Aftermath of the Unlikely Election

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.

Decision Day

Well, the day is finally upon us.  For those of us who did not participate in advance polls, today is the day to cast our ballots in favour of our preferred candidates.

At the very least, this campaign has been more interesting than I was expecting.  I certainly didn’t predict the NDP to start polling ahead of the Bloc in Quebec and ahead of the Liberals nationwide.  I am still in a sort of shock at seeing those polls, but they are what they are.  We’ll see later tonight if the NDP supporters come out en masse and make Jack Layton the leader of the opposition or Prime Minister (although you already know my thoughts on that one).

Despite all the rhetoric, I think we can safely say that Canada will be fine whatever the result is tomorrow.  Harper will not turn Canada into a dictatorship (even if he wins a majority), Layton will not turn the economy into a death spiral (even though I think his promises are pretty wacky) and Ignatieff will not perform a palace coup at 24 Sussex as a last-ditch effort to govern the country.

And on the plus side, it looks like the one party whose actual goal is to destroy the country, is polling lower than it has pretty much since its inception.  With any luck, they will lose most of their seats, and thus have less leverage to blackmail the rest of the country into giving it ever more money.  I’ll take socialists over separatists any day of the week, because at least socialists try to make everyone equal.

So if you are still undecided, make a last ditch effort to get informed, and go to your nearest polling station.

If you asked me, I would say that I am predicting another Conservative minority, with an NDP official opposition.  But by how much, I am not willing to guess.  I’ll just have to wait and see once the polls close tonight.

Prime Minister Jack Layton?

The last couple of days have shown some pretty wacky poll numbers, with the NDP now ahead of the Liberals, and within a few points of the Conservatives.  Most of the new polls even have the NDP winning somewhere between 80 and 108 seats.  If you would have asked me a week ago if this was even possible, I would have thought you were crazy for even asking.  The NDP’s best showing ever was in 1988, when they received 43 seats, and they have only ever gotten at least 30 seats in 4 more elections.  Now, over the course of a few days, their support has grown past the stage of splitting the vote with the Liberals to actually being a threat to many Conservative seats.

How did this happen?  I honestly have no idea.  It’s not as if Jack Layton has done anything different in the last week to draw in voters.  He has been the leader of the party since 2003, and he has been the same person running the same party since then.  This is his fourth election where he has promised voters the moon, and I was expecting this to be the fourth election where most voters acknowledge that his platform makes no sense.

This sudden surge probably has less to do with anything that the  NDP has done, and more to do with the complete and utter implosion of the Liberal Party.  But even that doesn’t fully account for the surge, since it seemed to have started in Quebec, and then spread elsewhere.  Maybe voters in other provinces saw the NDP beating on the Bloc, and figured it was a good time to beat on the Liberals as well.

Whatever the reasons, it looks like the NDP will do very well this election.  I still believe that the current polls are overstating the amount of support that they will get on election day, but it’s impossible to completely ignore these numbers.  There is still a very good chance that the NDP will gain more seats than the Liberals for the first time ever.  But as far as I am concerned, there is no way they will get more seats than the Conservatives, so Layton won’t become the Prime Minister by winning the election outright.

That still leaves the possibility of a coalition with the Liberals, which is theoretically even more plausible if the NDP strips enough seats from the Conservatives so that the NDP plus the Liberals have enough seats to form a majority.  The Conservatives certainly want you to think that a coalition with Jack Layton at the helm is the only thing worse than a coalition with Michael Ignatieff at the helm.

But I think that a coalition is less likely with the NDP forming the major party, even if a coalition without the Bloc produced a majority.  For better or worse, the Liberal Party has a lot of pride, and I believe that most members won’t stand for being second chair to a party that never even come close to being the official opposition, let alone forming the government.  This would be the first time since Confederation that the Liberal Party of Canada has not either formed the government or been the official opposition.  I think this would finally be the kick in the pants that the Liberals need to force them towards some serious introspection.

