Canadian Election Results: What They Mean and What Comes Next

As the polls accurately predicted, Canada punished the Paul Martin Liberals for sloppy administration (allowing a small group of party stalwarts to steal taxpayers’ money for the party and to line their own pockets) and for the most astonishly inept election campaign in history (one might almost think their campaign managers and ad firms wanted them to lose), and half-heartedly elected the opposition Conservative Party with a minority win. Martin himself has resigned. Summary results:

% votes
% votes
Liberals 135 37% 103 30%
Conservative 99 30% 124 36%
NDP 19 16% 29 17%
Bloc QuÈbecois 54 12% 51 11%
Green 0 4% 0 5%
Total 308 308

If we had proportional representation like more enlightened countries, the Liberals would have 92 seats, the Conservatives 111, the NDP 52 and the Bloc 34. There would be 15 Greens in parliament. So what happened last night is that 6% of the population, one out of 16 Canadians, decided to punish the Liberals and voted Conservative instead. Not exactly a conservative mandate, 36%, when all four opposition parties are left-of-centre. I know quite a few of these moderate switch voters, and I know they are going to be surprised at what Harper does next.

The Conservatives are thirty-one seats shy of a majority, so they will not be able to pass any legislation without support from either the Bloc or the outgoing Liberals. The Conservative strategy will be very similar to the one that the Liberals have most often used when they were in a minority government position: Press forward with legislation that they want, but which is moderate enough that voters won’t want another election to be fought over it, even if they don’t really like it, and dare the opposition to vote against it and force an election. The Conservatives clearly believe that the 6% increase in their support represents momentum that they can use to win a majority in the next election, which will allow them to introduce their more radical right-wing agenda: Curtailing of rights for women (e.g. right to choose), minorities (e.g. gay marriage), opting out of Kyoto, and embedding ‘property rights’ in the constitution (which will entail the unlimited right to pollute, abuse animals and maintain weapons on one’s own ‘property’). What they will do first on their ‘dare to force another election over this’ agenda will be tax cuts for the rich (a promise they certainly made to the Big Oil interests that bankrolled their hugely expensive election campaign). Harper was a great fan of Reagan and likes the discredited idea of ‘trickle-down’ economics — lavishing huge government gifts on the ultra-rich in the hope that maybe a bit of their excess wealth will trickle down to the little guy. They are also committed to much more defence (that’s how we spell it in Canada) spending and opting in to Bush’s loony, ineffective and absurdly expensive Star Wars program. And in another promised act of bribing taxpayers with their own money, he will cut the federal sales tax (GST) from 7% to 5%. This will be papered over with some ineffectual ‘get tough on crime’ bills and a new law to reduce the risk of corruption in government, which will create more work for auditors but otherwise accomplish nothing. All of this will cost a fortune, and, like Mulroney, the last Conservative prime minister, Harper will get Canada out of the black and into the red — watch for huge deficits during Harper’s administration. 

My guess is that these first acts will not bring down the government. The first stumbling bock will be the plan to cancel the Liberals’ extensive national child care program and replace it with a small tax credit program. The Liberals will be opposed to that, and Harper will have to bribe the separatist Bloc to get them to go along with it. Watch for a set of significant transfers of power and more money to the provinces as a sop to the Bloc in return for passage of this. Or Harper may agree not to take sides on a 2006 or 2007 referendum on Quebec sovereignty in return for Bloc support on the child care rollback (Harper actually received a small majority of non-Quebec seats in yesterday’s election). Harper used to be a Western separatist and, like the Bloc, sees a limited role for the federal government other than national defence.

Then it will get interesting. With Paul Martin having resigned, the neocons have the chance to put one of their own at the head of the Liberals as well. Michael Ignatieff, an opportunist with dangerous right-wing views (he supports a ‘lite’ form of American imperialism as necessary to enable democracy in struggling nations, and approves of the use of torture to extract information and confessions from prisoners) has rushed back to Canada (he had been living in the US as a Harvard professor) and last night won a comfortable victory as a Liberal in a safe Toronto riding. He was parachuted into this nomination by the Liberal party establishment, to the outrage of the local Liberals, whose own candidate was forced out. He is now the odds-on favourite to succeed Martin as the next leader of the Liberal party. If (when) this happens, Harper will have the chance to introduce some of his more extreme right-wing agenda items. My prediction is that Ignatieff’s victory, and his subsequent support of some of Harper’s very un-liberal proposals, will cause mass defections to the NDP from Liberal ranks, and create just the crisis Harper needs to try for a majority in the next election, probably early next year. Just as the moderate Conservatives were swallowed up by Harper’s right-wing Reform Alliance party, the moderate Liberals could then be swallowed up by the more progressive NDP.

If the referendum in 2006 or 2007 ends in Quebec separation (which I think is reasonably likely) we might then face an election in the ‘rest of Canada’ with two polar choices — Conservatives or the NDP.

