Skip to main content
crunching numbers

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff (R) makes a point to Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper (C) as New Democratic Party Jack Layton listens in during the English leaders' debate in Ottawa April 12, 2011. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on May 2.Adrian Wyld/Reuters

The Conservative Party can finally lay claim to Ontario - and the majority bragging rights that come with it - but it was the NDP that may have made the decisive blow to the former Liberal fortress, according to a riding-by-riding analysis by

The Conservatives won 12 seats in the province in large part due to vote-splitting on the centre-left. Had the NDP surge fizzled on ballot day - and the votes cleaved to the Liberal camp - Stephen Harper's majority would have been a bare-minimum 155.

Had vote splits in other parts of the country also been avoided, the Conservatives would have won 151 seats - four short of a majority.

But vote-splitting is only part of the story.

The Tories made a breakthrough themselves in Ontario, winning 44.4 per cent of the vote, according to Elections Canada's preliminary results. That is a growth of roughly five points for the party, and is solely responsible for about half of the seat gains the Tories made in the battleground province.

The New Democrats placed second in the province with 25.6 per cent, a growth of more than seven points. The Liberals, meanwhile, dropped more than eight points to 25.3 per cent. The result was that the Liberals were reduced from 37 to only 11 seats in the province, while the NDP went from 17 to 22. That is an increase of only five seats for the New Democrats, despite gaining more new support than the Conservatives, who made a 21-seat gain.

Several of the ridings that went Conservative last night were very close (all totals rounded to the nearest hundred, as results are not official):

» Bramalea-Gore-Malton was won by the Conservatives with 19,900 votes to 19,400

» Mississauga East-Cooksville by 18,800 votes to 18,100

» Etobicoke Centre by 21,700 to 21,600 votes

» Nipissing-Timiskaming by just a handful of ballots.

» Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where 5,000 new NDP voters helped defeat Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

But in these five ridings, the New Democrats gained anywhere from 2,200 to 13,500 votes only to finish in second or third, behind the defeated Liberal incumbents. Simply put, NDP gains in these ridings handed them over to the Conservatives, who in many cases did not see their raw vote totals increase by more than one or two thousand votes.

Vote splits in Ontario were not responsible for every Conservative gain, however. In a riding like York Centre, the NDP candidate only gained about 2,200 new votes - not nearly enough to bridge the 6,400-vote gap separating Liberal Ken Dryden from the Conservative challenger and newly minted MP Mark Adler.

The 12 ridings that the Conservatives won in Ontario in large part due to vote-splitting would have reduced the Tory national total to 155 seats, the bare minimum for a majority government. But had vote splits in other parts of the country also been avoided, the Conservatives would have won 151 seats, four short of a majority.

These ridings were Winnipeg South Centre, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, Labrador, and Yukon.

In the New Brunswick riding, the NDP's growth was dramatic, going from 7,600 votes to roughly 14,000. This turned a two-way race into a three-way race, electing Conservative Robert Goguen, though his party gained only 1,100 votes. The Liberal incumbent, Brian Murphy, finished 2,200 votes behind.

A high-quality Conservative candidate in Labrador resulted in the party's vote going from 600 to 4,200 in the riding, allowing Peter Penashue to edge out the Liberal incumbent by 200 votes. But the 700-vote gain of the NDP's candidate also played a role. And in Yukon, the 1,000 new votes cast for the NDP could have overturned the Conservatives' roughly 100-vote margin of victory.

Of course, votes are not easily transferred from one party to the other. In many cases, the Liberals may have lost as many votes to the Tories as they did to the New Democrats. But many of the seat swings from the Liberals to the Conservatives featured large gains for the third-place NDP.

With an astounding performance, Jack Layton has much for which he can be proud. His breakthrough in Quebec resulted in the defeat of almost a half-dozen Conservative MPs. But in other parts of the country, the NDP's gains did not go far enough to prevent Liberal seats from falling into predominantly Conservative hands.

While the achievements of Stephen Harper and the failings of Michael Ignatieff contributed most to the Conservative Party's third consecutive electoral victory, Mr. Layton nonetheless played a large part in giving the country its first majority government in seven years.