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.

On Easter Sunday, families gather to…watch a Liberal infomercial

In what is apparently a last-ditch effort to gain support before the election, the Liberal have bought a half-hour time slot on Global and City TV for Sunday afternoon.  The show will be an “up-close-and-personal TV special about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party’s plan to strengthen families and defend Canada’s health care system.”

I honestly can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend any time at all on Easter Sunday watching an advertisement for a political political party.  On a day where many Canadians are getting together with family, the Liberal party seems to think that they will put off anything else that they have planned, and watch a show explaining the greatness that is Michael Ignatieff.

Seriously, whose idea was that?  Do they expect anyone to watch it?  Do they think undecided voters are sitting around hoping one of the political parties will air an infomercial to tell them how to vote?

If this is the Liberal Party’s best shot for winning the election, then they clearly have no idea what they need to do to inspire Canadians.  Showing a big ad on a day where people will probably be spending time with family is not going to change the sad state of affairs for the Liberals in the polls.  This really just highlights how adrift the party as been since leaving power.  And without a big shakeup through the upper echelons of the party, it looks like the Liberals are going to be on the wrong side of the House of Commons for a very long time.

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.

Update on the Local Campaign

Tonight was the local candidates’ debate for Whitby-Oshawa, so I went in hopes of helping me decide who to vote for.  In general, it was almost as big of a waste of time as the leaders debate.  I say almost because I now have a slightly better idea of what the individual candidates stand for in the riding.

The debate was hosted by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, and the questions asked were a mixture of questions placed by the Chamber, and those asked by the audience.  It was pretty obvious which questions from the Chamber, since they were invariably long-winded, and related to business and corporate policies.  It was also pretty clear as to the answer the Chamber was looking for when they asked the questions.  The candidates weren’t generally swayed by the leading questions and stuck to their talking points.  The questions from the audience were varied between clear partisan shots to actual requests for policy information, but there wasn’t really anything too shocking said by any of the candidates.

Unfortunately for everyone, there seemed to be too many partisan supporters in the audience, to the point where we had to wait between every question for the applause to die down.  I think it would have been much better if the same rules were applied to the leaders debate, where the audience was asked not to shout anything, or clap between responses in order to better get through the questions.  There was even one particularly obnoxious (I’m assuming) Liberal supporter that would shout out approval to Liberal and NDP catch-phrases, and heckled Jim Flaherty at a few points.  Thankfully, someone eventually quieted him down a bit and we didn’t hear from him after the first couple questions.

On the plus side, the moderator were very good at keeping the candidates to their time, although that was probably helped by the fact that candidates were threatened with a muted microphone if they ran over their alloted time.

Overall, Jim Flaherty (Conservative) knew his stuff.  He has been in government for a very long time, so it’s not at all surprising how well he understands any topic that they threw at him.  There wasn’t much back-and-forth between the candidates, but he made sure he had a rebuttal for pretty much any time another candidate made an accusation against Flaherty or Conservative policy.  He also made sure that any time one of the other candidates made a promise that had actual barriers to implementation (such as not being able to expand the CPP without approval of the provinces), he made sure that those barriers were addressed, and not glossed over.  He made a point to address all of the good things that he has done for Durham Region and for Canada, including the controversial decision for bail out General Motors, which is a major employer in the region.  While he was the most well-spoken candidate, he should be, since he has been a politician for so long.  But he still suffers from all of the same criticisms of the Conservative Party, and he does receive a large share of the blame for its actions (or credit, if you are a supporter)

Trevor Bardens (Liberal) can be summed up with one phrase: Liberal Candidate – there’s an app for that.  The whole debate, it sounded like he was reading straight from the Liberal campaign website.  His answers often were only tangentially related to the questions asked, and it only took about 20 seconds into the first question before he mentioned “jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts.”  If the question asked wasn’t part of the Liberal platform (for example, there was a question on reducing the gas tax to lower gas prices) he just muddled through a non-response without being committed to any position whatsoever.  He was also the only candidate that did not have a table set up outside of the debate with campaign literature for anyone to take.  This just cements my earlier opinion that he is running a very weak campaign.  It seems like the Liberals just needed someone to run, and Trevor Bardens was the only person there.  On the plus side, he did do well on the question on border congestion, which he is familiar with due to his time on the Oshawa Harbour Commission.  Unfortunately, he lost the advantage there, when Flaherty mentioned that the Harbour Commission was a mess of infighting until the Federal government stepped in, and Bardens didn’t even take the time to disagree when given the option.

Trish McAuliffe (NDP) did reasonably well.  She knew the most of the NDP talking points well, even though she didn’t seem to be the most confident public speaker of the bunch.  The unfortunate thing is that she didn’t really differentiate herself from the NDP mold.  If you agree with NDP policies, then she will be right there to implement them if you elect her.  She seemed to have a bit of extra knowledge on anything to do with the manufacturing sector, due to her past experiences at GM and the CAW.  However, none of that really made her stand out, since all that helped her with was to give a slightly personal touch to the regular NDP platform.

Rebecca Harrison (Green) was probably the one that I was most disappointed with, but for different reasons than the other candidates.  I had hoped that since she was young, and running for a party trying to make inroads into Parliament, then she would try to cast herself as a different sort of politician: one that moves away from attacking other parties to one that is willing to work with others to accomplish her goals.  I did not receive that impression from her during the debate.  She attacked Conservative policy just as much as any other candidate, and proved that when it comes to partisanship, the Greens can play ball with the rest of them.  She was very familiar with all of the Green Party talking points, as well as her own pet issues of poverty elimination and women’s issues.  I was just hoping that the Green Party candidate would act a little less partisan, and a little more compromising.  I might have been able to look past some of the ideological differences between myself and the Greens if their candidate seemed willing to rise above the partisan bickering of the other parties, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  It may seem weird that I am holding one party to a higher standard than the others, but if the Greens want me to vote for them, they need to show me that they are better than the others, not just equal to them.

So despite having seen the local candidates in action, I am not really much closer to deciding who to vote for.  It would probably be an easier decision if I had been moderating the debate, because then I could ask follow-up questions.  There was a number of times where I wanted to call BS on what the candidates were saying, or at the very least, get them to answer the question that was asked instead of rambling on about something else entirely.  The most memorable occasion of this to me was when a question was asked on free trade, and the summary of answers would be Flaherty likes it, McAuliffe dislikes it, and we have no idea what Bardens or Harrison feel because they didn’t even mention free trade in their responses.  No candidate was completely guilt-free in this, and it would have been helpful if the moderators actively encouraged them to answer the question as asked.

Not included in the debate was a fifth candidate running for the Libertarian Party – Josh Insang.  There is no information specific to that candidate anywhere that I can see, nor have I seen a single lawn sign for him.  I am not even sure why the Libertarian Party is running a candidate if they aren’t even attempting to campaign.  Since he seems to only be on the ballot as a slot for a protest vote, I can see why he wasn’t invited to the debate.  I would put his chances of winning at exactly 0%, since in 2008 the Libertarian Party received 7,300 voted country-wide, while Jim Flaherty received 30,704 in Whitby-Oshawa.

So now the question becomes, how does one vote if none of the candidates are appealing?  I am open to suggestions.