Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. (The Canadian Press photos)

Baloney Meter: Is Trudeau’s mandate the ‘weakest’ in Canadian history?

In Canada’s parliamentary system, the popular vote doesn’t define a mandate

“The Liberal party lost votes and seats in every region of the country. It lost the popular vote and was reduced to a minority government with the weakest mandate in Canadian history.” — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Dec. 6, 2019.

Since election night in October, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly asserted the Liberals have a minority government with “the weakest mandate in Canadian history.” He used the claim most recently in response to the speech from the throne, in which the government rolls out its broad priorities for the coming Parliament.

He has said it to push back at critics of his failure to win power himself; Scheer contends that since the Tories won the popular vote, and increased their seat count, the election was a success for the Conservatives.

As Opposition leader, he has also used the claim to underscore how he sees his party’s role in the 43rd Parliament — not just to oppose, but to prod the Liberals to adopt Conservative policies because they secured the backing of more voters.

Scheer’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said the claim the Liberals have the weakest mandate ever is based on the popular vote: the Liberals won 33.1 per cent to the Conservatives’ 34.4 per cent.

“This is the lowest share of the vote a government has ever received,” Jefferies said in an email.

The claim about the Liberals’ low popular vote is correct. Sir John A. Macdonald managed to form a majority government in 1867 with 34.8 per cent of the vote. All subsequent governments, majority and minority, were elected with more.

The minority government with the slimmest share of the popular vote was Progressive Conservative Joe Clark’s minority win in 1979, when his party drew 35.94 per cent of the votes cast.

But in Canada’s parliamentary system, the popular vote doesn’t define a mandate, said Lydia Miljan, a professor in the political science department at the University of Windsor.

Who gets to govern depends on the outcomes of 338 individual riding-level elections, and whom the elected MPs are prepared to support as prime minister. If winning the biggest share of the popular vote were what mattered, Scheer would be prime minister — with the weakest mandate in Canadian history.

READ MORE: Trudeau’s minority Liberal government survives first confidence vote

The Liberals have more seats and they have a mandate as long as they hold the confidence of the House of Commons, Miljan said.

“It’s fine for political parties to try and score points when they redo the math, but the fact remains that in a parliamentary system, it is all about having support of the House of Commons.”

In Canada’s multi-party electoral system, governments very often win power with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

With their 33.1 per cent of the popular vote, Trudeau’s Liberals won 157 seats in the Commons in October. That translates to 46.4 per cent of the 338 available seats.

In 2008, the Conservatives formed a minority government with 37.6 per cent of the popular vote. That got them 143 seats, which was also 46.4 per cent of a smaller House of Commons.

Another way to look at it could be how far the winning parties are from majority territory.

In 2019, the Liberals finished 13 seats shy. In 2006, the year of Stephen Harper’s first Conservative minority government, the party won 124 seats, putting them 31 seats away from a majority. That’s the farthest a minority government has ever been from controlling the House of Commons.

So, is Scheer being truthful when he says the Liberal government has the “weakest mandate” in Canadian history? By one standard, yes. But it’s not the definitive standard because there isn’t one.

For that reason, the claim that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have the weakest mandate to govern in Canadian history earns a rating of “a little baloney” — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Clearwater RCMP look for missing Alberta man

Wayne Theriault was last believed to have been seen on March 24

Clearwater charity helps local man with medical costs

Group brings in $1,200 in 20 minutes

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

COVID-19 brings burning ban to Clearwater and area

The reason for the ban is to help reduce excess air pollution in populated air-sheds

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

Health-care workers, seniors, Indigenous Peoples some of people most at risk, health officials say

COVID-19: Social media use goes up as country stays indoors

Overall messaging is up more than 50 per cent over the last month

Some April Fool’s Day jokes bring much-needed laughter; others tone deaf to COVID-19

Police are warning the public not to use the ongoing pandemic as a punchline

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Call before you dig into spring projects during isolation: BC 1 Call

BC 1 Call gives free checks for utilities in the area of a desired outdoor project

B.C.’s intersection speed cameras putting more tickets in the mail

One Nanaimo location delayed after speed limit reduced

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

High cost, limited coverage for asthma medicine a concern during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man says he skips puffs to save money, but others have it worse

B.C. man sick with COVID-19 calls it a ‘horrible disease’

Tim Green says he has ‘extreme coughing fits every hour’ to clear his lungs

Most Read