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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Post Election Analysis - History in the Making

Anyone who voted for the first time in Election 2011 certainly found an opportune time to exercise their democratic right.

With the election now in the books the nation is free to ponder the significance (or lack thereof) of the outcome. No matter how you slice it, this is one election that’s bound to be the talk of pundits, political science majors and arm chair politicians for decades to come.

It’s often said that history is written by the victors, but exactly what history says about Canada’s forty-first federal election remains to be seen. The conundrum this time around is how we define who the victors actually are. Different perspectives may produce different findings and the answer may not fully be understood for generations.

Clearly the Harper Conservatives are victorious. After years of planning, strategizing, campaigning (yes, years of campaigning) cajoling and practically begging the people of Canada Mr. Harper finally has the one thing he’s wanted since first elected, a majority. Never the less, for his detractors, this outcome could be seen as a tainted victory based on his limited level of cross-Canada support, his losses in Quebec and the growth of support for the center/left federalist parties (Liberal/NDP combined) after the collapse of the Bloc.

Following the election Mr. Harper, speaking to a partisan crowd, proudly said that the people of Canada had made their decision. Some might argue that with only 40% of voters supporting the Conservative party, in reality the nation actually backed into a Conservative majority accidentally rather than truly choosing it. Tomato / tomato.

Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, promoted this election as necessary to save democracy itself. He may have been fighting the wrong opponent in Mr. Harper. Perhaps the real opponent to democracy in Canada is not the Conservatives, who merely take political advantage of the rules, but Elections Canada who refuse to see that the system isn’t working in its current form.

Elections as they exist today in Canada work fine when you have a two party system. They don’t serve democracy very well at all when 3 or 4 parties are in play.

The evidence speaks for itself. If asked, most Canadians would say that democracy is when a majority of the people choose a government. Not so in Canada where a party, any party, can form a majority government when over half the population doesn’t support them.

As far as democracy is concerned it was indeed at stake in this election and, no matter who came out ahead in the seat count, we all lost on that front. In essence the Harper majority came as a result of unintentional vote splits between the NDP and Liberals in Ontario. In the end these meant a gain of 20 Ontario seats, a dozen more than the 155 needed to claim a majority.

As Thomas Jefferson quite rightly said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve”. We can read into Mr. Jefferson’s statement what we will.

Democracy itself aside, although the night clearly saw a victory for Stephen Harper, many elections have been won in the past and many will be won in the future by various parties. By itself there’s nothing of historic value to the win. Perhaps what the Harper government does with its majority will change the political landscape over time but the win itself is a less than historic event outside Conservative circles. Other outcomes are far more interesting from the historic perspective.

Nobody can argue that the rise of the NDP to official opposition status with more than 100 seats in Parliament is much more noteworthy in the grand scheme of things.

This sudden shift of support says a lot about the now massive gulf between the Right and Left in Canada as a result of the tactics employed by Conservatives over the past several years. It’s a case where 60% of voters in Canada have decided a change is in order. Most of that 60%, especially in Quebec, shrugged off the shackles of conformity and walked through a previously untested Orange door in an attempt to unseat what many see, rightly or wrongly, as a government that’s far too “Republican” for their liking.

Aside from the hard left tilt taken by Canadians, the historic impact of the NDP taking on the official opposition role are not to be ignored. This position will afford them a great deal of benefits they’ve long been denied. Their elevated status will mean an increased budget and far more media attention than the party has ever been able to capture in the past. The official opposition after all has long been considered a “government in waiting”.

In short, this election has catapulted the NDP onto the political stage like never before and, depending on what the party does with their new found status it might, over time, change Canadian politics in unforeseen ways.

If nothing else, the rise of the NDP has dealt massive blow to the aspirations of the Bloc Quebecois, leaving the nation far more united than it’s been in decades. Even if that unity comes as a result of a deep seated dislike for the Harper government.

With a massive drop in their per vote election subsidy as a result of such poor showing in this election and with Mr. Harper’s plan, now that he has a majority, to abolish the vote subsidy (a key funding mechanism for the Bloc) entirely, this election could signal the demise of a political force that’s shaped politics in Canada for a generation.

