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

Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community announced Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, The Lodge will close by February 2021. (Coldstream Meadows Retirement Community)
Coldstream retirement community to close Lodge

Staff to work with residents of the Lodge to find new accommodation

Judy Mallett, a Butcher Boys employee for 44 years, known for her fun-loving nature and fundraising abilities, died of cancer Oct. 4 at age 70. (Photo submitted)
Fun-loving Vernon grocery clerk fondly remembered

Judy Mallett, who worked for Butcher Boys for 46 years, died Oct. 4.

Ahead of the provincial election on Oct. 24, Enderby residents put their questions to the Shuswap riding’s three candidates: Greg Kyllo for the BC Liberal Party, Sylvia Lindgren for the BC NDP and Owen Madden for the BC Green Party. The candidates recorded their answers in videos distributed by the Enderby and District Chamber of Commerce. (Salmon Arm Observer image)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Shuswap candidates answer Enderby’s top election questions

The candidates submitted video responses for an all-candidates forum ahead of the Oct. 24 election

Shuswap BC NDP candidate Sylvia Lindgren reports several campaign signs have recently been damaged or removed. (Jim Elliot-Salmon Arm Observer)
Shuswap BC NDP candidate says campaign signs stolen and damaged

Sylvia Lindgren says with pandemic, signs are more important to candidates this election

Curtis Sagmoen
Public warning issued to North Okanagan sex trade workers

RCMP warns workers to stay away from Salmon River Road area

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Two pigs roam the Salmon Arm Walmart parking lot during a prior visit photographed by Danielle Burgi. (Danielle Burgi photo)
Pigs trot over for a visit at Salmon Arm shopping centre

Employees say this was the second drop-in from the temporarily free-range porkers

Penticton law courts. (Black Press file)
Osoyoos man in court for alleged shooting

The Oct. 11 shooting left a man with non-life threatening injuries

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Princeton man on motor scooter refuses to provide breath test to police

The scooter did not have a license plate and was not insured

Charlotte Smith, one of organizers of the second annual North Shuswap witches fundraising paddle prepares to set off on her stand up paddle board. (Sue Stilling photo)
Witches float for a good cause in the North Shuswap

Costumed paddlers turned heads on the north arm of Shuswap Lake while raising money for charity

Most Read