Redistribution Winners and Losers

Even though it was the right decision, the Harper government likely didn’t do itself any electoral favours by shutting Quebec out of the new ship building contract and the 15,000 jobs that go with it. However, they did announce two new jobs they will be creating in Quebec:

Ontario and B.C. will get fewer new seats than the Harper government originally promised, according to the Conservatives’ latest plan to redraw regional representation in the House of Commons. The move, meant to address growing populations in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, adds seats in all of those provinces. Compared to an earlier plan, though, B.C will receive five rather than seven new seats, while Ontario will get 13, down from the 18 it was originally promised. The Tory stronghold of Alberta will receive six new seats, and two more will go to Quebec, which had argued its representation was disproportionately low compared to English Canada in the Conservative’s original redesign.

While everyone will try to predict what this means electorally, a lot will depend on what the new ridings look like. Even in a place like Saskatchewan (who will stay at 14 seats) the new boundaries could be a game changer. Redrawing the nonsensical rurban ridings that go from downtown Regina and Saskatoon to 100 miles outside city borders could cost the Tories seats…or it could mean the end of Ralph Goodale’s reign as the king of Wascana. We won’t know the new boundaries for another two years, so anything before then is just speculation.

But speculation is fun, and it’s better done using numbers than the guesswork we’ve seen in many newspapers this week. So I’ve taken a crack at analyzing the electoral implications of the new ridings in what is sure to be one of the most exciting edge-of-your-seat posts in the history of Calgary Grit.

Identifying New Seats

To figure out where the new seats will go, I took the average riding population post-redistribution and carved anything above this number off into new ridings. For example, once Alberta grows from 27 to 33 seats, the average riding population will be 87,000. Ridings smaller than this are assumed to stay the same, while 30,000 “excess” voters from Calgary Centre get sent to a new ridings…when tallying the numbers, this means Calgary Centre gets counted as about a third of a “new” riding.

In short, we know big chunks of big ridings will be carved up to make new ridings. This analysis identifies just how big those chunks are.

What It Means

Using this method, the popular vote for the 26 new ridings breaks down as follows:

CPC 46.9%
NDP 26.8%
Lib 20.0%
Green 4.6%
BQ 1.7%

That spells good news for the Tories and bad news for the NDP, but that’s mostly a reflection of Alberta getting three times as many new seats as Quebec. Within each province, the support level for each party in the “new” ridings is quite similar to their province-wide numbers.

It’s risky to project seats since a lot will change in 4 years, but based on 2011 election numbers, the new seats break down as follows:

CPC 17.8
NDP 5.7
Lib 2.3
BQ 0.1

Things will change, but this plan adds a de facto 10 seat cushion to the Tory majority. That’s a big deal.

This will make the job of the Liberals and NDP harder in 2015, but they have no one to blame but themselves. The Liberals especially, have written off Western Canada for over 30 years, even though the electoral math makes that strategy riskier and riskier as time goes by. Going 0 for 19 in Alberta in 1972 is one thing…going 0 for 33 in 2015 makes it that much harder to form government.

One Final Note

Even though the addition of these new seats will benefit the Tories, these gains may be offset by other intangibles. Redistribution hurts incumbents, since new borders will force some MPs to campaign in neighbourhoods where they are unknown to voters. Given the Tories have the most incumbents, this works against them.

Redistribution also risks opening up is a Copps-Valeri situation, where MPs are forced up against each other. There aren’t many benefits to only having 34 MPs, but this is a problem the Liberals won’t have to worry about this go around.

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