Now that the dust is starting to settle from last night’s results, and people (including myself) are starting to feel a little less shocked about the overall outcome, we can start to think about what is going to happen to the political landscape in the next four or five years.
First of all, the Conservatives deserve a congratulation for finally winning the coveted majority. After seven years of minority governments, five of which were under the Conservatives, someone finally managed to end the Groundhog Day that was Canadian Federal politics. But now comes the part where they convince the rest of us that giving them the majority was a good thing. They no longer have any excuse of having to spend big dollars in order to appease the opposition. If Harper doesn’t start governing in a competent, fiscally conservative manner, he will lose all credibility to call himself a conservative, and that will hurt him next time around. Personally, I think that will be the hardest job for the new government, since they have grown so used to spending lots of money on anything they can think of. I don’t think true fiscal conservatives will forgive them is they keeps spending money like they have been over the last 5 years.
The other thing they need to do is convince left and centre-left voters that they aren’t going to turn Canada into some American-style, so-con dictatorship, where abortion is illegal and gay marriage is banned, or whatever other insane arguments crop up every once in a while. I think that will be the easiest thing for the Conservatives to do, since I always doubted they would ever do that in the first place. There may be a few MPs that want that (and not just in the Conservative party) but clearly taking on that sort of agenda is political suicide, even in a majority government.
And as a fun bit of trivia, at the end of this majority mandate, Harper will have passed Brian Mulroney in length of time served as PM, putting him second of all time in terms of Conservative leaders. That will also put him less than 2 years shy of Chretien’s record.
The second big winners of the election are obviously the NDP. Jack layton led his party to a 175% increase in the number of seats to Official Opposition status. He also decimated the Bloc Quebecois, which is making pretty much every non-spearatist in the country celebrate. But the lasting legacy of this election is that the NDP has now been confirmed as a legitimate contender in the federal landscape. After 40 years of also-ran status, the NDP has shown voters that they are not a wasted vote. Soft support for the NDP will no longer automatically default to the Liberals in order to stop the Conservatives from winning an election.
With the Conservative majority, the chances of the NDP implementing any of its promises is essentially nil, but the NDP is now in it for the long game. Nobody will underestimate them any more. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but it’s possible that the increased scrutiny that comes from being mainstream will lead them to create platforms that isn’t based purely on wishful thinking. It is theoretically possible to create a socialist platform grounded in actual economic reality, and the NDP has at least 4 years to build that platform.
The hardest part of the next 4 years for Layton will be keeping all of his support in Quebec. Quebec voters have shown themselves to be very fickle (just ask the ADQ), so now is not the time to ignore the people who put you where you are today.
Lots of pundits are calling this election the end of Liberal Canada, and the end of the Liberal Party. While this was a devastating blow, the Liberals will bounce back, but only after some serious introspection. Their leader lost his seat, and this morning resigned as the leader. Now is the perfect time to take stock of what they have and right their course. If the Conservatives can come back from 2 seats in 1993 (yes, I realize that the Progressive Conservative are not exactly the same as the Conservatives) then the Liberals can come back from this. It’s going to take a lot of work, and it’s still unclear if the current leadership knows exactly what went wrong. Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff have both blamed attack ads on the Liberals’ poor showing, which indicates that they may be missing message that the voters sent them. In his resignation speech, Ingatieff even said, “I think the surest guarantee of the future for the Liberal Party of Canada is four years of Conservative government and four years of NDP opposition.” Clearly, the Liberals will be better off without him if he believes that.
Voters want a party that stands for something, and currently the Liberals only stand for being not the Conservatives. Until they fix their identity problem, they will experience similar results at the polls.
The Bloc received an even bigger kick in the pants than the Liberals this time around. I think the Bloc suffers from the same sort of identity problems as the Liberals do, but with less chance of recovery. Like voters in the rest of Canada, I think that Quebecers want a party that stands for something, and a one-issue party dedicated to breaking up the country just wasn’t cutting it any more. Jack Layton treated Quebecers almost like voters anywhere else, and the generally left-leaning Quebec electorate responded.
I think that the Bloc will have a very difficult time of recovering from this. Gilles Duceppe was a good politician, but his party stopped resonating with voters. At least the Liberals have the potential to stake a claim to the middle ground between the Conservatives and the NDP. The Bloc have no hope at all if the voters decide they don’t care about separating.
Finally, the Greens had their minor win, with Elizabeth May winning her seat. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by the overall support dropping from 6.78% last election to 3.9% this election. Elizabeth May better have an ace or two up her sleeve if she wants to grow her party’s support countrywide, because one opposition MP can’t always do a whole lot in a majority government. This sitting of the House of Commons will be her time to shine, so hopefully she makes good use of it.
And as everyone has been saying, the election that nobody wanted has turned into a game changer for Canadian politics. I think this will be an interesting 4-5 years.