In the 2011 federal general election, the Jack Layton-led New Democratic Party won a record 103 seats (in a then 308-seat House of Commons), winning 59 seats in Quebec and 22 more in Ontario, both record highs for the left-leaning party.
It came in first place by popular vote in Quebec and came second in every other province outside of P.E.I. The success of the NDP in 2011 was directly correlated with a complete collapse of the Liberal party, then led by Michael Ignatieff. The Liberals won a mere 34 seats in total, and only 11 in Ontario.
But in 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada rebounded by campaigning on NDP turf: it promised to temporarily run “modest deficits” to reinvest in infrastructure spending, pledged to enact electoral reform to replace first-past-the-post voting (FPTP)—a promise that was abandoned—and committed to legalize marijuana.
The NDP was beaten soundly in all Toronto and 905 districts, lost more than 40 seats in Quebec and was swept out of the Atlantic provinces.
Since Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership in 2017, the NDP has remained a distant third, polling nowhere near the numbers of either Jack Layton in 2011 or Tom Mulcair in all his reign as Leader of the Opposition. Before Singh’s Burnaby South by-election victory in February, the NDP had lost ground in 14 of 15 by-elections held during the current 42nd Parliament. Even in recent weeks, with the election of Singh to the House of Commons and the SNC-Lavalin saga pulling the governing Liberals down, the NDP still has not gained significant ground in the polls.
The latest 338 electoral projection has the NDP just above the 15 per cent mark nationally, winning on average of only 24 seats in all of Canada—far from its 2015 result of 44 seats under Tom Mulcair, the second best result ever for the NDP (after 2011).
Meanwhile, the Green Party of Canada has made modest progress in recent months, polling in double digits in B.C. and in the Atlantic provinces. In Quebec, the Green Party only received 2.3 per cent of the vote in 2015, but it is now regularly polling between 8 per cent and 10 per cent in the province (in the Outremont by-election in late February, the Green Party candidate finished third with almost 13 per cent of the popular vote, ahead of the Bloc Québécois and Conservative candidates).
Nevertheless, the latest 338Canada projection has the GPC at an average of only four seats (most likely all located on Vancouver Island) and about 9 per cent of popular support.
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Here is an interesting exercise of politics-fiction. What if the NDP and Green Party decided that they have more in common than they have differences? With the recent success of the PC and Wildrose merger in Alberta, would it be so unreasonable to imagine what a Green Party-NDP merger could look like?
Let’s call them the Green Democrats.
I entered the numbers in the 338 electoral model and made the following hypotheses:
- Most of the current NDP and Green support would remain with the Green Democrats
- The Green Democrats would have a higher appeal among younger, urban and educated demographics (which is, statistically at least, already the case for the GPC and NDP)
- Neither Elizabeth May nor Jagmeet Singh would lead the new party.
Here are the results.
Popular Vote Projection
According to current data and with the hypotheses formulated above, the hypothetical Green Democrats would get an average support just under 27 per cent (roughly the combined support of the GPC and NDP). The confidence intervals range from roughly 23 per cent to 31 per cent of support.
The Green Democrats would still likely fall in third place behind the Conservatives and Liberals, but the race at the top would become far more competitive.
[Results based on the data from the 338 Electoral Projection of April 21st 2019.]
With this level of support, how would this theoretical new party fare in the seat projection? This is where it gets interesting. Here are the numbers.
By running the 338 electoral model with the numbers above, the Green Democrats would win an average of 59 seats, more than twice the current combined seat projections for the NDP and GPC.
What is perhaps more striking is that neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals stand at an average above the 170-seat threshold for a majority at the House of Commons. In fact, more than 80 per cent of all 250,000 simulations run by the model resulted in a minority government where the Green Democrats hold the balance of power.
Here is the seat projection probability density for the Green Democrats. Its average stands at 58.6 seats, but a total of 70 or even 80 seats would not be out of reach according to current data.
Let’s break down this fictional seat projection into seat distribution by region.
According to current numbers, the NDP and GPC are in a statistical tie in the Atlantic provinces, and neither party is projected to win any seat. However, by combining their respective support, they could win an average of 4.4 seats. It is interesting to note that it would hurt the Liberals far more than it does the Conservatives.
The Green Democrats would be competitive in Fredericton, Acadie-Bathurst, St. John’s East, Halifax and Sackville–Preston–Chezzetcook. Additionally, with the recent provincial election in P.E.I. that saw the Green Party become the official opposition, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest the Green Democrats could also be competitive in Charlottetown.
In Quebec, poll numbers indicate that the NDP is on the brink of extinction. After the 59-seat harvest of 2011 and 16 seats of 2015, it is becoming ever clearer that, according to the data, the NDP could be swept out of Quebec, with the notable exception of Alexandre Boulerice in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie (RLPP).
And the Green Party of Canada? It has never won a seat, nor has it even been competitive in a single district, in Quebec.
If we combined both parties’ support under one banner, the Green Democrats could win on average just over nine seats in Quebec.
In Ontario, the NDP is currently projected to barely win a dozen seats. Once we combine its vote projection with the GPC, the Green Democrats could potentially double that total.
The Green Democrats could win pockets of seats in Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor, London, Guelph and, of course, Toronto. Moreover, the Green Democrats could reasonably hope to hold on to many Northern Ontario districts, where the NDP base remains strong.
While the Green Democrats would not improve on the NDP’s projected seat totals in the Prairies and Alberta, a hypothetical merger of the NDP and Greens would send tremors in the projection of British Columbia.
As it currently stands, the NDP and Greens are respectively in third and fourth place in B.C., both in the polls and the seat projection. However, in this theoretical scenario, the Green Democrats could potentially take first place.
I spoke with staffers and former candidates of both the NDP and Green Party over the past years. I have asked on occasion what they considered the fundamental differences between their parties. The Greens would say they are focused on promoting environmentally friendly technologies and renewable energy (which the NDP also claims).
The NDP says it wants to defend union and workers’ rights, as well as adjust tax laws so the wealthy can’t stash billions in offshore tax havens (tax policies which the Greens could also support).
Oh, and both parties are adamantly supportive of electoral reform, something which could be negotiated in a minority government—if only they held the balance of power.
Some will say such fictional exercises are useless because a hypothetical merger between those parties would completely change the political landscape in Canada.
Yes, it would, but it doesn’t make this hypothetical scenario futile. We have witnessed recent examples of successful party mergers in Canada. Jason Kenney will soon be sworn in as Alberta premier under the United Conservative banner.
On the federal scene, after a decade on opposition benches, the federal Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance decided to put their differences aside to beat the governing Liberals. The 2003 merger was not an immediate success, as the new Conservative Party of Canada received fewer votes than the combined totals of the PCC and Canadian Alliance in the 2000 election. But it won power in 2006 and Stephen Harper remained prime minister until 2015.
Small parties generally have a hard time in FPTP systems. But to change the system, you first have to beat the system. And in doing so, a little math and politics-fiction can’t hurt. It all starts with a little imagination.