Canada 2011

Canada held a general federal election on May 2, 2011. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won, somewhat shockingly, their elusive majority while the perennial also-rans, the NDP, surged into a strong second to form the opposition at the expense of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois.

In a preview post last week, I covered most of the issues of the campaign. As far as I know, most of my comments on the factors which led to these results are explained there and remain valid.

Turnout was 61.4%, slightly up from the record low of 58% in the 2008 election. The results below are compared to the standings in 2008, not at dissolution.

Conservative 39.62% (+1.96%) winning 167 seats (+24)
NDP 30.63% (+12.44%) winning 102 seats (+65)
Liberal 18.91% (-7.36%) winning 34 seats (-43)
Bloc Québécois 6.04% (-3.94%) winning 4 seats (-45)
Green 3.91% (-2.87%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Independents 0.49% (-0.2%) winning 0 seats (-2)

Because Canada is a federal country, listing results by province makes lots of sense. So:

Newfoundland and Labrador: LIB 37.86% (4), NDP 32.61% (2), CON 28.35% (1), GRN 0.9%
PEI: CON 41.18% (1), LIB 40.96% (3), NDP 15.35%, GRN 2.4%
Nova Scotia: CON 36.72% (4), NDP 30.28% (3), LIB 28.93% (4), GRN 3.95%
New Brunswick: CON 43.85% (8), NDP 29.76% (1), LIB 22.62% (1), GRN 3.17%
Quebec: NDP 42.87% (58), BQ 23.43% (4), CON 16.52% (6), LIB 14.17% (7), GRN 2.14%
Ontario: CON 44.4% (73), NDP 25.61% (22), LIB 25.32% (11), GRN 3.78%
Manitoba: CON 53.49% (11), NDP 25.8% (2), LIB 16.6% (1), GRN 3.62%
Saskatchewan: CON 56.26% (13), NDP 32.32% (0), LIB 8.57% (1), GRN 2.65%
Alberta: CON 66.78% (27), NDP 16.81% (1), LIB 9.26%, GRN 5.28%
BC: CON 45.54% (21), NDP 32.5% (12), LIB 13.43% (2), GRN 7.7% (1)
Yukon: CON 33.77% (1), LIB 32.95%, GRN 18.91%, NDP 14.37%
NWT: NDP 45.84% (1), CON 32.11%, LIB 18.44%, GRN 3.06%
Nunavut: CON 49.85% (1), LIB 28.62%, NDP 19.44%, GRN 2.1%

Harper finally won his elusive majority, which many – myself included – had thought was becoming more distant by the day as the NDP surge. But Harper benefited both from a perfect storm, the Conservative Party’s strategic prowess at campaigning, vote management and targeting. As I expected, the trend observed since 2004 – by which the governing party does better than it polls – reared its head again and allowed the Tories to reach 39.6% of the vote instead than the 36-38% the last polls had given it. The Liberals did roughly 2% worst than estimated, meaning that right-wing Liberals switched to the Tories to prevent a NDP government. 39.6% isn’t traditionally majority territory, and the margin between first and second was actually smaller in 2011 than in 2008 (when the Tories won a minority) but the Tories benefited from a late (albeit small) swing in Ontario (and maybe BC) which hadn’t been picked up by pollsters which allowed their vote to grow in crucial Ontario battlegrounds and to benefit from Liberal-NDP vote splits giving the Tories the edge in those key 905 ridings they targeted. I had talked about this possibility of vote splits in these ridings giving the Tories the edge there, and it played out.

The Conservatives have turned into a powerful electoral machine, with efficient vote management, campaigning and targeting. As much as the Liberals would lose a campaign for Grade 3 student council in a landslide with their worthless machine, the Tories are extremely good at what they do in terms of running a campaign to win. The Tories targeted 10 or so key ridings in Ontario – all concentrated in the 905 and inner city Toronto region – as the key seats they needed to get in order to win a majority. A lot of these seats were in Brampton and Mississauga, high-growth immigrant-populated suburbs of Toronto which have traditionally been Liberal strongholds. Even in 2008, the Tories won only one seat in this 8-seat microregion. This time they won all of them. In some, a vote split between Liberals and NDP helped them win narrowly in places such as Mississauga East-Cooksville which weren’t seen as winnable. But clearly there was more than that in seats such as Brampton-Springdale where Tory Parm Gill won 48-28 against incumbent Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla. Sure, Dhalla had never managed to rise back from the nannygate scandal and Gill was a very powerful candidate (and, according to reports, a quasi-MP given that he had access to the Immigration Ministry). But in this seats and others, the Conservative efforts to woo ‘ethnic voters’ (South Asians, Chinese etc) and the hard work of Jason Kenney – Harper’s immigration man and architect of the majority – to attract ‘ethnic votes’ taken for granted by the Liberals paid off. The Tories put all they had (and they have a lot) in those seats, and alongside some good candidates in the Maritimes and elsewhere, got their majority.

