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.

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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.