Archive for May, 2011

Balmain 2011 – the maps

The Tally Room has gone quiet for most of May. I have been working on other projects, including improving my maps and getting ready for upcoming elections. I’m planning on only blogging sporadically for at least the next month. In the meantime I have also been occasionally writing for New Matilda, and I plan to continue to do that.

I have been planning for a while to do some analysis of the NSW seat of Balmain at the recent state election. While I’m sure I’m biased as a local resident and a Greens member, I think it’s fair to say it was the most interesting race in the state election. It was the only seat where the candidate leading on primary votes didn’t win. The sitting Labor minister fell into third place, and Labor preferences elected the Green over a Liberal candidate who had benefited from a huge swing. It was also a very close three-cornered contest of a nature that is very rarely seen.

I have done the same mapping exercise I did for each seat before the election. I divided the seat into the four areas of Balmain, Leichhardt, Glebe and Haberfield.

 

Area GRN % LIB % ALP % % of votes
Leichhardt 31.4 30.2 31.5 30.3
Balmain 32.1 34.2 27.2 22.2
Glebe 31.4 25.9 35.8 13.7
Haberfield 19.3 47.2 28.0 7.7
Other votes 31.7 33.1 28.7 26.2

Polling booths in Balmain at the 2011 state election. Balmain in blue, Leichhardt in green, Glebe in orange, Haberfield in yellow.

It’s a story of four different races. In Glebe, Verity Firth maintained a clear lead over the Greens, with the Liberals trailing behind. The Liberal Party’s James Falk gained a 9.5% swing in Glebe, winning 2% off the Greens and 7% off Firth.

In Balmain, Firth was relegated to a clear third behind Falk and Greens candidate Jamie Parker. The Greens gained a 1.95% swing, their best in the seat, with Labor losing 6.4% and the Liberal Party gaining 6.8%.

In Leichhardt, the three parties were closest to a three-way tie, with Firth narrowly outpolling the Greens’ Parker. The Labor Party went backwards by 9.8%, with positive swings of 1.5% to the Greens and 8.6% to the Liberal Party.

The race in Haberfield more resembled those in the rest of the state. The Greens’ Parker was a distant third, with Falk almost winning a majority, with 47% of the vote. This was a swing of 15.5% to the Liberal and 15.7% away from Labor. The Greens vote stayed still, with a swing towards Parker of 0.08%.

The Greens’ highest vote was 35.1% at Forest Lodge PS, with the lowest being 17.8% at St Oswalds in Haberfield. The best swings to the Greens were all around 4.5% at Nicholson St PS in Balmain, Rozelle PS and Kegworth PS in Leichhardt. The worst swings were at the northern Glebe booths of St Scholastica’s and Sydney Secondary College Blackwattle Bay, with swings of -8.7% and -6.2% respectively.

Verity Firth’s best vote was 38.3% at St John’s Glebe. Her worst was 22.6% at Sydney Secondary College Balmain. She suffered a swing of 18.2% at St Oswalds Haberfield. Firth gained a positive swing at only one booth, gaining 0.8% at St Scholastica’s Glebe.

James Falk’s vote varied from 51.2% at Dobroyd Point PS Haberfield to 22.1% at St John’s Glebe. Falk’s biggest swing was 17.8% at St Oswald’s, with his smallest swing being 5.5% at Rozelle Public School.

Top-polling party at each booth in Balmain at the 2011 state election.

There are a few trends we can identify here. Firstly, the Liberal swing was very large everywhere, while swings to the Greens were very small. Glebe is Verity Firth’s heartland. It is in the City of Sydney, where Firth was previously a councillor, and she lives in the suburb and had her electorate office there. It is the only area she won decisively. It was also the one area where the Greens vote went backwards, with the Greens losing 2%. It does suggest that the Greens struggled against Firth’s personal vote in the area.

In the Leichhardt Council area, which makes up a majority of the seat, the Greens did better than in the rest. Some commentators suggested that Jamie Parker had alienated Leichhardt residents as Mayor and this explained why the Greens swing was so small. If you divide the seat in half, you see that the Greens gained a 1.7% swing in Leichhardt LGA but suffered a 1.1% swing against in the rest of the seat. It does suggest that the Greens domination of Leichhardt Council was not a large factor in explaining why the swing to the Greens was so small.