Harper’s ceaseless calls for a “strong stable national Conservative majority government” (repeated until you’re deaf in the ear) clearly worked out. The average voter was probably tired of minorities and incessant elections and voted for a Tory majority. They may not be entirely enamored with Harper and they might not worship his soul, but for many it’s the devil they know and they feel that he hasn’t done that bad of a job – sure there’s a deficit, but the economic outlook is generally good and Harper hasn’t done a particularly bad job. The Globe and Mail‘s endorsement of Harper, which include a quite long laundry list of grievances they have with him but concludes with an argument along the lines of that above, might be reflective of the average voter who gave the Tories a majority.

Harper’s campaign managed to maximize Tory turnout (perhaps the attack ads on Layton helped do that). If you remember my preview post, the Tory ceiling is not exceptionally high – roughly 40% or a bit more – a bare majority of voters still disapprove of Harper. But the Conservatives get the votes of everybody who likes Harper – and since that’s 40% or so – it can and did get them a majority. Those who don’t like Harper are split between NDP, Liberals and the Bloc, Greens to a lesser extent.

To continue this analysis, I’ll start going province-by-province to look at all the trends.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province won by the Liberal Party, and the only Anglophone province where the Tories placed third. The Tory vote increased by roughly 11% since the ABC election of 2008, where the Tories had won a paltry 17% and shut out of the province. But with 28.3%, they’re still far from the 42.7% they won in 2006. The NDP vote fell slightly and the Liberal vote fell by a bit less than 10%. Super star candidate Jack Harris (NDP) won 71% in St. John’s East, while the NDP knocked out Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl by a huge margin – nearly 20%. The Tory star candidate there, former provincial cabinet minister Loyola Sullivan, placed third with 23%. Former Tory MP Fabian Manning failed to retake his Avalon seat, lost in 2008 to Liberal Scott Andrews who won 43.9-40.6 against Manning this year. Newfoundland is also home to the only two ridings to still give the Liberals over 50% of the vote: Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor and Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, where the Liberals took roughly 57%. The Tory gain didn’t come in Avalon as we might have thought, but rather in Labrador where Peter Penashue knocked off Liberal MP Todd Russell narrowly (40-38). Penashue, the former Innu Nation president, was helped by his standing in the Innu Nation and a Liberal-NDP vote split (the NDP won 20%).

The Tories won the most votes in PEI but won only one seat – the Egmont riding they had won with Gail Shea in 2008. Certainly a lot of Tory votes went to reelect her by a huge margin – 54.7% against 31% for her Liberal rival. But while the Tories won no additional seats, they came close in Malpeque (42-39) and Charlottetown (39-33). The NDP took 25.1% in Charlottetown.

The NDP could have hoped for more in Nova Scotia, where the NDP surge registered but only barely. It only gained them Dartmouth-Cole Harbour where former provincial NDP leader Robert Chisholm defeated popular Liberal MP Mike Savage narrowly (36.3-35). But Tory Gerald Keddy, vulnerable to the NDP in South Shore–St. Margaret’s, grew his margin from 2% over the NDP in 2008 to 6.9% this year with the NDP vote stagnating. Liberal Geoff Regan held on in Halifax West, taking 36% against 30% to the Tories and 29% for the NDP. The Liberals held on in Cape Breton-Canso without too much worries, but the Liberals won only by 2.3% in Sydney-Victoria and 2.9% in Kings-Hants (held by former PCer Scott Brison).

New Brunswick was a Tory wash. They gained Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe with a 4.4% majority over the Liberals, and picked up Madawaska-Restigouche with a 5.5% majority. They were helped in Madawaska-Restigouche by a strong candidate – former federal cabinet minister and provincial PC leader Bernard Valcourt who won this very Francophone riding. Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc was reelected in Beauséjour – but only by 5.8% – while the Liberals fell to third place behind the NDP in all seats with a Conservative incumbent. NDP MP Yvon Godin won a spectacular 69.7% in his Acadie-Bathurst stronghold.

