes. Perhaps the most notable example is Liberal Lester B. Pearson's minority between 1963 and 1968, which worked with the NDP to establish the Canada Pension Plan, the current Canadian flag and yes, medicare.

More recent examples include Paul Martin's government, which legalized gay marriage, and Stephen Harper's minorities, during which he extended Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Can the Liberals make members from other parties cabinet ministers?

Nothing stops the party from doing that, as cabinet ministers can be from any party or don't have to be elected at all. (Stephen Harper appointed Michael Fortier to both his cabinet and the Senate, despite not being an MP.).

However, the optics wouldn't be good. A notable example is when Liberal David Emerson crossed the floor to the Conservatives in 2006 to join Harper's Conservatives as a cabinet minister.

Harper congratulates former Liberal David Emerson upon being sworn in as a member of his cabinet in Ottawa in 2006. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

What happens to the leaders now? Will they be replaced?

It appears no one is going anywhere for the time being, but several parties have specific rules about leadership reviews.

Under the Conservative constitution, Monday's loss allows for a secret vote on the future of Scheer's leadership at the next party convention in 2020. If more than 50 per cent vote to "engage the leadership selection process," a race for a new leader will take place. Like the Conservatives, Liberals hold similar votes when they don't form government.

The NDP has a secret vote at every convention. Again, a vote of more than 50 per cent will trigger a race to replace Jagmeet Singh, something he's "not at all" worried about. It's precisely how the party dropped Tom Mulcair following the 2015 election.

The Greens will have their own leadership review before mid-April 2020, when Elizabeth May will have to score at least 60 per cent approval to stay on.

All this can change if a party leader resigns. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh makes his way to the stage at his party headquarters in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday. His leadership will face a vote at the next party convention. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

About the Author

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.

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