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A multimillion-vote sea change for federal parties

A Charlottetown voter caster her ballot in the federal election on May 2, 2011.


On election night, over 1.7 million fewer Canadians voted for the Liberals, Bloc Québécois, and Green Party than in 2008. Along with 890,000 new votes, the lost ballots were divided up between the Conservatives and New Democrats, who increased their vote count by more than 620,000 and nearly two million votes from the last election, respectively. But these gains and losses were not spread out evenly across the country.

In 2008, all four major parties earned fewer votes than they had in the 2006 election. The only national party to increase its vote total was the Green Party, which saw its vote total balloon by almost 275,000. But last week, the Conservatives and New Democrats gained votes in almost every part of the country at the expense of the Liberals, Bloc, and Greens.

Proportionately, the Green Party lost the greatest number of votes, dropping to only 576,221 votes from 937,613 in 2008. That is a decrease of 361,392 votes (2011's totals are drawn from Elections Canada's preliminary results), with the majority of those lost votes coming from Ontario, where the party went to only 209,328 votes from 409,936.

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The Bloc Québécois saw its vote total drop to only 889,788 votes from almost 1.4 million in 2008, a decrease of over 490,000. It is a fair assumption that virtually all of these votes were picked up by the NDP.

But it was the Liberals who lost the most votes. For the second consecutive election, about 800,000 fewer Canadians cast their ballots for Liberal candidates than they did in the previous election. In total, the Liberals lost 850,010 votes, dropping in every part of the country.

It was in Ontario (342,961 fewer votes) and Quebec (322,032) that the Liberals lost the lion's share of their support. This represented 78.2 per cent of the votes lost by the party, despite the two provinces making up only 63.4 per cent of all votes cast in the country. Nevertheless, the Liberals also lost about 15,000 votes in Alberta, 31,000 votes in the Prairie provinces, 43,000 votes in Atlantic Canada, and over 95,000 votes in British Columbia.

For the New Democrats, their gains in Quebec were roughly twice the size they would have been had the NDP's new voters been spread evenly across the country. In all, the NDP increased their vote count in Quebec to 1,628,483 votes from 441,098, a gain of almost 1.2 million voters, or 59.6 per cent of all new votes gained by the party.

But the NDP also made gains in the rest of the country, with the second largest proportion (24 per cent) coming from Ontario, where Jack Layton's party attracted 478,616 new voters. The party also made a six-figure gain in British Columbia (140,738 new votes). Gains in other parts of the country were nevertheless significant, with roughly 55,000 more Canadians voting for the NDP than they did in 2008 in both the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, and an extra 74,000 casting their ballot for an NDP candidate in Alberta.

However, the 623,332 votes picked up by the Conservatives had the most significance, as they propelled Stephen Harper to Canada's first majority government since 2004. The majority of these new votes came in Ontario, where the Tories went to 2,455,900 votes from 2,020,641, an increase of 435,259.

The Conservatives also gained more than 100,000 new votes in Atlantic Canada (112,070) and Alberta (111,054), while the party picked up an extra 65,398 votes in the Prairies and 55,112 votes in British Columbia. But unlike all of the other major parties, the Conservatives did not have uniform success or failure in every region of the country.

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While more Canadians opted for the Conservative option in English-speaking Canada, fewer did so in Quebec. There, the Conservatives dropped 157,346 votes, going to only 627,650 votes from 784,996 in 2008, costing the Conservatives half of their Quebec MPs, all of them beaten by the NDP.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at

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