Quebec was the epicentre of the NDP shockwave. With 43%, they won 58 (77%) of the province’s 75 seats. The wave left practically no riding untouched, which reduced the formerly dominant Bloc (which had never won less than 38 seats in Quebec) to 23% and most spectacularly to a rump of 4 MPs. The NDP, which won 1.8% in 2000 and 4.6% in 2004, is – for now – the dominant party in Quebec. The Conservatives, who won 25% in 2006 and 21.7% in 2008, fell to 16.5% and a reduced caucus of 6 MPs, notably devoid of 3 cabinet ministers. The Liberals, whose vote picked up a bit in 2008 after an utter low in 2006, collapsed in 2011 to 14% and 7 seats – half of its 2008 Quebec caucus.

The new political map of Quebec is utterly orange. It holds all but one constituency north of Laval, all seats in Quebec City, all seats in Laval, and a majority of seats in Montreal and its South Shore suburbs. It won most seats rather comfortably as well, and defeated some incumbents by some ridiculous margin. Certainly Gatineau was the top NDP target, but a 62-15 win over the Bloc incumbent there is still spectacular. As is the 59-20 landslide by the NDP’s Nycole Turmel over longtime Liberal MP Marcel Proulx in Hull-Aylmer. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon lost handily to the NDP’s Mathieu Ravignat (if you remember, a former Communist candidate) taking 29.5% to Ravignat’s 46%. The Bloc’s number two, Pierre Paquette, lost the Bloc stronghold of Joliette by a 14% margin in a riding where the NDP had won 10% in 2008. Even in Berthier-Maskinongé, where the NDP candidate was a unilingual Anglophone barmaid on vacation in Las Vegas, the NDP won by 10%.

The NDP defeated all incumbent – 3 Tories and 2 Bloquistes in Quebec City. Josée Verner, a Tory cabinet minister, lost Louis-Saint-Laurent – reputed to be a Conservative stronghold of sorts – narrowly to the NDP’s Alexandrine Latendresse. Jean-Pierre Blackburn, the incumbent Tory in Jonquière-Alma and veterans’ affairs minister, lost 43-35 to the NDP. Only Denis Lebel, a low-profile cabinet minister and Conservative elected in a 2007 by-election, won (the only non-NDP seat north of Laval) and won with an increased majority at that, in Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean.

South of the Saint-Lawrence, the picture is a bit more diverse, with 3 of 4 Bloc seats and 5 of 6 Tory seats concentrated here. The Bloc won Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia, held by the narrowest of margins by the Bloc against Liberal star candidate Nancy Charest in 2008, largely thanks to the non-Bloc vote being evenly divided between Charest (25.6%) and the NDP (21.4%). The Conservatives held their rural rump in the Chaudières-Appalaches, with some like Jacques Gourde winning narrowly and others like Christian Paradis and Maxime Bernier winning by larger margins. The Tory hold in Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup is still uncertain, as a judicial recount is underway between Tory Bernard Généreux and the NDP, which has a 5-vote lead over the Conservative as of now (the seat is still blue on the map, though).

The Bloc holds two seats in this region. In Bas-Richelieu-Nicolet-Bécancour, the House of Commons’ oldest serving member, Luc Plamondon, won 38-35.7 over the NDP to hold his seat. Plamondon had originally been elected in the 1984 Tory landslide for the PCs, and has held his seat ever since with solid majorities. André Bellavance held on narrowly in Richmond-Arthabaska, with 33.8% against 32.5% for the NDP which might have been disadvantaged by a strong Conservative showing – 24.7%. Outside of that, the rest is an orange sweep, though with some strong Bloc showings in a number of ridings. Yet, longtime Bloc MPs such as Serge Cardin in Sherbrooke lost out – in Cardin’s case, to a 19-year old student.

Montreal’s suburbs – north and south – are all orange – and the vast majority of them with solid margins. As previously mentioned, the NDP swept Laval and won the four seats entirely or partially on the island with solid majorities. The same story in the solidly Bloc North Shore suburbs, and similar in the South Shore suburbs in Montérégie.