Ever since Paul Martin lost the 2006 election, the Liberal Party has been wandering aimlessly, hoping that Canadians will finally realize what a jerk Stephen Harper is, and vote the Liberals back to their rightful place as the governing party.  The Liberals have never even tried to rebrand themselves after the devastating effects of the sponsorship scandal, and they won’t be able to do that if they are the minority party in a coalition government.  Plus, it risks making them seem even more irrelevant when compared to the NDP.

As directionless and oblivious to reality that the current Liberal party has been, I don’t think that they will be able to ignore a loss to the NDP.  And that more than anything is what will keep Jack Layton from 24 Sussex.

Guest Post: Ajax/Pickering/Scarborough East Deate

My good friend Adam Walker over at at The Walker Express asked me if I would mind posting his review of the Ajax/Pickering Debate, and I am happy to oblige.

The election event held at the Hilton Garden Inn on April 19th was not a debate, but a “forum” that was organized by the Ajax Pickering Board of Trade.  It featured the candidates of the four major parties that are running in the ridings of Ajax-Pickering and Pickering-Scarborough East.  The candidates were grouped by party and the questions were created by the board of trade and asked by the host, who would direct the question to the candidates.  The candidates decided between themselves which individual would speak for their party’s position on that specific issue.  There was no cross-talk between the candidates and no one was allowed to further elaborate on questions or respond to anything said by other candidates after they had spoken.
Conservatives (Chris Alexander and Corneliu Chisu)
The candidates for the Conservative party stayed on message and on point for the entire evening.  There is a reason the Conservatives dropped former diplomat Chris Alexander into Ajax-Pickering: he’s a good public speaker, who has belief in his message and delivers in a clear and confident manner.  The Conservatives want a win in Ajax-Pickering so badly they can taste it and Alexander may be the guy to do it.  He stuck to the party platform without resorting to the party platitudes.  Mr. Chisu was the weaker of the pair, answering the questions in a canned manner, emphasizing his military service where possible and staying close to the prepared talking points.  When asked a direct question on the status of the Pickering Airport and the airport lands, he would not give an answer.

Liberal (Mark Holland and Dan McTeague)
Make no mistake: these guys are professionals.  They can answer any question thrown their way and spin it in their direction.  However, in a campaign that has focused on mud-slinging so much nationally, I was surprised at how these two kept that mostly to a minimum.  There was a significant amount of emphasis placed on McTeague’s work with the Chretien government in the 1990s and a surprising amount placed on Holland’s work with the Martin government of 2004-2006.  I’m not sure how many votes that would gain him.  Keeping the message on the platform and away from attacks gained a lot of respect from me and that’s saying something, as I am not a fan of Mr. Holland.

Green (Mike Harilaid and Kevin Smith)
As one would expect, the focus from these two men was on issues of future development using green technology and ideas.  They are the only candidates to actually address the issue of high speed rail (something that is an important issue to me and one that have written about on my own blog).  I think it came as a shock to most in attendance that the Green perspective isn’t a Left perspective.  They want to lower taxes for all Canadians, to shift the burden of taxes to consumption of fossil fuels and other pollutants and invest in Canada through tuition and other grants.  Mr. Smith came off as very professional, very polished and I imagine, were he running for a different party, he would be a front running candidate.  Mr. Harilaid, running in his second federal election, was engaging as a speaker as well.  He joked beforehand that he had the least supporters in the crowd, but I saw several people take flyers from the Green party table when the forum was finished.

NDP (Jim Koppens and Andrea Moffat)
The NDP candidates were a study in contrasts.  Mr. Koppens is a union man, through and through.  His emphasis was on jobs, labour and bringing work to Canada instead of sending it overseas.  He was slow, steady and a good candidate for the NDP – if it were 1975.  While the NDP’s base has long been labour, I think the direction the national party is trying to move in is away from the hard and fast union types towards a family friendly, centre-left party.  Mr. Koppens spoke well and is clearly passionate about ensuring work for Canadians.  I am too, but that doesn’t mean his message will resonate with the people in this riding.  As for Ms. Moffat, she has run before for the NDP and will no doubt run again.  She spoke very quickly and loudly, burning through issues without elaborating on them and she seemed very nervous.  For a candidate in the 2008 federal and 2007 provincial election, she should have a bit more confidence in speaking publicly.

