About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Shifted Ground

It's funny how an election that started with a whimper, ended up shaking the Canadian political landscape in a way not seen in nearly 20 years. In one foul swoop, the Harper Conservatives secured their first majority, the Liberals were near fatally wounded, the Green Party finally landed on the board while the Bloc Quebecois was nearly swept off it, and the NDP had their single greatest election victory ever, not only hitting triple digit seats but became the Official Opposition for the first time too. If you look at the CBC's election map, you'd swear Canada were the new Edmonton Oilers logo (and perhaps given the winner of last night's election, the allegory is apropos).
Now the question is, what will these results mean for the next four years to Canada, and will the political map keep this new order or is it a one-time glitch. Let's break it down:
Conservatives - 167 seats - 39.62 per cent of the popular vote
The third time's the charm. Stephen Harper has secured his majority, but a lot of the problems that plagued him and his party remain. There's the small matter that despite winning a majority of seats, the Conservatives only gained two points in popularity. It makes a case for some serious voting splitting on the left from one end of this nation to the next to the next, as the combined NDP-Liberal vote won nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote. Three out of five people voted for someone that doesn't make up the government. (Incidentally, I think every election now makes a stronger case for electoral reform, but that's another discussion entirely.)
While basking in victory, the morning after analysis might offer some strong sobriety. There were licks taken in this election about the party's secretiveness and limited availability, the fact that they are just a little less of a non-entity in Quebec than the Bloc, and the little change in popular support despite a majority. Given these conditions, can the frequently cited "radical right" agenda people fear about Harper be enacted to its fullest? And the problem remains that Harper still has no obvious successor as the Conservatives are as much a cult of personality as they are a political party.
The fact of the matter is that the people voted for an end to elections every two years. Come what may, we know that the next election is four years away now, and for some people, that's all the piece of mind they need in Harper's Canada. (Or at least for 40 per cent of the 61.4 per cent of eligible votes that rolled out to the polls yesterday.)
NDP - 102 seats - 30.62 per cent of the popular vote
It was a wild night for Jack Layton. Thanks to big, huge gains in Quebec the NDP leader finally broke through and became the voice of Canada's left, and the official Opposition Party. A good question is, what happens now? A better question is, how did it happen in the first place?
While no one can doubt that there was a sudden and complete shift to the NDP in Quebec, I have yet to hear a complete analysis of the reason or reasons. Layton's debate performance? Well, it was a delayed reaction if that's the case. Some talk show appearance? Well then, this must have been the most politically important talk show since David Frost interviewed Richard Nixon. The real picture, again, I think comes down to fatigue. The average Quebecer, seeing no progress in the representation of French issues by voting Bloc, and being reticent about supporting the Liberals again - or heaven forbid, the Conservatives - were looking for a new direction, and by process of elimination, that choice was the NDP.
From here on, one of two things can happen. The next four years could see an NDP building strength and support, gaining the confidence of more and more Canadians and poised for a breakthrough to, at the very least, a minority government situation of their own. But Quebec is the X factor. Will French Canadians be satisfied by NDP representation? Do the NDP know what to do/have what it takes to keep French Canadians in the supporters column? It should be interesting to see what the new Quebecois influence will have on the New Democrats.
Liberals - 34 seats - 18.91 per cent of the popular vote
Ouch. There are no words. This is easily the most crushing defeat of a major Canadian political party since the PC's in 1993 (with one exception discussed next). Michael Ignatieff, once the promise of a new generation of Liberal power, is defeated on almost every level, including personal, losing his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore by nearly 3,000 votes to Tory Bernard Trottier. The case of Ignatieff is that once again the candidate that looked good on paper did not translate into ballots checked. The Liberals were too soft in response to Conservative attack ads and just couldn't get past the assault. A prime minister and party censured for the first time ever by Parliament, accusations of secret keeping and other shadowy activities, and an economy still in a relative shambles, and the Liberals still weren't able to capitalize. Where was the disconnect?
The answer to that is, in part, because of Ignatieff's charisma gap, but it's not all on him. The NDP surge was too strong, and the momentum was with Jack Layton. The Liberals couldn't make the point to vote strategically, and if they could, people were already starting to think of the NDP as the strategic option. Where does the Liberal Party go from here? Well, not gently into that good night. There may be an opportunity for rebound, if only because the party still has nearly three dozen MPs in the House, and a storied history that goes back to Confederation. The gap may still be too wide for official merger talks with the NDP, and Layton may not think he needs the help, but there is the possibility, and likely probability, for more collusion. As for leader replacements, that's going to be tough; tough to see who might step in, tough to see how anyone can turn the boat around. But if the Liberals could say one thing this morning, it's that they aren't the...
Bloc Quebecois - 4 seats - 6.05 per cent of the popular vote 
Considering the enormous personal popularity of Gilles Duceppe, it seems that Quebecers left the party like rats fleeing a sinking ship. I don't think anyone called this reversal of fortune for the Bloc, even me. As I pointed out the day before the election, the Bloc surges and then it ebbs. But in this case, it's like the tide went out completely, and the question is will it ever return? Can the Bloc come back from this defeat? It depends on how you answer this question: Is separation still important to a significant percentage of French Canadians? If the answer is yes, then the Bloc will be back in some form in 2015; if not, then this might be the last we've seen of the Separatist Party. 
Green Party - 1 seat - 3.9 per cent of the popular vote
Elizabeth May finally won her seat in the House of Commons, but the cost seems to be a loss of about half of the Green Party's popular support over the 2008 election (in '08, that was 6.8 per cent). Really, the Greens were as much a victim of the NDP's surge as the Liberals, but that didn't stop May from making history by becoming the Green MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. (And not only that, but she defeated Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn by over 7,000 votes.) The question is what happens now? Can May be effectual in the House as a party of one? Where do the Green Party's fortunes go from here? One thing's for sure, no one will be able to block May from a leaders' debate again.
But no matter what happens next, this is what Canada looks like today. Who would have guessed that 40 days ago...?

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