Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on the demographics of Canadian politics

As I blogged earlier this month, the radically changing appeal of different political parties to different ethnolinguistic and territorial communities played a major role in the massive surprises (Conservative majority, New Democratic Party official opposition, devastation of the Liberals and especially the Bloc Québécois) in this month's Canadian election.

Éric Grenier of the Canadian political blog Three Hundred Eight has recently analyzed in depth the demographics of the ridings of the three major political parties left in the realm of Canadian federal politics, and sent the resulting articles to Toronto's Globe and Mail. The changes have been significant. Take a look at hi notes on the Conservative Party.

With a gain of 23 seats over the party’s standing in the House of Commons when the election campaign began, the Conservatives now represent 19.2 million Canadians, or 2.8 million more than they did before the vote. Their caucus is still disproportionately based in the West, with 74 MPs coming from the four western provinces and northern Canada. This group forms the largest regional block in the Conservative caucus, but has shrunk to 44.6 per cent from 49 per cent of all Tory seats.

With 73 seats in Ontario, 44 per cent of the Conservative caucus is drawn from the province, up from 51 seats and 35.7 per cent before the election.

Almost 89 per cent of all Conservative MPs were elected west of Quebec, leaving only 3 per cent of the party’s caucus coming from the francophone province and 8.4 per cent from Atlantic Canada. While that is a small increase for the four Atlantic provinces, it is a drop from 7.7 per cent for Quebec. Only five of the 166 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons won their seats in Quebec.

[. . .]

The Conservative constituency remains overwhelming anglophone, with 72.4 per cent having English as their mother tongue, virtually unchanged from before the election. That is far more than the 57.2 of Canadians throughout the country whose first language is English.

With the seat losses in Quebec, only 5.8 per cent of Canadians in Tory ridings are native French speakers, down from 9.5 per cent before the election and a fraction of the 21.8 per cent of Canadians who are francophones.

Accordingly, the proportion of Conservative constituents who speak a language other than French or English has grown to 20.4 per cent from 16.3 per cent, almost reaching the national average. It is the same situation with the immigrant population in Tory ridings. They now represent 19.9 per cent of the Conservative constituency, almost identical to the 19.8 per cent of Canadians who are immigrants. Visible minorities, too, are now more represented in Conservative ridings, going from 10.6 per cent before the election to 15.3 per cent after the votes were counted. In 12 of the 166 Conservative ridings, visible minorities actually make up a majority of the population.

The New Democratic Party has also seen huge changes.

With a gain of 67 seats on election night, the NDP went from representing 3.8 million Canadians to 11.2 million, or roughly one-third of the country’s population.

In the process, the regional weight of the NDP’s caucus drawn from the West, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada was reduced dramatically – despite the party’s gains in each region. While the NDP increased its Western caucus from 14 to 16 seats, that now represents less than 16 per cent of the entire NDP caucus. Prior to the election, the West contributed almost two out of every five NDP seats.

With five seat gains in Ontario, the party’s caucus is still only 21.4 per cent from that province, while the two seat gains in Atlantic Canada come with a reduction in the region’s weight to only 6 per cent of all NDP seats.

Prior to the election, the one NDP seat in Quebec represented less than 3 per cent of its national caucus. Now, the 59 New Democrat MPs make up the majority (57.3 per cent) of the party.

[. . . I]t is in the linguistic profile of people the NDP now represents that we find the most change. In the 36 ridings held by the New Democrats before the election, English was the mother tongue of 66.1 per cent, well above the national proportion of 57.2 per cent. Only 7.9 per cent of the NDP’s constituents were native French speakers, while 24.3 per cent had a mother tongue other than English or French.

And finally, the ridings that the Liberal Party managed to keep--fragmented, concentrated in poorer regions of the country like Atlantic Canada, and having lost significant representation in French Canada and among immigrant and First Nations demographics--don't bode well for the party.

The regional distribution of Liberal seats has shifted eastwards. Whereas 48 per cent of the Liberal caucus (37 seats in all) came from Ontario when the government fell in March, the province now supplies only 32 per cent of Grit MPs. The proportion of seats coming from the West and Quebec has not changed significantly, but the representation of Atlantic Canada in the Liberal caucus has grown to over 35 per cent from 22 per cent. The 12 MPs from the four Atlantic provinces now form the largest regional block in the Liberal caucus.

[. . .]

The Liberals are still a party whose constituents are more educated and more diverse than the national average. But little more than 1 in 10 of the people they represent are native French speakers and more than one in three of their MPs come from Atlantic Canada. As the party re-tools with a view towards the next election that will take place more than four years from now, the demands of these different constituencies may clash with the message of a party striving to become a national force in Canadian politics once again.

The major problem with Grenier's analysis is that he analyses here not the people who actually voted for these parties, but rather the demographic composition of each of the different federal ridings. It's easy enough to imagine situations in pluralistic ridings where the swing of one group or another was responsible for a shift from one political party to another, other groups remaining firm in their support. Regardless these observations---only very partially excerpted here--deserve to be observed. It's difficult to avoid saying that the 2011 federal election in Canada was utterly transformative. Grenier helps explain how this transformation came about.

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