On Montreal Island, the NDP has 10 seats against 7 Liberals and 1 Bloc. That Bloc seat isn’t Duceppe’s riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie – the leader of the BQ lost his seat by nearly 11%. Amusingly, the Bloc’s sole seat is rather the party’s most marginal riding on the island – Ahuntsic. Bloc incumbent Maria Mourani, in office since 2006 and always winning by the narrowest of margins – 0.9% in 2008 and 1.7% in 2006, was reelected with a 1.5% majority over the NDP, taking 31.8% to the NDP’s 30.3% and 27.9% to the Liberals. The Bloc’s fluke hold in Ahuntsic, like in Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia, is likely due to an unusual even split of the non-Bloc vote between Liberals and Dippers. The NDP swept the Bloc strongholds of eastern Montreal – Hochelaga, Rosemont and so forth – but also broke through in the Liberal west. Paul Martin’s old riding of LaSalle-Émard (15.6% NDP majority), Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Lachine (7.8% NDP majority) and Pierrefonds-Dollard (3.9% NDP majority) all fell to the Dippers. Francis Scarpaleggia, Lac-Saint-Louis’ Liberal incumbent, hanged on with a 4% majority against the NDP while Tory star candidate Larry Smith won 28.5% and a strong third place. Stéphane Dion held on easily in Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, but Mount Royal (Pierre Trudeau’s fortress) was held by a very shaky 6% majority over the Tories who gained with Montreal Jews after gaining with Ontarian Jews in 2008. Justin Trudeau’s majority grew to 10% though his vote percentage fell in Papineau. Ignatieff rival Denis Coderre won by 8.9% in Bourassa, while Liberal Massimo Pacetti won by 10% in the longtime Liberal fiefdom of Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel.

Surprisingly, Marc Garneau held on narrowly (1.6% majority) in Westmount-Ville-Marie, one of the NDP’s strongest seats in 2008. I suppose the old rich Anglos in Westmount didn’t vote NDP then. As for Outremont, Mulcair obviously won big – with a 32.7% majority over Liberal star candidate Martin Cauchon, the former MP for Outremont and former cabinet minister.

Ontario is the new base of the Conservative majority – constituting nearly 44% of the entire Tory bench with its 73 Conservative MPs. A lot of these come from rural southern Ontario, where Conservative majorities are starting to rival Tory majorities in the Prairies. The Liberals truly collapsed here, even in the last parts of southwestern Ontario where they were still remotely competitive (Huron-Bruce or Chatham-Kent-Essex for example), falling to third behind the NDP in most ridings in southwestern Ontario. Surprisingly, however, the Liberals managed to hold Kingston and the Islands – where the Liberal vote actually increased – largely coming from the Greenies, who fell from 11% to 4%. A similar collapse in the Green vote in Guelph – from 21% to 6% – allowed the Liberals not only to hold the riding once thought of as vulnerable, but to grow the Liberal majority from 3% to 11%. But those are perhaps the only pieces good news in Ontario for the Liberals. They lost their last seat in London, failed to win back any seat in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and won record low majorities in places such as Ottawa-Vanier.

The inner 905 suburbs of Toronto are all blue except for John McCallum’s last Liberal redoubt in Markham-Unionville (a largely Cantonese area). All seats in Mississauga and Brampton are blue, Tory star candidate Chris Alexander picked up Ajax-Pickering, the Liberals lost Richmond Hill, the Tories increased their majority by tons in places such as Oak Ridges-Markham, Thornhill, Vaughan, Newmarket-Aurora, Burlington and Oakville. Most of these seats came thanks to big swings with New Canadians – the same voters who made these Liberal strongholds have won them for Harper.

In the 416 – inner Toronto – the Conservatives have long been shut out entirely. Even in 2008, they won no seat as the Liberals won all but two of the 23 seats (Layton and Olivia Chow’s seats) and most of them by huge majorities. Now they hold just 6 seats. The NDP holds 8 seats now – adding Beaches-East York, Davenport, Parkdale-High Park and York South-Weston to the list but also Scarborough-Rouge River and Scarborough Southwest.

The Liberal collapse in Scarborough – a very diverse, multicultural area and longtime Liberal fiefdom, is significant. The NDP won the largely Tamil riding of Scarborough-Rouge River, the least ‘white’ riding in Canada, by a 10.6% margin over the Tories while the Grits fell into third (the Liberal MP was retiring, though). The Conservatives broke through even in Scarborough – taking Scarborough Centre and Pickering-Scarborough East.