In the interest of full coverage, the United Party candidate for Ajax-Pickering (Bob Kesic) was not in attendance.  There are no fringe party candidates running in Pickering-Scarborough East.

In summary, this forum did very little to move the needle in terms of my vote. As for others, aside from the people I mentioned above, it was clear by the buttons and the talk afterwards that most people were already aligned with a specific party.  To their credit, the Conservatives had a number of volunteers staffing the propaganda tables afterwards and they seemed genuinely interested in the questions I had for them.  These type of events are always a little peculiar, a little staged, for my liking.  When a candidate comes to my door and wants to talk to me, it seems as if they might care a little about what I have to say.  Talking to a volunteer or staffer is enlightening; it’s like they’re a real person!  In all seriousness, I don’t think this forum was of great value to the community and I don’t foresee people telling their friends
that it was the breaking point in the election for any side.
Like the host of this site, this election has been an indifferent one for me. On one hand, I’d like to not have to go to the polls every five minutes because the MPs can’t get along so a stable majority government would be nice.  On the other hand, there is something about the Conservative party that sort of rubs me the wrong way.  I guess I have to stick with what I think is right and the rest will turn out in the wash.

For Critical Constituent, I’m Adam Walker.  You can read more of my thoughts, mostly on trains, at The Walker Express.

What happens if there is another Conservative minority?

If the current polls hold, then it seems very likely that the Conservatives will yet again win more seats than any of the other parties, and yet again will not win enough seats to gain a majority.  The the question is, what will Ottawa look like?

I personally think that the Conservatives will form a minority government.  Even though Michael Ignatieff has now clearly stated the conditions that would allow him to ask the Governor General to form a government, which would only happen if the Conservatives are unable to gain the confidence of the House.  I honestly doubt that Ingatieff would try this, unless it happened many months after the election.  Part of the reason that many people disliked the idea of a coalition last time is because it happened so soon after the previous election.  If Ignatieff tries to form a government too soon, it will look like he is trying to seize power without winning an election, and suddenly all of the “He’s just in it for himself” attack ads become true.  So I would say that he should probably wait at least a year before engineering the defeat of the Conservatives in order to at least make it seem like he is trying to ‘make government work.’

But a lot of things can happen in a year, and I expect a lot of changes if there is another Conservative minority.  First off, I doubt Ignatieff will last very long if he doesn’t win this election.  That will make two Liberal leaders in a row that are unable to deliver the party to their rightful place as the ‘natural governing party.’  I predict that there is already a number of very sharp knives waiting for Ignatieff to fail so someone else can have a shot.

So if Ignatieff resigns or is forced out, then the Liberals need to have a full campaign for leadership, which takes time.  The party also wouldn’t risk appointing someone else without a full campaign, since that’s how Ignatieff ended up in the leader’s seat.  And the party wouldn’t want to force an election if the leadership of the party is in flux.  And when the new leader comes to power, it will be unlikely that he or she will try to seize power without an election since that would automatically turn all the ‘contempt for democracy’ arguments back towards the Liberals.

I would also expect that Harper wouldn’t be too long sitting as Prime Minister, although he will definitely last longer than Ignatieff.  This will be his third election where the Conservatives have been unable to form a majority government.  If he can’t take advantage of the perpetually weak opposition, then many Conservative members will wonder if he is the right man for the job.  I don’t think that his ouster will be quite as public as Ignatieff’s, but he will eventually go.  He will probably act like he is leaving after a successful career in public service (which is true) but he will be forced out just the same.

