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

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Nanaimo area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Action at the Nanaimo Curling Centre. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo sports organizations qualify for COVID-19 relief funding

Province announces support for curling, rowing, gymastics, softball, rugby, squash, football clubs

FOI records provided to the News Bulletin from the City of Nanaimo in 2018. (News Bulletin file photo)
Samra’s numerous FOI requests to City of Nanaimo aren’t ‘vexatious,’ privacy commissioner decides

Former CAO says records will assist her in a future B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Most Read