You can see the impact of losing Verity Firth’s personal vote by looking at the Legislative Council vote. Unfortunately the NSWEC has not provided a breakdown of the final count by booth. The initial figures on election night, however, have been broken down by booth. These figures unfortunately don’t include below-the-line votes, so probably underestimate the Green vote.

Top-polling party in the Legislative Council vote at each booth in Balmain at the 2011 state election.

You can see that in the Legislative Council, Labor disappears from the map entirely. The Greens take most of those booths in Firth’s Glebe heartland, as well as many of the booths in Leichhardt. The Liberal Party dominated Balmain even more so, topping the poll in one booth that the Greens topped in the Assembly.

Below the fold I have posted six more maps showing the booth results for each party and the swings for those same parties.

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Wales 2011: results

The election to the Welsh Assembly produced a very different result to that for the Scottish Parliament.

Labour has been in power in Wales since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999. Labour governed as a minority from 1999 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2007. From 2000 to 2003 they shared power with the Liberal Democrats. Since 2007, Labour has governed with Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru.

This election saw a decline in support for Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, with Labour and the Conservatives gaining seats. Overall Labour won 30 of 60 seats, which will guarantee they will form government, but they may have to work with another party to ensure a stable majority.

Amongst constituency seats, Labour won 28 seats, up from 24 in 2007. Labour gained a seat from both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in Cardiff, gained the independent seat of Blaenau Gwent in South Wales, and the Plaid Cymru seat of Llanelli.

The Conservatives performed well overall. They lost Cardiff North to Labour but gained the North Wales seat of Aberconwy from Plaid Cymru and the Mid Wales seat of Montgomeryshire from the Liberal Democrats.

Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats each lost two constituency seats.

Labour overall gained a swing, 10% in the constituency vote and 7% in the regional vote. They maintained their two list seats, both in Mid and West Wales, which is the only region in Wales where Labour didn’t dominate.

The Conservatives gained small swings to them and gained seats, but the result was a disaster for party leader Nick Bourne. The party gained two extra seats overall, going from 12 seats to 14 and making them the second-largest party. In Mid and West Wales, Bourne headed the Conservative party list, which has previously elected him to the Assembly. The party was again entitled to three seats in this region, just like in 2007. But as a third Conservative won a constituency in the region, Bourne did not win a seat on the list, and won’t sit in the new Assembly.

Plaid Cymru appear to have suffered as the junior partner in the coalition government. They suffered a negative 3.1% swing on both ballots. This cost them two constituency seats, and a further two seats on the regional list. Their seat numbers have been reduced from 15 to 11, putting them in third place behind the Conservatives.

The result was bad for the Liberal Democrats, but much less severe than the thrashing they suffered in  Scotland. While they lost two of their three constituency seats, they gained a fourth regional list seat, which meant that overall they only lost a net one seat, for a total of five.

Overall the result is very positive for Labour, who have shored up their position in government after twelve years and continue to dominate Welsh politics.

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Scotland 2011: results

The Scottish Parliament election produced a quite dramatic result, with the incumbent SNP minority government winning a comfortable majority, despite Scotland’s proportional voting system.

Scotland’s Parliament consists of 73 single-member constituencies, and 56 members elected on regional lists on a top-up basis.

Labour formed governments after the 1999 and 2003 elections in a relationship with the Liberal Democrats, but Labour never won a majority of seats.

In 2007, Labour won 37 constituency seats compared to only 21 for the opposition Scottish Nationalists, but the top-up seats went overwhelmingly to the SNP, giving them 47 seats overall, one more than Labour’s 46.

The SNP has governed as a minority in Scotland, and polling throughout most of the campaign had the SNP and Labour polling neck-and-neck, and suggested that Labour had a chance of returning to government.

The results, however, have been decisive for the SNP. The SNP won 53 of 73 constituency seats, compared to 15 for Labour, 3 for Conservative and two for the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP won a clean sweep of seats in the Highlands and the North East of Scotland, as well as nearly all seats in Mid Scotland and Fife. At the 2007 election the SNP won only one seat each in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and only four others in the heavily-populated region of Central and Southern Scotland.