Shockingly, the Conservatives hold 9 seats in the 416 – up from a big fat 0. One of these seats is Etobicoke-Lakeshore – its MP, none other than Ignatieff, lost by a 5% margin. Martha Hall Findlay managed to lose Willowdale – a heavily non-white (59%) riding and predominantly Chinese and Korean area to the Tories albeit narrowly. Another largely Chinese area – Don Valley East – fell to the Tories – and amusingly with a larger majority than Don Valley West – formerly the party’s best hope in Toronto. Helped by gains with Jews (started in 2008) and Italians, the Conservatives killed off Ken Dryden (York Centre) and Joe Volpe (Eglinton-Lawrence) after sawing off  the huge Liberal majorities of yesteryear in 2008. Dryden himself lost huge – 48.5% to 33.3%.

The NDP surge didn’t net them any seats outside of Toronto – though they held their seats in Windsor, London, Hamilton and Welland and all but one of their northern Ontario seats. But they still lost Sault Ste. Marie to the Conservatives, who solidified their previously narrow majority in Kenora.

The NDP didn’t do as well as expected in Manitoba either. They lost one seat, failed to gain their top target and were left with only 2 seats (Winnipeg Centre and Churchill, both are ultra-safe). The NDP lost Bill Blaikie’s seat of Elmwood-Transcona, where the Conservatives had come close in 2008 and worked their magic to win this year. The Liberals did badly too, losing Winnipeg South Centre (a longtime Liberal seat) and seeing the Tory majority increase to record levels in Saint Boniface, which was once a solidly Liberal seat. But amusingly, they managed to hold Winnipeg North. The birthplace of socialism in Canada, Winnipeg North (a safe NDP seat) was lost by the party in a 2010 by-election to Liberal Kevin Lamoureux, a provincial MLA. Lamoureux’s vote fell (as did the NDP’s), but he held on by a 0.5% margin against Rebecca Blaikie, Bill’s daughter. It is weirdly amusing that the birthplace of socialism didn’t vote NDP as it swept to new heights – but the area hadn’t voted NDP in 1988, the NDP’s old high water mark, either.

The rurban ridings of Saskatchewan reared their ugly heads to prove how FPTP is a worthless system. With 32%, the NDP won a big fat 0 (they have been shut out of the CCF’s cradle since 2004) while the Liberals with 8.6% won one. The NDP proved competitive in Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar (1.8% Conservative majority), Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River (3.6% Conservative majority) and Palliser (2.3% Conservative majority) but won none of them. Liberal Ralph Goodale saw his majority in Wascana fall to 4%, down from 11% in 2008 and 21.7% in 2006.

The Conservative grasp on Alberta only grew stronger, with 66.78% against 16.8% for the NDP and 9.3% for the Liberals. None of the 27 Tory MPs were seriously threatened, and the NDP didn’t come close to challenging the Tories in Edmonton East (15% Tory majority) or anywhere else. But the non-Conservative vote further coalesced around the lone non-Tory MP, the NDP’s Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona, where she grew her majority from 1% to 13%.

The Liberals collapsed to utter lows in British Columbia, a mere 13%, while the Tories reached 45.5% and the NDP won 32.5%. Only one of the Tories on the NDP hit list – Dona Cadman in Surrey North – lost. Cadman had been criticized for being an ‘invisible MP’, and lost the traditionally orange seat by a 4% margin. But John Duncan won by 3% in Vancouver Island North and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo wasn’t even close.

But the NDP did hold all its seats – including the vulnerable Burnaby-Douglas. It also won 2 Liberal seats. Newton-North Delta was a three-way tie, 33-31.5-31, with the NDP outpacing Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal for first. The NDP also won Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, held by retiring Liberal Keith Martin, with 40.9% against 40.3% for Tory Troy DeSouza, who had come so close to beating Martin in 2008.

The Liberals won a three-way tie in Vancouver Centre and won by 4% in Vancouver Quadra. But former provincial NDP leader Ujjal Dosanjh, a senior Liberal MP, lost to Conservative Wai Young in Vancouver South. Alice Wong, the Conservative who had won the heavily Chinese riding of Richmond in 2008, soared to a 39.6% majority this year.

Green leader Elizabeth May made history and won her seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands, knocking off Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn with a 10.7% majority. At the expense of a national campaign, the Greens dumped all they had to elect May, who, helped by her national stature, coalesced the non-Tory vote (the NDP won 12%, the Liberals 6%) behind her and beat Gary Lunn.

