59% of Canadians voted in yesterday’s federal election. That number looks pretty good by comparison with certain other nations: but it’s the first time in Canadian history that the number has dipped below 60%.
Perhaps our election wasn’t as interesting as the American election. It was also the fourth election we’ve had in nine years: in 2000, 2004, 2006, and now 2008. Canadians might be excused for growing tired of the whole exercise.
It’s Canada’s third consecutive minority government. Which means we’ll probably have another election a couple of years from now.
In fact, when you get right down to it, this election changes nothing.
|MPs at dissolution
The best line on CBC’s coverage last night came from Rick Mercer, who said that this election cost Canadian taxpayers $300 million, and none of the parties got what they wanted.
The Conservatives didn’t get the majority government they were chasing. They failed, again, to elect a single MP in any of Canada’s major cities (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver). And they failed to supplant the Liberals as the main federalist party in Quebec. The Liberals won 13 seats in Quebec (one more than in 2006); the Conservatives won 10 (identical to 2006). If it’s possible to win the election and still go home sorely disappointed, the Conservatives just did it.
And the other parties?
The Liberals lost 19 seats. The Green Party wasn’t able to elect a single candidate.
The NDP gained a few seats, but they’re still in fourth place. They wanted to leapfrog the Liberals and position themselves as the alternative to the Conservatives, but it didn’t happen.
Only the BQ went home satisfied with their night’s work. They won two-thirds of the seats in Quebec, as nebcanuck pointed out earlier today. The BQ has limited ambitions: they have no desire ever to form a government.
So: $300 million and none of the parties is any better off.
Among the party leaders, the biggest loser is Stéphane Dion. The Liberals lost 19 seats. They received 26.2% of the popular vote — the smallest share the Liberals have received in Canadian history. Expect a convention to replace Dion sooner rather than later.
But let me go against conventional wisdom and say that I think the Liberal Party is in a good position to rebuild.
The Liberals are still a national party (albeit weakly represented in the three prairie provinces). They continue to have a solid base in the two most populous provinces, Quebec (13 seats) and Ontario (38 seats). The result in Quebec is noteworthy, because it demonstrates that the Liberals have survived the damage they suffered in that province a few years ago. I think the page has now been turned on the sponsorship scandal.
Moreover, the Liberals arguably have a stronger team than the governing party, given that Stephen Harper has insisted on muzzling his Cabinet ministers and running the government as a one-man show.
The way forward for the Liberals will not be easy. The party remains internally divided, and a leadership convention may produce a bitter contest between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. It’s also possible that formidable figures like Frank McKenna and John Manley might choose to compete for the Liberal leadership. The very strength of the Liberal team means that a leadership campaign could be bitterly divisive.
But let’s suppose for a moment that the Liberals find a path through this difficult process. The Party chooses a capable leader and unites behind that leader. Now consider that two-thirds of Canadians voted for a left-of-centre party — Liberal, BQ, NDP, or Green.
It seems to me that voters are just waiting for a viable, left-of-centre alternative to the Conservative Party. The NDP auditioned for that role but voters rejected the idea.
If the Liberals are able to get their act together, they will be in a position to attract 40%-45% of the national vote — just as they have done in the past.
In sum: the Conservatives failed to get a jump on the Liberals in Quebec, and the NDP failed to get a jump on the Liberals in the rest of Canada. The election changed nothing. But despite appearances (a loss of 19 seats), the result may actually be good for the Liberals in the long run.