The Conservatives lost one seat compared to 2007, but had gained two extra seats in the redistribution, so on the new boundaries it was a net loss of three. The Liberal Democrats were devastated. The party previously held 11 seats, including two in Edinburgh and a number of seats in the north of Scotland. This time around the party only held onto the constituencies of Orkney and Shetland.

Results of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election in central Scotland.

Results of the 2011 Scottish Parliament election in central Scotland.

Despite their very large number of constituency wins, the SNP still managed to benefit from top-up seats, winning seats in seven of eight regions.

Overall, the SNP won 16 list seats, down from 26 in 2007. This reduction was well and truly compensated for by 32 extra constituency seats. Remarkably, the SNP won all 10 constituency seats in the North East, but still qualified for an eleventh seat on the regional list.

Labour won 22 list seats, up 13 from 2007. This made up for many of the party’s 22 losses in constituencies.

Despite losing nine of their eleven constituency seats, the Liberal Democrats still went backwards on the regional lists, losing two of their five seats. Overall they only hold seats in four regions, and none in the Lothian, Central Scotland, Glasgow and West Scotland regions running through the middle of Scotland.

The Conservatives went slightly backwards, losing one constituency seat and one regional seat.

The Greens looked like benefiting from the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote, but largely stood still with 4.4%. They retained their two seat in Lothian and Glasgow, but didn’t win any extra.

Overall, this gives the SNP 69 seats out of 129, a solid majority in a Parliament thought unlikely to ever produce a single-party majority. The government has set modest goals over the last four years, with a small minority government relying on the Conservatives and Greens to pass their budget. A much larger government is expected to have much bigger goals. In particular, it is expected that the SNP will move towards holding a referendum on Scottish independence later in their term.

Looking at the election figures, the SNP’s victory did not come from any collapse in vote for Labour. Labour’s vote went down 0.5% in the constituency vote and 2.9% in the list vote.

The SNP vote went up 12.5% in the constituency vote and 13% in the list vote. The largest portion of this came from the Liberal Democrats, who dropped 8.2% in the constituency vote and 6.1% in the list vote.

As is a consistent trend across other elections held on Thursday, it appears the Liberal Democrats have been severely punished by their voters for their role in government, while the Conservatives have suffered a slight backlash.

Overall, the result is a negative one for Labour. While they have benefited in England and Wales, the SNP has proven to be an effective alternative to the major parties that has also been very effective at being an opposition to the Coalition government in Westminster. Scotland will continue to be a thorn in Labour’s side over the next few years, now with a powerful and confident Nationalist majority government demonstrating an alternative to the major parties in Westminster.

UK 2011: Scottish and Welsh results

4:32pm – I’m stopping the blog now, most of the remaining results will come in tonight, with the AV referendum results and Northern Irish results coming in late tonight and into tomorrow. I’ll post again with the final Welsh and Scottish figures.

4:13pm – The final seats have come in from the Lothian region (which covers Edinburgh). In 2007 the SNP won two of nine seats, this time they won eight.

3:46pm – The result is also now concluded in Glasgow. The SNP gained two seats, Labour lost two, and the Lib Dems again lost one. The Conservatives and Greens each maintained their single seat.

3:43pm – We now also have a final result from Central Scotland. In 2007 Labour won 8 seats and the SNP two, and then the SNP won five list seats and the Lib Dems and Conservatives each won one. This time around the SNP gained four seats and Labour lost five. The list result has meant that overall the SNP gained two, Labour lost two, and the Lib Dems lost one.

3:38pm – The first regional result has been declared in South Wales West. All seven constituencies were won by Labour, which is the same as in 2007. The remaining four list seats went two Conservative, one Plaid Cymru and one Liberal Democrat. Labour was only entitled to 6/11 seats, but because they won 7 constituencies the second Plaid Cymru seat was lost, despite them winning enough list votes to win a second seat. The rare case where this system is not proportional. In Wales now we have all constituency results except for two Cardiff seats and all eight North Wales seats.