The Bloc, with just 4 seats and after the resignation of Gilles Duceppe as their charismatic leader has a very uncertain future to be certain.

Just as Canadians might have accidentally backed into a Harper majority, Mr. Harper himself may well have accidentally helped ensure Canadian unity. If so, he accomplished this unintended result by engendering an anti-conservative movement in Quebec that grew far stronger than the deep seated yearning for Quebec nationalism/sovereignty itself.

You can add the Liberal party’s standing to that of the Bloc when questioning the future of organized party politics in Canada. The Liberal’s election results have similarly impacted their funding possibilities and cost them a leader. Going forward they may, from necessity, be forced to consider looking at options for uniting the Left, even at the expense of the historic party brand.

It’s enough to make me wonder what color you get when you combine red and orange.

Although seen by most as a small scale victory, the Green party must also be considered a winner in this election. With Elizabeth May having finally won a seat in the House of Commons the Green Party will have a voice on the national stage for the first time.

It could be argued that a single seat doesn’t mean much but with the environment a top priority for a growing number of voters and ever more important on the world stage, the timing of Ms. May’s entry into Parliament could have far more significance than many might think.

A potential resurgence of young voters and Canada’s penchant for backing the underdog, in addition to the environmental issue itself, could lead to Ms. May’s new found voice resonating with voters over the coming years.

Certainly her approach to politics and original ideas are refreshing. Time will tell if her election is just a blip or a harbinger of things to come, but what’s seen as a minor victory today might one day be recognized as the start of a green revolution in Canadian politics. Only time and the electorate will tell.

Any way you slice it this has been an election like none other Canada has seen. We live in interesting times and they may become a lot more interesting as the days unfold. Just don’t twitter that point to any of your friends until you've cleared it with Elections Canada. You wouldn’t want to break any antiquated laws would you?

Finally, since this is Web-Talk Newfoundland and Labrador, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the direct impacts of this election on our fair province.

From the Provincial perspective, the clear message telegraphed from Newfoundland (if not Labrador) is that even without the force of will who is Danny Williams, ABC remains a reality. While the Labrador riding elected a Conservative MP, anyone who knows the situation on the ground could easily argue that this was more of a victory for a single man who is highly respected rather than a win for the party itself.

Clearly Newfoundland & Labrador remains less than fertile hunting grounds for the Harper brand of Conservatism and with Quebec rejecting the Conservative brand as well another point comes to the fore. Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador have finally found something they can agree on, their utter dislike of Stephen Harper. Now that's historic!

On a more tangible front, the outcome couldn’t have been more interesting for the Province. Yes, we sent a clear message to the Conservatives that the people do not like Mr. Harper but by electing one Conservative MP it also ensures that the Harper government no longer has an excuse for not offering the cabinet position they’ve told everyone the province has denied itself by not electing someone on the government side.

In fact, with a member in the government caucus and with 2 representatives in the official opposition ranks as well as 4 Liberal members of Parliament, Newfoundland and Labrador has covered all the bases and positioned itself about as well as anyone could have hoped.

As an interesting side note, the message sent to Stephen Harper by the Newfoundland and Labrador electorate was accomplished in spite, rather than with the approval, of the Provincial PC government.

In an effort to shore up support for the federal Conservatives the Dunderdale government trotted out cabinet ministers and caucus members by the bus load. They even went so far as to insert themselves into the election by announcing more than $4 million in funding for one riding, announcing it on election day while the federal candidate was positioned front and center beside the provincial representatives at the media event. Thankfully the voters didn’t take a bite from that apple.

Whether or not the stunt has an impact on Dunderdale’s position going into the October provincial election is a story for another day.

Last but not least, and perhaps most important to some in the Province, is the fact that with a majority in hand, an NL Conservative MP in caucus and a clear rejection by Quebec voters as clear as the nose on his face, there can be no excuse for Mr. Harper to back out of his commitments on the Lower Churchill development.

Time will tell if he does or not.

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