So that leaves the Conservatives and the Liberals possibly looking for new leaders within the next year.  I think that probably the best possible situation for politics in Ottawa.  Getting rid of the current crop of leaders, especially the leaders of the two major parties could make a world of difference in improving the partisan bickering between the parties.  It will give the membership of both parties a chance to show that the status quo is not acceptable.  Both parties will be given a chance to pick a leader who is willing to work with others in order produce results that benefit all Canadians.

And what about Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe?  The NDP are still light years away from becoming a party that the voters trust to govern, regardless of whether or not Layton is leader.  The NDP can be trusted to oppose  whoever wins any election, because that’s what they do.  They have a long track record of opposing bills before reading them, and a short track record of compromise.  And of course the Bloc will happily extort money for Quebec no matter who is in charge.

The (not so) Great Debate

After watching the English leaders debate, I am left wondering what the point of the debate is.  From what I saw, I can’t imagine anyone basing their voting decision on what they saw there.

If I had to decide, I would say that Harper ‘won’ the debate solely based on the fact that the opposition members didn’t say anything that really stuck to him.  Layton, Ignatieff and Duceppe would all make accusations about Harper’s policies, and Harper would easily deflect them every time.  The opposition members never really made a serious attempt to attack Harper with any evidence or hard numbers, so Harper could easily say it wasn’t true, and then he would move on to mention all the great things that he has done in the last four years.  Ignatieff was especially bad for this because every time he had a chance to speak, he would mention at least four or five different issues with the Conservatives, but then Harper would respond to the one or two that he actually had a good defense for and then ignored the rest.  If Ignatieff was a little more focused, he probably could have done a better job of forcing Harper off of his talking points.  And as a bonus, Harper laid off the coalition boogeyman, which was becoming pretty tiring to listen to.

Speaking of which, Ignatieff was pretty terrible for most of the debate.  He wasn’t nearly focused enough to land any decent shots on Harper.  He also seemed to stutter a lot when he was trying to get through his talking points.  This was his chance to really shine as a viable alternative to Harper, but was lackluster by comparison.  He spent too much time with his “jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts” line, throwing it in wherever he could.  My biggest pet peeve was that he appears to forget that the corporate tax cuts have already pass in Parliament because the Liberals purposefully didn’t send enough MPs to the vote when they voted against it.  It rings a little hollow when you oppose something after having let it pass.

Layton did a bit better.  He had decent criticisms of both Harper and Ignatieff but still suffered from not being able to stick anything on Harper, although he did a reasonably good job of painting Ignatieff as a friend of the Conservatives for propping up the government repeatedly over the last few years.  And the high point for the night was when Layton mentioned ‘bling’, when talking about gangs.  That almost made the two-hour ordeal worth watching.

Duceppe was far less entertaining than he was in the previous debates.  It almost seemed like he wasn’t trying.  I do expect him to do better in the French debate, when people that actually care about him will watch him debate.

The worst part of all was that the questions that were asked were for the most ignored by the candidates.  They generally started with the general theme of the questions and then veered off towards whatever talking points that they waned to get to.  It’s hard to find out where the party leaders stand on specific issues when they ignore the question and then talk about something else entirely.

The format of the debate was pretty bad too, although it was better than the last election, with the roundtable of everyone against Harper.  The one-on-one format seemed like it could have been interesting, but seeing Duceppe and Layton go head to head on multiculturalism was about as useless of a discussion as I can imagine.

As I said, I can’t really imagine anyone changing their decision based on this debate.  No new policy planks were mentioned, and there was no ‘knockout’ that people seem to expect from these debates even though they never occur.  It was really just a continuation of the bickering that we have all come to expect from the people we keep sending to Ottawa.

Let’s Look Local

Since in our Parliamentary Democracy we vote for candidates at the local level instead of voting for the party at large, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at the candidates in my local riding of Whitby-Oshawa.  This is only based on publicly available information through party and candidate web sites.  I may update this after the local candidates debate if one of them seems to stand out ahead of the others.