1:43pm – It looks like it will be a few hours before we get regional results. We almost have all results now from Glasgow. Last time nine seats went to Labour and one went to the SNP. This time each party has four seats, with one more to be declared. Overall the SNP has gained 14 seats and Labour has lost 10, with the Liberal Democrats losing one and the Conservatives losing three.

12:55pm – We now have most of the results declared from the region of Central Scotland. In 2007, Labour won 8 of 10 seats in the region. This time Labour has 2, the SNP has 6, and one is yet to be called. I assume the declaration of the regional list result will come shortly after the final seat is declared.

12:40pm – In Wales, Labour has so far won eight seats and the Conservatives have won one. The Conservatives gained the formerly Lib Dem seat of Montgomeryshire. Labour has won the independent seat of Blaenau Gwent and the Plaid Cymru seat of Llaneli.

12:35pm – So far 10 Scottish constituencies have declared. The SNP has held one of their seats, Labour has held three of their seats, Labour gained one Conservative seat, and the SNP gained five Labour seats. The overall figures are 6 SNP, 4 Labour.

12:19pm – The SNP has retained Dundee City East and gained the Labour seat of Glasgow Southside.

12:03pm – The SNP has won a fourth seat – Airdrie & Shotts. So far all four of their seats were notionally Labour. Not a single incumbent SNP seat has been called yet. It’s worth remembering that, in 2007, the SNP won only 21 constituencies to 37 Labour constituencies. If they win a lot of single-member races it may simply reduce their number of list seats. However, they are currently up 13% overall, which should mean they win more seats overall. It does seem plausible now that the SNP will win a majority.

11:57pm – Labour has retained Uddingston and Bellshill on the southeastern fringe of Glasgow. Interestingly, the seat of Eastwood, which was previously held by Labour but was notionally Conservative in the redistribution, has been won by Labour. Not a good sign for the Tories.

11:48pm – The SNP has now also gained Clydesdale.

11:07am – The SNP has gained another former Labour seat, this time it is Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

10:32am – In the two seats reporting so far, the SNP’s vote is up 13% while Labour’s vote is down less than 1%. Most of the swing comes from the Liberal Democrats, who are down 10.7% to 2.9%.

10:27am – First results from Scotland. Labour has retained Rutherglen in Glasgow, and the SNP has gained the nearby seat of East Kilbride.

9:40am – According to this useful guide, the first results this morning should come from constituency races in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and from English councils. We should be seeing results from Scottish and Welsh constituencies around 12:30pm today, AEST. For now, things should be quiet for the morning.

Councils to be restored in the Illawarra

Voters in the UK are currently voting in a referendum on electoral reform, and the results should come in tomorrow morning. Closer to home, some electoral reform is taking place in two councils in the Illawarra area south of Sydney.

Wollongong City Council and Shellharbour City Council were both sacked in 2008 after allegations of corruption on the councils, and have been run by unelected administrators since then. Both of those councils previously were elected using a system of “winner takes all” preferential voting. Each council had six wards of two councillors each, along with a directly elected mayor. Each ward used a system that meant that the group winning a majority of votes after preferences would almost certainly gain both seats.

In contrast, most councils in NSW use some system of proportional representation, as is mandated for all wards electing at least three councils. Following the sacking of Wollongong and Shellharbour, the only councils still using the old system were Botany and Ku-ring-gai in Sydney and a number of small rural councils. There was an attempt to impose the system on a newly-created New England Regional Council last year, but the merger was scrapped and the electoral plan also went on the scrap-heap.

The new Coalition government has decided that the Illawarra councils will move away from the majority-rule system to the proportional system used in most NSW councils.

Firstly, they have decided that the two councils will face election this September, a year before all other councils in New South Wales are up for election. Secondly, they are making changes to councillor numbers and ward systems in both councils.

In Wollongong, the state government has decided that they will continue to have a directly-elected mayor and twelve more councillors, but they will be elected through three wards, each ward electing four councillors. This will mean that, rather than the majority winning all seats in each ward, a councillor will need to achieve a 20% quota to win a seat in any ward. This reflects many other councils in urban NSW, with 3-member or 4-member wards being the most common model.

