Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Would "Republic of Canada" Presidential Elections Look Like?

You've all seen it on TV, in the newspapers, and online - the overwhelming amount of adulation and gawking at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's new son, Prince George Alexander Louis. It is one part pathetic, one part interesting. I prefer not to get wrapped up in it, or in anything about the monarchy whatsoever, unless one wishes to discuss a possible crisis in the royal succession as Doug Sanders has written about.

Yet there are people out there that have become re-energized over the issue: Canadian republicans. The recent visits from the royals over the last couple of years, and now the hoopla over this birth, have really brought out the republicans. And of course, why not? I've seen more interest in the monarchy recently because of the increased profile of the royal couple of Cambridge, plus the Harper government's infatuation with restoring all things monarchy in the country's military have raised the profile of the issue. Republicans would be folly not to get out there in real life and online to espouse the evils of the monarchy.

As I said, I personally find it all to be a non-issue. Yes, the monarchy as it exists in Canada is anachronistic and a throwback to a bygone era; yes, the Monarch is essentially a foreign head of state acting as our head of state; yes, it does cost us some money.

But the former two arguments are just weak appeals to Canadian nationalism, because the fact is that it is apart of our historical roots, and the power of the monarchy is so weak in Canada and other Commonwealth countries as to be completely ignored - which it is. No one seriously argues that the current monarchy is going to turn autocratic and reestablish direct rule, and anything that is in the power of the Governor-General currently (i.e., refusing to give Royal Assent, dissolving Parliament) would likely be the same powers any Presidential office would have!

A similar answer can be given for the third point about costs. Yes, the monarchy costs us money, as much as possibly $50-million per year. Not too much in the grand scheme of things, but certainly money that can be spent elsewhere, right? How about on the office of a President...

But, we're not here to point out the flaws in the republican argument, though they are many. Here's a question I would have liked answer: what if Canada became a republic much sooner? What would that have looked like?

Well, you can look at Earl Washburn's piece on the US Election Atlas Forums if you'd like, though those are more of an extremely hypothetical exercise. The fact is that Canada would never adopt the American model of the presidential system. Our Prime Minister and Parliament has too much power to allow a head of state to run the country. Instead, the most obvious route for us is as a Parliamentary republic, similar to the German, Italian, or even the Indian models, whereby Parliament is supreme and often elects the president among themselves (indirect election), a situation very similar to the current way we do things, where the Prime Minister recommends a Governor-General.

Well, in the case of Parliament selection a President, it would be pretty boring to get into. Yes, there is a possibility that in minority parliaments, the Opposition could out maneuver the Government and select one of their own, but I don't want to get into that. Instead, what would happen if Canada had something similar to my preference, the Irish model where the President is popularly elected (direct election), but the position is ceremonial and rarely exercises any power?

First off, lets set a date: I say after the Statute of Westminster in 1931, simply because its an easy date with an established and recognizable party system, and because of the significance of the Statute itself in relation to relations between the monarchy and the Commonwealth. In Canada, the support for the Statute came about because of Mackenzie King's disagreements with the then-Governor General, Lord Byng, who was appointed by the British Parliament. Lets just go crazy and assume that Canada took this opportunity to become a Parliamentary republic with direct elections for President.

Here is what I think it could look like, with some explanations below:

What I did above was give each president a term of five years, starting from 1931 until 2011. This actually worked out fairly well with our elections to Parliament, as many of the presidential elections ended up being held a year or two after a parliamentary election.

To get my hypothetical results, I essentially treated a lot of these presidential elections as by-elections on the government's performance. Depending upon which year and parliamentary term it fell, that would determine what I thought was a reasonable popular vote estimate for the first, second, and third place candidates. As for the timing of the elections, well, I basically decided it was November, though it doesn't really matter in this hypothetical case. Neither do the candidates, though in reality the name on the ballot would probably make a difference of up to 5% - a crucial amount in close races.

As I said, I looked on these presidential elections as by-elections on the government's performance at the time, which meant I had to look at the actual by-elections during the various Parliaments, as well as polling available after the 1970's. I also took into account the fact that this was a national election, meaning that the propensity for third party voters in parliamentary elections to line up behind one of the larger party candidates is much higher. Thus, many of Social Credit's voters during their era would probably vote for the Conservative candidate (though the ones in Quebec may vote Liberal), while CCF/NDP voters, though they still have a candidate in the race, are probably more likely to back the Liberal candidate. This depends, of course, what the feelings and relations are between the two main parties and the third parties are like at the time; hence in 2006, the Liberals may not get as much support from the NDP as they'd like, or during the Chretien era the Reform/CA may not get the support they're seeking from the PCs. So on and so forth.

Using this kind of criteria, the pattern emerges pretty quickly that a new government elected in will very likely elect in a president. The only cases I didn't see this occurring was in 1986, during Mulroney's first term mid-point (or mid-term, whatever), when he was tanking in the polls. The Liberals also won in 1991 presidential election, with Mulroney's government again tanking across the country, and a strong third-party preference for the NDP and Reform. Trudeau's Liberals also failed to win the 1971 presidential election, this one a year before the precipitous drop for his party in 1972, though it would have been close.

I also think it would have been very likely a close race in 2011, following Harper's re-election and the NDP surge, that we could have seen the NDP take this hypothetical presidency on the back of Liberal, Bloc, and Green support, though I didn't give it to them because, well, I'm mean (and at that time Harper was still far ahead in the polls, Layton was dead, and the turmoil that was Turmel's stint as Opposition Leader was in full swing).


  1. Canada would be a parliamentary-presidential system. Think Ireland.

  2. The Queen appoints the Governor General on the recommendation of the PM. In other words, the PM appoints the Governor General. Cut the Queen out of the process and what do know; nothing has changed other than the fact that Canada is now a Republic.