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

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

Martha Jane McHardy displays her knitwear in one of the windows at Imagine That! in Duncan this month. (Submitted)
Arts and Entertainment column: Lots to see in Duncan in March

Funding success, painters show, folk art, tell your COVID story

The Kinsol Trestle in Shawnigan Lake is a sight to behold. Funding for the expansion of the Shawnigan Museum celebrates its 100th anniversary. (Citizen file)
Shawnigan Museum expansion gets $480,000

Funds from Government of Canada Legacy Fund - Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program

A Cowichan Valley mom is wondering why masks haven’t been mandated for elementary schools. (Metro Creative photo)
Cowichan Valley mom frustrated by lack of mask mandate for elementary students

“Do we want to wait until we end up like Fraser Health?”

Clockwise from top left: Malahat First Nation Chief George Harry and councillors Steve Henry and Cindy Harry address community members in a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Screenshot)
Malahat Nation confirms first two cases of COVID-19

Community has been under stay-at-home order since Jan. 7

Protestors against old growth logging gather in front of the courthouse in Victoria on Thursday morning. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Fairy Creek protesters gather at Victoria courthouse

Logging company seeks injunction to remove blockades near its Port Renfrew operation

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

(Pxhere)
B.C. research reveals how pandemic has changed attitudes towards sex, health services

CDC survey shows that 35 per cent of people were worried about being judged

Most Read