In Shellharbour, the number of councillors will be cut to seven, with the mayor to be elected from amongst the councillors. No wards will be using, allowing candidates to win election with 12.5% of the vote in the council area. This is an extremely low number of councillors for a reasonably large council. Most urban councils in the Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra regions have between nine and fifteen councillors each. Kiama Council, immediately to the south of Shellharbour, has less than one third of Shellharbour’s population, but has nine councillors. The only councils in Sydney with less than nine councillors are Burwood (approximately 33,000 residents), Strathfield (approximately 35,000) and Hunter’s Hill (approximately 15,000). They each have seven councillors. Shellharbour, in contrast, has approximately 67,000 residents.

The Coalition government has made the argument that “Fewer councillors has shown that council can effectively focus on the bigger picture and seek whole of council outcomes”, but I don’t really see any evidence for that argument. Considering that councillors are paid very little money for their role, and considering the large size of Shellharbour Council, it seems like halving the size of their council brings little financial benefits while substantially reducing the link between the community and their representatives.

I have previously argued that councils in Sydney should be designed so that there are more councillors on each council, not less, and that bigger councils have more councillors. While the government’s decision makes these councils’ electoral systems far more democratic, the unnecessary reduction in councillor numbers in Shellharbour reduces democracy.

A note on my local government maps: New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland will all be holding local government elections in 2012. The ward maps I have on my maps page are for the 2008 council elections in those three states. At some point when I have time I will go through and identify which councils have redistributed their ward boundaries and produce new maps. Obviously I will have to produce a map of the new Wollongong City Council wards once they have been announced, which will be added to the 2012 ward map for New South Wales when it is produced. Sorry Western Australia and South Australia, I don’t think I’ll have time to do yours.

Canada 2011: results summary

The Conservatives will continue in government after yesterday’s federal election, but the election produced a radically changed Parliament and political climate. The Conservatives gained a majority after two unstable minority governments, while the left-wing New Democratic Party reduced the opposition Liberal Party to third-party status and almost eliminated the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Nationally, the Conservatives only gained a swing of 1.9% nationwide, but there was a much larger shift amongst left-leaning voters. The Liberal Party’s vote dropped from 26.3% to 18.9%, while the NDP vote jumped from 18.2% to 30.7%. The Bloc Quebecois vote dropped from 10% to 6.1% nationally. The Green Party’s vote dropped from 6.8% to 3.9%.

The Conservatives won their long-sought majority, going from 143 to 167 seats. The Liberal Party’s seats collapsed from 77 to 34, with the NDP going from 37 to 102. The Bloc Quebecois, who have dominated Quebec’s seats in Ottawa since 1993, were almost wiped off the map, falling from 49 seats to 4. The Green Party’s leader Elizabeth May won the party’s first seat in the British Columbia riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands. This follows the success of Green parties in winning the first seats in national single-member parliamentary chambers in the United Kingdom and Australia over the last year.

There were few changes in the Western provinces. The numbers remained the same in Saskatchewan and Alberta, each of which elected an almost entirely Conservative delegation, with the exception of a single Liberal in Saskatchewan and a single NDP member in Alberta. The Conservatives won two of the NDP’s four seats in Manitoba. In British Columbia the Conservatives lost one of their seats to the Green Party while the NDP won three of the Liberal Party’s five seats.

In the Maritime Provinces, the NDP gained two seats off the Liberal Party and the Conservatives gained three. The main changes took place in the largest provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The Conservatives also won Yukon off the Liberal Party.

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Canada 2011: results

1:58pm – The CBC has called Saanich-Gulf Islands for Elizabeth May. 35 seats are yet to be called. I’m working on my map to produce a results summary later this afternoon so I’ll stop this liveblog now.

1:24pm – Green Party leader Elizabeth May is currently leading by about 10% over Conservative minister Gary Lunn in the constituency Saanich-Gulf Islands. She looks like following in the steps of Caroline Lucas, Adam Bandt and Jamie Parker, who were all the first Greens to win single-member electorates in their Parliament. I believe she is the first Green to ever win a seat in a Canadian parliament, provincial or federal.

