Last post about politics for a while, I swear.
So it appears we’ve replaced short-term instability and long-term predictability with short-term stability and long-term unpredictability. Everyone who won, won big. Everyone who lost, lost big.
A big problem I can identify is that people don’t care about what goes on in Parliament. For most people, politics begins when the writs are dropped and ends when a winner is declared. What goes on in between? No one knows, which is why things like confidence or contempt don’t matter. It doesn’t seem like it matters immediately, but it does set a dangerous precedent, especially in a system that largely relies on the players not being dicks to one another.
Which leads me to the constitutional issues which have been sidestepped as a result of the majority. I’ve already mentioned my displeasure with the way the prime minister of all people was trying to thwart the concept of responsible government for political expedience. We’ve been spared that negotiation phase which would’ve been even worse than whatever the UK went through in the days following the 2010 election because of the two years of misinformation the Conservative party has been broadcasting about forming governments. But now’s probably a good time to hammer some of that stuff out now that we know that it’s possible to reach those previously impossible scenarios.
The other interesting revelation that I’ve been thinking about is how Canadians think about politics. Anyone who pays any attention at all to politics can see that the Conservatives have largely lifted Republican political tactics. I know we love to believe that we’re sharper than Americans and that we’d never fall for the same tricks, but this election clearly proves that we’re just as dumb as we think they are, because Canadians lapped up those pre-writ ads about Ignatieff at face value. My guess is that we’ve just never had any party that was enough of a dick to smear a rival outside of a campaign all the time.
But the big news is how electoral politics in Canada has changed. Quebec remains diametrically opposed to whatever is going on in the rest of the country. The governing coalition is now made up of the West and Ontario. Social democracy has replaced neoliberalism as the dissenting voice against neoconservatism. Are we seeing polarization between the left and right or is the prospect of power drawing the Conservatives and NDP closer together?
One thing is certain and it’s that 2015 is going to be a very different campaign from 2006, 2008, and 2011. The immense number of flips that occurred this time means that the fight could be wide open in a lot of places around the country. Pretty much anywhere that isn’t Alberta and the West are going to see a lot of pandering to over the next few years.
Members of Parliament
You may recall that I had a bunch of ridings that I was interested in. When I was watching the results come in on election night, I think by the time a good number of Ontario results had gotten back, I pretty much tossed out my list and spent the rest of the night watching Southwestern Ontario and the GTA.
I was hoping for a Conservative minority with close to 100 NDP seats. I was definitely not expecting Toronto Liberals to get decimated. I think I knew the Liberals were done when my riding, Scarborough—Rouge River, where the previous Liberal MP won with something close to 60% of the vote, had the NDP candidate in first, well ahead of the Conservative. Definitely my surprise of the night.
The biggest disappointment of the night was Glen Pearson’s loss in London North Centre. I’d been reading his blog for a while now and from what I’ve read about him, he seemed like an amazing MP. Since I’ll be moving to London in September, this was a huge disappointment. The other big disappointment was Andrew Telegdi’s loss in Kitchener—Waterloo. Even with people being made aware of the vote split, the gap widened even more.
But I think with a lot of Toronto ridings in Scarborough and Etobicoke going blue, I pretty much gave up on the 905 ridings. That said, everything in the GTA was extremely close, with a good number of them being three way races. And while there were a bunch of good Liberal MPs that fell, there were also a bunch that I wasn’t too fond of. The one I was glad to see go was CRIA shill Dan McTeague in Pickering—Scarborough East.
And now, on to what the next four years holds for each party.
Conservative Party of Canada/Parti conservateur du Canada
This is Harper’s dream come true, being able to simultaneously gain a majority and crush the Liberal Party of Canada. The question now is how he’ll govern. I have no doubt that he’ll avoid any major controversies. Those social conservatives expecting him to repeal same-sex marriage and abortion will be disappointed. Hardcore neoliberals will be disappointed that he won’t be ripping the Canada Health Act apart.
Harper isn’t dumb. He knows that his coalition of Western and Ontario voters is fragile and suddenly going hard right is going to unsettle those Ontario pickups. However, he has plenty of sneaky ways of destabilizing and slowly reforming things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue governing as he did with a minority, appearing to be moderate, but slowly undermining various institutions (remember StatsCan?) in ways that are invisible to the average Canadian.
At the same time, he’ll have to somehow keep his base happy. If he continues to pander too hard to the GTA and Ontario, he could risk pissing off the West. The idea that the Conservatives could lose the West seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what Mulroney ended up doing in the early 90s by pandering too hard to Quebec. The result? Gotta love that word REFOOOOOOOOOOORM.
The other question is whether he’ll be on better behaviour. Are we going to see complete message control and muzzling of his caucus and Cabinet? Are we going to continue to see watchdogs gutted and bureaucrats who disagree offed? Are we still going to see ads vilifying the Leader of the Opposition? Some people might claim that it was necessary to act like a dick in a minority government, but it clearly works, so I wonder if they’ll really be able to give that up.
And it’ll be interesting to see whether he’s willing to implement those things that he’s always wished he could but didn’t have a majority to do. The thing that comes to mind is Senate reform. In this category of stuff, he can’t really blame the opposition or the Senate now that he has a majority in both houses.