Jim FlahertyConservative Party: Jim Flaherty is the current MP for Whitby-Oshawa, as well as the Minister of Finance.  He is also the only candidate for any party that is the same since the last election.  His web site lists quite a bit of funding for the riding during both his tenure as MPP in Queen’s Park, where he served from 1995 to 2005, and as MP form 2006 onwards.  As the Finance Minister, he is one of the main faces of the Conservative Party.  If you like the record of the Conservative Party from the last 4 years in government, Jim is your guy.  He tends not to rock the boat on Parliament Hill, and I am unaware of any times where he has spoken against his party.  However, if you dislike the Conservative policies, there is little there to make you want to vote for him.  Defining himself as a fiscal conservative, he promised to never run a deficit in the previous two campaigns.  Now he seems to have warmed to the idea of stimulus spending, and running deficits no longer bothers him.

Love him or hate him, I project that he wins his seat this election.  In 2008, he won with 50.99% of the popular vote.  That’s still a very large hill to climb for any candidate looking to unseat him.

Trevor BardensLiberal Party: Trevor Bardens seems to have been very involved in the community for a very long time, as referenced by the long list of committees that he has participated in and the volunteer awards that he has received.  Just the resume listed on the Liberal web page shows that he is passionate about serving the public, especially at the local level.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much other information about him.  He is currently the only candidate without his own web site.  He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but neither give much insight into who he is, or why he is running for the Liberal Party.  People have been posting on his Facebook page asking how to get a lawn sign, and he direct them to call his campaign office.  Every other candidate page that I have seen has a gigantic link for ordering signs that can be  seen from just about anywhere on that candidate’s web page.

To me, this speaks of a very weak campaign.  Trevor Bardens may make a good MP, and he clearly cares quite a bit about local matters, but if he doesn’t take the time to get information out there for people to get to know him, why should voters take the time to vote for him?

Trish McAuliffeNDP: Trish McAuliffe is an obvious choice as an NDP candidate due to her prior experience as an executive board member for the CAW during her tenure at General Motors.  She has volunteered for the NDP in nearly every past election, both provincial and federal, for the last 25 years.  On her web site, she mentions that she participates “at Whitby Municipal Town Hall meetings, community events, educational programs and various sporting activities,” but unfortunately she does not give any specifics.  She suffers from the same problems as Trevor Bardens in that there really isn’t enough there to get to know her.  All of the posts on her personal campaign web site are just campaign press releases outlining promises from Jack Layton.  There isn’t a personal post at all, besides the one with a brief biography.

Overall, she seems like plain vanilla NDP candidate with heavy ties to organized labour, with nothing mentioned on her web page to make her stand out from the pack.

Rebecca HarrisonGreen Party: Rebecca Harrison is the Poverty Elimination Critic and the Status of Women Critic for the Greens.  She also has far more personal information on her web site than any other candidate.  Her focus is definitely on her two portfolios, so much that she has very lengthy pages describing plans for those issues, yet she doesn’t mention environmentalism on her web page at all.  She seems to be the candidate in this riding that most differentiates herself from the party mold.  I think that could be an asset for her since the Green Party mold doesn’t seem to be that appealing to the vast majority of Canadians, as evidenced by their very low poll numbers, and their lack of seats in Parliament.

While I doubt she has much of a chance of actually winning the seat, I think she may be able to do better than the Green candidate in the previous election.  Being the youngest candidate at 27 may be able to help her get the coveted ‘youth’ vote.  She seems to be the one to connect best with people on her Facebook page, rather than just using it to link to the leader’s campaign announcements.  I think if the Green Party is going to make any headway at all, it’s going to be through people such as Ms. Harrison.  I just don’t think Whitby-Oshawa is going to be the place for that first breakthrough.

So that’s my first look at the candidates running in Whitby-Oshawa.  The deadline for nominations is tomorrow (April 11) so it is still theoretically possible for an independent or fringe party candidate to join the race.  If there is a surprise new nomination, it will be listed at elections.ca by Wednesday April 13, and I’ll update this accordingly.