12:51pm – The CBC has now called a majority government for the Conservatives, which will bring some stability to Canadian politics after their most unstable election since 1993.

12:31pm – The Bloc Quebecois, who won 49 of 75 seats in the province in 2008, are currently only leading in four seats.

12:19pm – The NDP’s previous record number of seats was 43 in 1988. They came closest to that with 37 in 2008. They are currently leading in 98. The NDP won their first seat in Quebec at a 2007 by-election and currently only hold one seat, but they are leading now in 55 Quebec seats.

12:12pm – CBC has called that the New Democratic Party will form the official opposition.

12:10pm - It looks very likely that the Conservatives will win a majority.

12:04pm – If you assume the Conservatives win all of the seats they currently hold that are yet to report, it puts them over a majority.

12:00pm – The ban is about to be lifted. Apparently the Conservatives are on 129 seats, which puts them very close to a majority, with 86 seats left to report. The NDP has got twice as many seats as the Liberals.

11:53am – Now that polls have closed in most of the country we are getting a lot of figures. The latest figures I’ve seen reported by a lot of Canadians on Twitter is CON 70, NDP 30, LIB 29, BQ 4. Clearly the NDP are performing very strongly. It’s not known where these seats are coming from, so it’s not known whether the BQ figures are as bad as they look. The ban is lifted in seven minutes.

10:45am – It appears that all seats in the Maritime Provinces have now been called, with Bernard Keane reporting 13 CON, 12 LIB and 7 NDP. This is compared to 17 LIB, 10 CON and 4 NDP in 2008, giving the NDP 3 extra seats and the Conservatives three also. One of the Conservative seats came from an independent, who was replaced by a Conservative at a 2009 by-election. It appears we will get no more results until close to the end of the blackout.

10:06amPoll closing times vary between provinces in order to minimise the time between the first polls closing and the last polls closing. Polls close at 9:30pm in Toronto and Montreal but only 7pm in Vancouver. Polls have already closed in the Maritime Provinces. Polls will close at 11:30am AEST in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 12pm in British Columbia. This means we won’t get much more except for the Maritime Provinces, as I doubt there will be solid results in those five provinces in that half an hour. We will have a lot to report at midday.

9:58am – There’s a report that the NDP’s Ryan Cleary has gained the Liberal seat of St. John’s South—Mount Pearl in Newfoundland.

9:55am – It should be made clear that thanks to censorship there is no way to verify these results. I still haven’t received any directly myself.

9:47am – Bernard Keane has begun posting results. It appears most initial results came from Newfoundland and Labrador, but he is now reporting overall seat numbers of 6 Liberal, 3 Conservative, 3 NDP. It’s far too early to say. The Liberals were the biggest party last time in Newfoundland (6/7), Prince Edward Island (3/4) and New Brunswick (5/11) so it’s not exactly a representative sample of seats, but 3 seats so far for the NDP is good. Overall he has reported three specific riding results, in Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Random—Burin—St. George’s and St John’s East, two of them Liberal and the other NDP, and in all three the incumbent has been re-elected.

9:43am – Vote-counting has begun in Canada. At the moment it is illegal for Canadians to post results, so no official results have been posted. However, Bernard Keane of Crikey has been receiving results via Twitter, and I have begun analysing these. You can also email me at [email protected] and I will post them here and on Twitter.

Canada 2011: NDP surging into second place

Postscript: Canada’s election laws ban all coverage and reporting of election results in districts where voting is still going on. This means that, between when results begin to come in from the eastern provinces and when polls close in British Columbia, all reporting of results on the internet is banned. The ban, however, doesn’t extend to private emails. So if anyone wants to email me at [email protected], I will tweet the results and post them here on the blog. Having said that, this is the first election since Twitter took off, and I think we may well see many Canadians attempt to break the ban. And now, here’s your post…

Canada goes to the polls on Monday in their fourth election in seven years. The election was originally expected to be rather plain, but has turned into a fascinating contest.

Canada has had three hung parliaments in a row since the 2004 election, with the centre-left Liberal Party governing up to 2006 and the Conservatives forming minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections. I previously covered the 2008 election in the early days of this blog, and posted about this campaign in early April.

