Data Nerd: 30 Years of Canadian Elections Charted

XKCD created a fascinating chart of the history of the US Congress. I thought it would be interesting to do something similar for Canada, but our multi-party system and separatist political parties makes it a lot more difficult. I was able to gather the results from all the federal and provincial elections in the past 31 years (my lifetime plus a bonus year), and there are some interesting trends and patterns.

– The Liberals are sometimes called “Canada’s Natural Governing Party”, but in the past 31 years, the Conservatives have been in charge of 46% of the governments (172 combined years). By comparison, the Liberals have governed 30% of the time, the NDP 18%, and other governments (many Conservative-leaning) 6% of the time.

– The NDP have never governed federally, buy have been in control of at least one government every year since 1982. In fact, the NDP have been in government somewhere in Canada as far back as 1969, when Ed Schreyer was elected in Manitoba. Most of those governments have been in Western Canada, with the exception of Ontario in the early 90’s and Nova Scotia today.

– 1984 was the height of Conservative governance in Canada. Brian Mulroney won the largest majority government in Canadian history, 8 provinces had Progressive Conservative governments (9 if you count the Social Credit government in BC), and the Liberals weren’t in power in a single province. That might explain Stephen Harper’s tendency toward Orwellian policies.

– Alberta is the only province with a political dynasty/monoculture. Every other province saw 3-5 changes in governments in the past 30 years.

– Although governments tend to cycle through political parties, support for conservative parties has stayed relatively constant in terms of total votes cast (federal and provincial) – between 7.5 million and 11 million votes. Support for the Liberals and NDP has a very strong inverse correlation (-0.85), meaning they are likely pulling support from the same voters. Combined support for the two parties has been pretty constant over the past 30 years – between 11.5 million and 14.5 million total votes.

– Federally, the Liberals have been on a steady downward trend since 1993. The Conservatives have been on the rise, but are still short of the support they received in the early 80’s (before the Reform Party and Bloc Québécois formed).

– Provincially, the Liberals are the strongest party (in terms of total votes cast), as the only party active in every province in Canada. Although the Liberal parties in Quebec and British Columbia are somewhat conservative in nature.
– Conservative support is lower provincially than federally, but many of the Other parties are conservative (Social Credit in BC, the Saskatchewan Party, Wildrose in Alberta, and the ADQ in Quebec).
– The NDP peaked in 1990, declined until 2001, and has been on the rebound since.

Regional Breakdowns

– Western Canada has been home to many NDP governments and “Other” conservative movements (Reform, Wildrose, Social Credit, Saskatchewan Party). The Liberal Party has also done well, but most of that support is in BC, where anti-NDP support shifted from Social Credit to the Liberal Party.

– Ontario is the province where federal politics has the strongest parallels with provincial politics, in terms of active parties and vote counts. The NDP formed government in the early 90s but saw there support plummet after. Support has only recently recovered. The 2011 federal election was the first time the NDP got more votes than the Liberals in Ontario, and recent provincial polls put the NDP ahead of the Liberals.

Throughout the 90’s, Quebec was a battle between the Liberals and separatist parties. Recently, Quebec has been a province looking for an alternative (both provincially and federally). The Orange Wave recently swept the province federally, and in the most recent provincial election more votes were cast for other parties (CAQ, Québec Solidaire, and Option Nationale) than the Liberals or Parti Québécois.

Atlantic Canada has long been a two-way battle between the Conservatives and Liberals, but the NDP have been steadily growing throughout the region, and managed to gain power in Nova Scotia in 2009.

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