The Tories hold 2 of the 3 territories. In Nunavut, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was easily reelected with 49.9% against 28.6% for Liberal Paul Okalik, the former premier of Nunavut. She’s gained huge stature in Nunavut, where all politics is personal and parochial. In the NWT, Dipper Dennis Bevington won 45.9% over 32.1% for Conservative Susan Lee and a paltry 18.4% for Liberal Joe Handley, a former premier. In the Yukon, Liberal MP Larry Bagnell – who voted in favour of scrapping the gun registry – might regret that vote after falling 33.8-33 to Tory Ryan Leef, with the Greenies doing inexplicably well (18.9%).

As we look ahead, I’ll conclude by summarizing what’s bright for all the parties and what potential clouds on the road ahead.

The Conservatives have bright days ahead. They have a majority government, which in Canada and other parliamentary democracies often means a blank cheque. What Harper wants done, he’ll get it done and will get it done quickly and without bending over to make sure the opposition won’t bring him down over it. Harper will probably let the social issues such as abortion and gay marriage lie. A Conservative majority is likely to cut off stimulus-style spending and focus on cutting the budgetary deficit by the traditional means in a traditionally right-wing manner. Immigration policy will likely be tightened up somewhat, though probably not in a way which would endanger the Tory hold on New Canadians. Overall, there probably won’t be a discernible change in policy except that the policy will be implemented faster, easier and without any problems.

The Conservatives now have a largely Ontarian bench, and must be careful of not alienating its Western base with policies which please Ontario or vice-versa and potentially fueling fires of Western alienation. But unlike Mulroney in 1988, little of Harper’s majority is from Quebec (3.6%) and a larger share of his majority is from the West. Thus it is harder to make policy which is perceived by the West as unfair to them. Furthermore, Harper is a million times more Western in outlook than Mulroney the Quebecker ever was. Given that it is hard for governments anywhere to last more than ten years, and considering how Harper will never break popularity records, the 9-year old Tory government in 2015 will probably lose unless the next four years are spectacularly good for them. So Harper needs to govern in a way which allows the Tories to win or do well without winning in 2015. Therefore, talking about the gays isn’t a way to do that, and Harper has the brains to know that.

The NDP is established as the Official Opposition, and that is a good thing if they were no others. The NDP is the face of the opposition, and has gained immense credibility as the alternative to Harper. As the Liberals collapse, they established themselves as the main ‘progressive’ force and can continue to establish themselves as such in the next four years. Furthermore, if the NDP’s Quebec caucus does a good job, the NDP could very well establish themselves as the federal party of choice in the province and even transform Quebec into their stronghold similar to the way in which Quebec was the Liberal stronghold between 1917 and 1984.

The NDP’s caucus is in majority from Quebec, which makes up 56.9% of its bench. The NDP, dead in Quebec since the days of the CCF, must now adapt to the sudden reality of having a majority of its caucus from a province where the NDP wasn’t worth much prior (if anything) to 2007 or so. In the past, the NDP had been wracked in Quebec by the question of whether they were federalist or nationalist. That was downplayed a bit this year, and Jack Layton used nationalist-lite rhetoric in some ways. But a good number of its MPs are probably quite ‘sky blue’ (the colour of nationalism in Quebec), and talks of asymmetrical federalism abounds in a province which may not want independence anymore but which will always have a vast majority seeing itself as different from the rest of Canada. The NDP must conciliate that with its older Anglophone MPs.  The NDP’s Quebec caucus is also heavily made up of paper candidates, random students and activists and inexperienced freshmen. Ask Mario Dumont, whose ADQ bench in 2007 had the same makeup, how that turned out. That is a major challenge to the NDP: proving itself to be up to the task, competent at its task, and able to be a real alternative capable of winning power and governing. The NDP should also remember that Quebec works in floods, in that voters are prone to throw everybody out (as they did this year) in favour of something new. Finally, the NDP must also transform the Laytonmania of 2011 into a stable, strong voting base for the NDP no matter the leader.

What’s bright for the Liberals? That they didn’t collapse to 2 seats like Kim Campbell in 1993? Probably. In reality, the only thing which helps them is that they have four years to do something and get their act together. A tall order for a party which has been in free fall since 2006. By consequence of the Tory majority, the Liberals don’t need to face the choice of supporting a Harper or Layton minority. If it gets a new leader who is wonderful, and the party proves itself to be competent and capable in an unforeseen way, they can hope to return to previous heights. But that isn’t likely.

