So the final tally is Conservatives 124, Liberals 103, Bloc 51, NDP 29 and Andre Arthur 1. This you already know. Here are some less obvious election results:
Contrary to what most commentators are saying today, the incoming Conservative minority government is actually going to be quite stable, at least for a while. The Bloc has already said that it won’t force a new federal election before the next provincial election, which is still a year or two away. Their priority is ousting Premier Jean Charest and replacing his government with a Parti Quebecois one headed by new leader Andre Boisclair. Ironically, the federal Bloc will be completely focused on the next provincial election, and will have no time for national politics.
The Liberals are just as unlikely to want another election anytime soon. Paul Martin’s announcement that he would be stepping down as Liberal leader begins the most vicious and ruthless process in all of Canadian politics: the jockeying, leaking and backstabbing that constitute a Liberal leadership campaign. Martin has no political capital left whatsoever, so it will probably come down to the Chretien wing of the party, which destroyed Martin, against the “young turks” like Belinda Stronach and Michael Ignatieff. I’ll have more on that in upcoming columns, but long story short, the Liberals will be too busy destroying one another while choosing a leader, and too weak and divided in the immediate aftermath, to want to face the electorate anytime soon. As if that weren’t enough, the party’s also bankrupt.
The New Democrats are the only party with anything to gain from another election in the near future, as they could profit from the chaos of the leadership race to bleed more support away from the Liberals. The Liberals are well aware of this, and they know that in the short term, the NDP are their real enemies, not the Conservatives. This all adds up to a pretty safe situation for the Conservative minority, at least until the Liberals have finished rebuilding.
All things considered, the Liberals did surprisingly well in this election. Many polls had them pegged at around 60 seats and in danger of losing official opposition status to the Bloc, but they finished with 103 seats, and actually gained a seat in B.C. Still, a smart electorate went out of their way to punish senior Liberals, with star cabinet ministers such as Health Minister “Landslide Annie” Anne McLellan, Foreign Minister “Teflon Man” Pierre Pettigrew and Speaker of the House “Um, No Idea” Tony Valeri losing their seats. The Canadian public sent the Liberal Party a message: “We want you as a strong opposition to the Conservatives, but we want the old guard out of power.” This ability of voters to selectively reward and punish their politicians and parties is one of the advantages of our oft-maligned parliamentary system, and it worked very well yesterday.
As predicted, the Conservatives won a minority government, and they’ve got to be pretty happy with the results. But they failed to win a single seat in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, with all of their gains coming in small towns and medium-sized cities. “The West wanted in and the West is now in,” decalared Stephen Harper in his victory speech. But the new political paradigm in Canada looks to be an American-style rural/urban split to replace the east/west one. Is that an improvement? I’m not sure it is.
After declaring the election a referendum on having another referendum, the Bloc Quebecois went from 54 seats to 51, and from 48.8 per cent of the provincial vote in 2004 to 42.1 per cent this time around. This from a party that was expecting over 50 per cent and at least 60 seats as recently as one week ago. Part of their prediction came true: the Liberals were decimated in Quebec. But the federalist vote went straight to the Conservatives, along with many Bloc voters. Ten new seats in Quebec was far more than anyone predicted and several of the winning candidates will be in Harper’s cabinet. This, to put it mildly, was not the Bloc’s plan. After Martin, Duceppe might be the next party leader on his way out.
So the Bloc is reeling, the Liberals are rebuilding but still strong, the NDP has new life and the Conservatives are in power, but will need support from other parties to pass legislation. I think this is one of the best possible scenarios, and when combined with the good voter turnout, shows that our parliamentary system isn’t broken at all, but is responsive to and representative of the Canadian public.