Monday, May 02, 2011

Conservatives poised for long time in power

Assuming Stephen Harper and the Conservatives don't mess up, they are now poised to settle into government for many years.
It's not just that Harper has finally won a majority on his fourth try.
But the victory came largely because of the dramatic collapse of the Liberals. The party, for the first time in Canadian history, fell to third place in Monday's election. With 34 seats as I write this, the party is desperately weak. It faces fierce challenges in the months ahead and might not survive.
The New Democrats made big gains as a result of falling Liberal support and the collapse of the Bloc Québécois. The party, for the first time in its history, has the second largest number of seats, at 104. Jack Layton will lead the official Opposition.
But the NDP surge also is largely responsible for the Conservative majority. (The Conservatives' targeted campaign also deserves credit.)
The Harper party's share of the popular vote scarcely changed, from 37.6 per cent in 2008 to about 40 per cent in this election.
That translated into a 20-per-cent increase in seats, because the NDP gained votes in ridings that had been held by the Liberals. In many of those, the result was a Conservative victory.
The Liberals are left in a dismal situation, which will only get worse. They will have a minor role in Parliament and face a potentially divisive leadership campaign to replace Michael Ignatieff.
Harper's majority means he will go ahead with his plan to end public financial support for political parties. Liberal donations will plummet as a result of their third-place finish, leaving the party short of the money needed to rebuild.
All this should create some hard decisions for the two main opposition parties. The Liberals aren't beaten into the dirt as the Conservatives were in the 2000 election, setting the stage for their takeover by the Canadian Alliance.
But they aren't far off. The Conservatives won 12 seats in 2000; the Liberals' 34 in this election isn't much more impressive.
The Liberals are lost. They can't pry votes from the Conservatives' base and they can no longer count on being the default choice of centre-left voters.
That's almost certain to lead to pressure to unite the centre-left, as Harper united the centre-right.
And those discussions will create additional problems for the Liberals, with members likely to be sharply divided on any alliance with the New Democrats.
The Bloc collapse was even greater than the Liberal stumble, with the party reduced from the 49 seats won two years ago to just three. That's not necessarily a good thing in terms of national unity.
The Conservatives have just six seats in the province; Quebecers will again be on the outside of the national government.
It's also hard to know what to make of Green party leader Elizabeth May's victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands. It's a historic win; the Greens have never had a seat in Parliament.
But at the same time, the party's support across Canada fell sharply and it has demonstrated no potential as a serious political force. May has four years to change that.
Now the attention shifts to Harper. His entire campaign was based on the need for a majority to allow him to complete his agenda (and the perils of a coalition by the other parties).
But Harper still only has the support of a minority of Canadian voters, and he faces some significant challenges in fulfilling his commitments. Big spending cuts, for example, will be needed to meet the timeline for eliminating the deficit, with no clear indication where those savings will be found.
And, based on the campaign, Layton will be an effective opposition leader. His success in the election came from a positive campaign that convinced many Canadians he understood the issues that mattered to them. He now has four years to reinforce that, while portraying Harper as out of touch.
It's customary to claim most elections bring dramatic change to the political landscape. This time, it's true.
Footnote: The Conservatives elected the most MPs from B.C. with 20, but they and the Liberals still lost seats. The Liberals are down to two MPs. The New Democrats gained and have 13 seats.


Ian Reid said...

The NDP surge is responsible for the Conservative majority. I think that assumes a bit too much Paul.

I'd put another way: where would we be without an NDP surge driven by an effective campaign, a brilliant Quebec strategy and voter angst about Harper? We'd be left with a lousy Liberal campaign that couldn't connect and what I would bet would have been an even bigger Tory majority.

But you are very right to focus on what now and the state of the two largest opposition parties. I argue and will continue to argue that until there is an effective electoral response on the centre left to the reunification of the Conservative Party, a Tory government is the default result we can expect.

And an effective response does not mean resurrecting the Liberal Party, starting afresh with the Greens or being satisfied with the NDP as it is.

I don't think Jack is satisfied with the third point either. And I think his Quebec success is indicative of his desire to remake the party and take chances in order to secure majority status. People, including myself have questioned the investment in Quebec in both time and money over the last three elections. Jack stuck to it and it's now paid off. That's the sign of a very good tactician as well as politician.

seth said...

I figured when we saw the how the Harp and Smarmy Jack focused their attacks on Iggy, that the Smarm just signed one more time with the Harp - he already did it once before. He just wanted his name in lights and in the record books. The enormous damage caused to Canada by a fascist majority he could care less about.

Like the BCLiberal's Harper has no interest in Parliament, so he can and will legally shut down parliament just like the fascist's did to the BC Legislature. Debate at whatever mimimum's he can legally enforce then closure.

No need for more press conferences or parliamentary committees. All shut down. All debate silenced.

The older voters whose family and friends fought and died overseas so the the likes of Stephen Harper would never darken our shores, just voted the fascists in. The sacrifices were all in vain.

With all the close races across the country who who be the first pundit to do the exercise of apportioning the Green vote to the Liberal and NDP losers. Could that 4.3% have been the key difference between Harper's majority and another much less odious minority parliament.

Now the Green Party has a spokesperson in Parliament. The fascist MSM will be granting her more interviews than than the entire rest of the opposition combined. If the Green party needs any funding at all, the same Denier Big Oil funding that goes to Greenpeace, Pembina, Sierra and Suzuki will make its way into the Green Party.

Result that 4% Green vote this time becomes 15% next time. 40 Con, 15 Green, 20 Lib, 20 NDP, 5 PQ in perpetuity.

Canadians are such morons.

paul said...

You could be right on the impact of the NDP gains, but we'll never know. (Or I won't. I should preface these kind of columns by noting I have zero experience with the actual business of political campaigns. (Except in corporate settings.)
Working on a column on a centre-left unity party and trying to understand the numbers, at least on a province-by-province basis, from last night.