The signs of Liberal collapse started in 1984, were temporarily halted in the 90s, and became extremely pronounced in 2006/2008. In 1984, the Liberals lost the Quebec base which had been crucial to the party since 1917. It didn’t hurt them a lot, because Chrétien managed to get Ontario to replace Quebec as the Liberal base after 1993. But with right-wing unity, Ontario-as-Quebec couldn’t last, and it didn’t. In 2006 and somewhat prior to that, the Liberals lost their solid base with non-Quebec Francophones and Catholics and their remaining rural strongholds (except Protestant Newfoundland!). Starting in 2008, it lost its solid base with visible minorities and immigrants. This year, it lost minorities, most of what it had left in Quebec and its margins of defeat in its old strongholds grew even worse. Fortress Toronto-905 is no more, the West Island Fortress is leaking water everywhere and the party is practically dead in the Prairies and BC. Part of this year’s defeat is the culmination of the old trends, all made worst by an awful campaign under a bad leader. That isn’t a good thing for a party.

As for the future, the Liberal caucus is one of heavy personalities. Brison, LeBlanc, Dion, Trudeau, McGuinty, Rae, Goodale and Fry are all prominent personalities whose presence in such a small caucus could lead to the old Liberal infighting of the past. The Liberals have no clear leader capable of leading the party into brighter days. Rae is the top contender, but suffers from his record as NDP Premier. Trudeau is far too young and is probably overrated. McGuinty suffers from association to his brother. LeBlanc is a competent, articulate person but it remains to be seen if he can be the leader the party needs.

A NDP-Liberal merger is much talked about. Ignatieff is opposed, but he’s gone so nobody cares. Rae is obviously very open to such an idea. Though policies difference may not be huge, there is a difference in culture and tradition between the two. The Liberal base of the West Island, for example, is not one which has much in common with the Quebec NDP. Furthermore, federal politics hasn’t worked on a strict two-party basis since 1921, and it just seems wrong that federal politics – in Anglophone Canada especially – would work out on a two-party basis given that it never really has worked out that way since 1921. And never forget that such a new merged party wouldn’t work out in the NDP+Liberal votes added all together and boom, permanent majority. The Tories learned not to add PC and Alliance votes from 2000 together in 2004.

The Bloc’s brightest hope is the much speculated possibility that a Conservative majority which is absolutely not reliant on Quebec for anything might make policy which Quebec doesn’t like. Quebec doesn’t like Harper much (the feeling is probably reciprocal), but if Harper’s policies alienate Quebec it could lead to a rebirth of nationalism. Add to that the possibility that the NDP screws up in Quebec, and nationalism could be rekindled. But it’s also a tall order, requiring a perfect storm and assuming a lot. Harper probably can’t afford to tell Quebec to screw off, but could get away with a policy of ‘benign neglect’ which he practiced in this campaign. Remains to be seen if that is enough to rekindle nationalist spirit.

The Bloc might also die. It doesn’t qualify for official party status with a paltry 4 MPs, and none of its four current MPs except perhaps the old Plamondon are leadership material. Nationalist passion might die out federally, and, as it was in the 1970s, focus all its efforts on provincial politics and on leading the PQ to power in 2012/2013. If the NDP does a good job and maintains its Quebec base, the Bloc has very little future given that the NDP would, a la Mulroney, take the nationalist-lite vote and pure laine vote which the Bloc had gotten since 1993.

The Greens have an MP. That is very good for them, and though one isn’t much, it gives them an increased media presence and more political weight than ever before. The Greens could also benefit from Liberal collapse, feeding off dwindling Liberals leaving the party but unhappy with the NDP as an alternative. But the Green vote collapsed this election, victim of May’s elect me and nothing else strategy.  If federal politics do evolve towards a left-right struggle, its vote may be squeezed hard in such a situation.

That feels like rather decent for a quick roundup of stuff and patterns at work. I may add more as time goes by, but that’s it for now.


Posted on May 4, 2011, in Canada. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Lyn David Thomas

    It does rather show up the lottery like nonsense that FPTP gives you in a multi party democracy. Would be interested to see if there is any agitation for electoral reform.

  2. Very nice analysis. Your explanations of the results are very useful, since Canada has a long history of extremely sudden and radical swings that seem unexplainable for foreigners, which was again confirmed.

    Of course we have different views as for what will follow, but you presented every possible outcome very well.

    Generally speaking, this election was extremely interesting and I’m curious to see what will happen in the next 4 years.

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