It was expected that, with the opposition Liberal Party polling poorly under leader Michael Ignatieff, the Conservatives would finally have a shot at forming a majority government after gaining ground at three elections.

Around two weeks ago the left-wing New Democratic Party began to rise in the polls, particularly in the province of Quebec. The NDP has never done well in Quebec, holding no seats in the province until a by-election in 2007.

In three polls last Friday, the NDP polled clearly ahead of the Liberal Party, and in two of them polled only 5% behind the Conservatives.

In Quebec, the NDP has been polling far ahead of the other parties, polling in the high 30s or the low 40s, compare to the Bloc Quebecois in the low 20s.

While the NDP will have trouble winning a seat number that matches its high polling, they do seem on track to overtake the Liberals as the main opposition party in the House of Commons. Meanwhile the Conservatives seem likely to fall short of the number of seats needed for a majority.

The Bloc Quebecois have had a solid hold on a large majority of seats in the province since their emergence at the 1993 election. The current polling suggests the NDP is on track for huge swings, but there have been doubts about the ability of the party to translate that vote into seats. The party has little to no organisation in large parts of the province and were considered competitive in only a limited number of seats. Recent polls in individual ridings have shown the NDP leading or competitive in many seats where they weren’t considered viable.

The surge in support has drawn comparisons to last year’s UK election, where the Liberal Democrats polled competitively with the major parties, but come election day they only gained a slight swing and actually lost seats. So is it possible that the surge for the NDP could fade like that of the UK Liberal Democrats?

It is possible, but there are differences that make the NDP’s surge appear more solid.

Canada has a solid history of large, wild swings. The 1993 election saw the complete collapse of the Progressive Conservatives and the rise of the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois from nothing.

The NDP also has experience in government in Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. While the NDP has never been a key factor in Quebec, the province stands out clearly as the most left-wing of Canada’s provinces. The Bloc Quebecois has generally pushed a left-wing agenda similar to the NDP’s with the exception of their emphasis on sovereignty, and it isn’t implausible that the declining relevance of Quebec sovereignty could see the Bloc lose out to a larger party with a similar agenda.

There are also certain parallels between this campaign and 1993. That election saw the complete collapse of the main historical centre-right party, being hurt by the rise of a new party further to the right. That party went on to create a new Conservative Party with a more hardline position than the former Progressive Conservatives. The Liberal Party’s positioning in the centre of the political spectrum largely reflects the former party system. Conservatives have been in government for the past four years due to division between the three left-of-centre parties, which have always held a combined majority in the Commons.

It is possible that the shifting of support from the Bloc and the Liberals to the NDP could see the emergence of a new left-of-centre force to rival the Conservatives much more clearly, and restore Canada to something much similar to a recognisable two-party system, but it’s far too early to make that call. If sovereignty begins to lose its appeal in Quebec, we could the federal parties gradually eat away at the Bloc’s seats.

The Canadian election also has certain parallels to the recent Irish election. Like Canada, the Irish labour movement’s political wing never became a national major party, like Labour parties in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Instead, the NDP and Irish Labour have largely been sidelined as third party forces, while two other parties filled those roles of major parties. While Canadian politics has little in common with the disaster that is modern Irish politics, it will be interesting if Canada also sees a social democratic party finally break through into the top two, over a century after this happened in Australia.

Despite the surge in support for the left-wing NDP, it still seems that we will see a third minority Conservative government formed after this week’s election. The NDP has largely benefited from the collapse in support for the Liberal Party, along with the decline of the Bloc. However, the loss of support for the Bloc could see them lose enough seats that the NDP and the Liberal Party could form a majority without the need for the Bloc, producing the bizarre outcome of a government led by Jack Layton and the NDP, with the Liberals either supporting from the crossbenches or serving as a junior coalition partner. It would be a disastrous decline for a party that dominated government in Canada until 2006.

Elsewhere: Gael Hermine at World Politics is Canadian, and has written a comprehensive post previewing the election. An essential website on Canadian polling is ThreeHundredEight.com.