Some Initial Thoughts on the Conservative Majority and the Re-Making of the Electoral Map

Canada Votes electoral map of 2011 taken from the CBC

Image of Canada’s electoral map of the 2011 election taken from the CBC

Well! This must surely go down in the record books as the most interesting Canadian federal election ever. Canada now has a Conservative Party of Canada majority government (for Americans: blue is a conservative colour in Canada; Liberals are red, and the leftist NDP is orange). The Liberal Party of Canada, sometimes described as the most successful democratic political party in world history, is reduced to a mere 34 (plus or minus a few) seats, sitting behind not one, but two political parties. The leftist New Democratic Party of Canada (“the NDP”) is for the first time ever the Official Opposition, and has doubled their seat count. Meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois, which for so long dominated Quebec federal politics, taking a lion’s share of the seats in that province, is now reduced to a number of seats that one can count on one hand. (Note for non-Canadians: there were 308 seats in the outgoing House of Commons.) Finally, Elizabeth May became the first Green Party MP in Canadian history. In what follows, I’ll briefly go over each political party, with a “what does this mean?” section at the end covering a variety of issues.

First, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This is a man who comes to politics from a position as a professor of Business, unlike most prime ministers of recent history. He joined the Reform Party, and became its leader after it re-branded itself as the Alliance Party. Then he merged it with the old Progressive Conservative Party, becoming the leader of the new Conservative Party (“the Tories”). He presided over Canada’s longest-lasting minority governments (two!), and has now finally achieved his goal of a majority government. He did this by a lot of hard work, but also by, as others have noted, incrementalism. Slowly, surely, the old “ban abortion” MP’s of the party found their way to the door under his watch as Harper moved the party away from the fringes. Harper surprised a lot of people. He worked with Jack Layton, the NDP leader, to issue a historic apology to Canada’s First Nations for the injustices perpetrated on them for so long. He was the first to recognize Quebec as a “nation” in the House of Commons. He spent money during the recession. He learned French. All this helped him achieve the result he won tonight. I think it’s clear that Harper is an absolute master of this multi-player chess game, and though the game was long, he now has total political dominance on the board. I also quite liked his speech; it was very gracious towards his opponents, and I always appreciate that. (It would be nice if campaigns could be run as civilly as the final speeches.)

Canadians voted against our “natural governing party.” I voted against them for several reasons. Leader Ignatieff’s signature was on the “accord” agreement with the NDP previously, and although I no longer hate the Liberals, I did not want to see a coalition government at this time. There are too many important issues that the Liberals would not move forward on. There was a lot of damage that would have occurred. Furthermore, I don’t think the Liberals have purged themselves enough of the corruption of the Chretien era. The friend of a friend, one Skippy (warning: blog often NSFW) believes, I think quite correctly, that the Liberal Party is doomed. Skippy sees a vacuum created by the Liberal defeat, a vacuum that the Tories and the NDP will both move towards the center to try to fill. I’m not sure what this means, but it will change Canadian politics permanently if the Liberal Party does fade away. It will be good to see more agreement on the primacy of the center, but could lead to polarization of the electorate in the future.

I like NDP leader Jack Layton. I think the way he has behaved himself over the last few years, occasionally supporting the Tories to avoid elections, sometimes stalwartly resisting the government, has earned him a certain credibility with Canadian voters. His campaign also apparently was the most civil of all the parties, though I couldn’t say for certain as I don’t have a TV, much less watch one. Layton took almost all the seats in Quebec. A CBC analyst had an interesting point, though, when she said “I think tomorrow Quebecers will wake up and find that although they tried to vote out Stephen Harper, they really voted out the Bloc.”

Then again, sovereignty is dead in Quebec. One of the provincial Parti Quebecois’s bigwigs even said so some weeks ago, and the federal Bloc’s demise was a symptom of that. The odd thing is that the Bloc only lost a few percentage points from where they were at the last election, but they went from forty-six seats to four, depending on final results. Gilles Duceppe, my favourite politician in Canada, announced his resignation immediately after losing his own seat. Well, good-bye, Mr. Duceppe: you had a great sense of humour and solid, liberal values.

Finally, the Green Party is now on the scoreboard. Elizabeth May’s speech was positive and I thought she came across well. Her party lost votes nationally, though. Part of me wonders if the Liberals might merge with the Greens at some point. Certainly, with the center-left vote split between the Greens, the Bloc, the NDP, and the Liberals, the Tories’ victory tonight cannot come as a great surprise–and yes, they did reach 39.5%, 40% being the number it takes, normally, to win a majority government.

So what does it all mean?

We will pour a lot more resources into our military. Expect the F-35 fighter jet program to go ahead. Expect a more dominant foreign presence, a presence friendly, for instance, to Israel. It will easier to express one’s opinion without fear of being brought before the federal Human Rights tribunal. At the same time, despite the fears of the leftists, abortion won’t be made illegal, gay men and women will still be allowed to marry, and Harper will not eat babies–all good. On the other hand, some social issues will not see a progressive resolution: prostitution will remain illegal, and–an issue I care about very much–the right for the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity will not happen. At least, neither will happen without the courts intervening. Finally, I would expect the balance of power to swing back from French Canada to English Canada. Our previous Prime Ministers, Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien, and Martin were all either from Quebec or were residents of it. (BC-er Kim Campbell and Albertan Joe Clark hardly count, as they held governments that lasted only a few months each.) This means more “tough on crime” legislation, for instance.

One thing that is sure is that the Tories now have a strangle-hold on the Liberals, at least from a financial perspective. The Tories fund-raise better than their opponents. Highly-motivated private citizens give them money, and business both large and small will support them, too. The NDP may be able to get money from labour in some fashion. With a majority government, though, it is likely that Harper will end the vote subsidy for the political parties. The Greens, the Bloc, and the Liberals will have trouble raising cash after that, and that is why this election may permanently remake the map in terms of the decimation of the Liberals and the NDP. There could easily be some surprises. We’ll just have to sit back, now, and wait and see.