Finally, there is that ticking time bomb in Quebec. That the province of Quebec has, once again, largely rejected the Conservatives is fairly significant. While they’ve chosen a federalist party in the NDP, they’re almost certain to elect a sovereigntist government before 2015. That means it’ll be up to Harper, an anglo from the West and by far the most unpopular federalist leader in Quebec, to fight for federalism. It’ll be a huge challenge, not just for Conservatives, but for federalists as well.
Liberal Party of Canada/Parti libéral du Canada
It appears the brand that the Liberal party has cultivated over the last century has finally lost its power.
I alluded before to the fact that the Liberals had been largely reduced to the major urban centres and Atlantic Canada. It’s been argued by some that the Liberals have had this structural problem pretty much since 1993. The party has never won much outside of Vancouver in the West since Trudeau and they were still able to do decently in Quebec even with the Bloc, while riding the Reform/PC vote splitting in Ontario. Once the Bloc took Quebec and the splitting on the right was resolved, those structural problems became a lot more obvious.
The problem for the Liberals since 2006 has been not resolving this problem. Dion and Ignatieff largely stayed the course in terms of the voters they were trying to court. Dion tried to appeal to progressives with his ambitious environmental plan at the expense of Alberta. Unfortunately, Canadians didn’t care about the environment that much. Ignatieff tried a very safe, low-ball appeal to centrists. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for either right-leaning or left-leaning voters.
They’ve always assumed that they could just win by default if they reminded Canadians that the Liberals were Canada’s natural governing party. Obviously, people eventually stopped listening and since the Liberals have largely been stuck with the same electoral base they’ve had since 2006, they eventually got squeezed out. Both the Conservatives and NDP have been trying to grow their parties and the result is that all of the Liberal strongholds have been shattered. There’s nothing left. And in 2015, it’ll be even harder because that incumbency advantage will be gone.
Now, they have a ridiculous amount of work to do if they ever want to be in government again. What that would be, I have no idea. Presumably, some of it will have to do with presenting an authoritative voice in the various important issues that will be coming up, like health negotiations with the provinces or that Quebec sovereignty hullabaloo. And you know, actually say something meaningful about it, unlike Ignatieff’s surface level explorations of the subject on the campaign trail.
New Democratic Party/Nouveau Parti démocratique
It turns out the ground game wasn’t that important in Quebec. Unfortunately, that means that it’s all the easier for the NDP to lose their flash of support in four years. The example that everyone brings up is Mario Dumont’s ADQ in 2007.
The challenge for the NDP now is to become seen as a viable alternative government in four years. There’s two sides to this. The biggest problem is the perception that the NDP are disastrous for the economy. Whether they are or aren’t doesn’t really matter if people just pass over them because that one time in the past their provincial cousins governed poorly. Obviously, they’ve overcome their other huge problem, which was the perception they couldn’t win.
A lot has been made of the relative inexperience of the new Quebec MPs, but I think that’s been overstated. Yeah, there are some McGill students and that one lady, but there were plenty of other excellent candidates too. I don’t think the NDP will have a hard time filling up committee and shadow cabinet posts.
The main issue with Quebec will be how they respond to the sovereignty movement and whether they’ll be able to represent Quebec to Quebec’s satisfaction. Remember that a lot of the NDP’s support is coming from people who were voting Bloc and likely have some degree of nationalist thought in them.
Outside of Quebec, they’ve made a few gains in Atlantic Canada (although not as much as polling would’ve indicated) and surprisingly in Toronto. In addition to legitimacy, the NDP will probably have to work a lot harder to keep their seats. History has shown that people are perilously unkind to the NDP when they screw up even once.
Of course, much of the NDP’s success is because of Jack Layton. But his health is not the greatest and it was expected that he might’ve stepped down after this election if it weren’t for, you know, doing really well. This could be a problem by the time 2015 rolls around. Of course, they do have Mulcair hanging around, so he should be able to handle Quebec. I guess this would go along with building the NDP brand.
It’s hard to say whether the collapse of the BQ was more or less surprising than that of the Liberals, but it is amazing that it only took a week or two for the BQ to just disintegrate. And it wasn’t just an unfortunate vote split like it was for the Liberals. Nope, Quebec was done with the Bloc this time around.
Is this the death of the sovereignty movement? Probably not. After all, the main vehicle for separatism has always been the Parti Québecois, not the Bloc. It was PQ premiers that held referenda and were the strongest voices for sovereignty. With another PQ government likely before 2015, it’ll be interesting to see whether Gilles Duceppe remains as popular a figure then, especially if Harper will be the one having to defend Canada.
Even though Quebec went with the NDP, it’s important to note that their choice is largely at odds with the rest of Canada, who generally went Conservative. It’s another fairly stark display of the contrast in values that Quebec has compared to the rest of Canada. And if you consider that gulf, it’s a possibility that Quebecers could decide that a Conservative Canada isn’t something that they really want to be a part of.
The question now is what the Bloc are going to do with their party. Just because they were wiped out this time doesn’t mean that sovereigntist sentiment has dissipated or that they’re never going to win again. If things go well for the Bloc and things go poorly for the NDP, we could just as easily see another dramatic swing back. Just ask Mario Dumont.
Green Party of Canada/Parti vert du Canada
They gambled and they won. Elizabeth May gets to go on to be the first elected Green MP in Canada. I’m sure she’ll be a better MP than that Conservative cabinet minister they had. What this means for the future of the party, I’m not entirely sure. They can’t just replicate what they did for May, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the increased profile of their leader will be enough to tip the scales.
See you in 2015 (unless Harper breaks his own fixed-date election law again lolololol).