Ugh…this is all too ugly to think about. Mulroney and now Martin: What is it about Canadian politicians from big business backgrounds that they screw up entrenched 150-year-old political parties so badly they destroy them?

Well, I have been working on a proposal to introduce tax shifting in the federal government, from employment and income taxes to taxes on production from non-renewable resources, pollution and waste. Now we have a prime minister determined to abrogate Canada’s support for the meagre Kyoto Protocol, maybe it’s time to work on my novel instead.

What progressive Canadians can do:

  • Demonstrate in the streets against Canadian participation in Star Wars — and have the damning facts about this wacko proposal so critics can’t argue you’re ‘just anti-American’.
  • Get your opposition MPs to oppose tax cuts that will put Canada back into deficits — most Canadians are opposed to stealing from their children.
  • Before he gets too cozy with the US neocons, keep reminding Harper (and the media) that the US still owes us $5B in illegally diverted duties on lumber exports — a theft hundreds of times larger than that pulled off by the handful of corrupt Liberals in the scandal that allowed Harper’s win.
  • Join the Liberal Party and find a candidate, any candidate who can beat Ignatieff as the next Liberal leader. I’ll offer my recommendations next week.
  • Get your MP, of any political stripe, to support an independent bill to introduce proportionate representation in federal elections.
  • Until proportionate representation is introduced, consider getting the NDP and the Greens to merge into one party.

Once again, wherever you look, voters seem doomed to repeat past mistakes, and the parties and media seem determined to keep them uninformed. And you wonder why I am so often pessimistic about our future.

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7 Responses to Canadian Election Results: What They Mean and What Comes Next

  1. Dave says:

    Re: If we had proportional representation like more enlightened countries…I live in South Africa and we have proportional representation in our national, provincial and municipal elections. It is a dud, as there is simply no accountability. Maybe in mature democracies it can work, but here, in order to get rid of incompetent and corrupt ministers and MP’s, you have to vote the whole party out. With the ANC commanding in excess of 67% of the voters, the slippery slope into dictatorship is looming. Even when our deputy president was named in a court case as having a “generally corrupt” relationship with an arms supplier, he had to be fired (as opposed to resigning) and despite being subsequently accused of rape, he is actively campaigning in our upcoming local elections! “The people” are not part of the process in proportional representation – at least in our neck of the African jungle.Thanks as always for your insightful articles – I’m sure I think about them for longer than you do to write them!

  2. James Samuel says:

    further to the MMP comment – we in NZ have had it for a few years, but with a no obligation to disclose where election campaign funds come from, it is just as liable for corruption. I see a swing to more ‘conservative’ government in the next round (3+ years away). As Arundhati Roy noticed, “everything is up for sale, and the men in suits are in an unseemly hurry”. Whether MMP or not, the form of “government” where the few make decisions for the many, only works because we as the populations allow it and are too blind and passive to do anything different. I was much more lifted by the earlier post that pointed to an Anarchic model [in the truest and enlightened interpretation of it]. We could do worse that ask more questions, enact less willingness to go along, require more and open discussion of alternatives, and hold up a vision of a brighter future.

  3. Rob Paterson says:

    DaveI would back Ken Dryden. In my dealings with him I find him decent and brave.He is also is intelligent without being cerebial – would he not run well in rural Ontario? Even in parts of the west?MI will be seen as being too smart and too TorontoAm I of base?Rob

  4. Peter Bodo says:

    I welcome the opportunity rising for the NDP. The reason is that I strongly support cooperativism as I think the best for of business in a sustainable world (local production, strong community, etc.). Of course merging with the Greens is a good idea. Of course I have not much stake in this issue, since I am from Hungary. But Canada was always the good example for me in many respects. I trust the Canadian people will recognise that Harper was a mistake to elect.What about a left wing coalition? Is it completely impossible? p

  5. Rastfan Empbar says:

    Your comments concerning what you think Harper will do are nothing more than biased opinion. More doom and gloom without basis. Not worth reading really.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    ‘Dave without a last name’: That’s really scary. Your country has accomplished so much so fast it’s dismaying to think it could yet all be lost again. What a terrible lesson that would be! P.R. does seem to work well in Europe, though, except in the minds of uncompromising extremists who don’t like consensus building.James: Very well put! You need your own blog so we can read more of your thoughts and ideas.Rob: I think Dryden would be a contender, though I don’t know his positions well enough to say which parts of his party’s base he would draw. What do you think of McKenna?Peter: To some extent Liberal Minority governments (there have been several) are left-wing coalitions. I really like minority governments because they prevent excesses and demand consensus-seeking.Rastfan: Neither are your comments. Neither are your comments. Neither are your comments.

  7. Jon Husband says:

    Dang .. we got caught between a rock and a hrad place, and I liked your observation comparing the impacts of Mulroney and Martin.I suppose (probably just wishful thinking) that as Bush gets more and more discredited, and if there is some financial crisis globally due to the US all-out reliance on credit, that perhaps canadians may force another election sooner rather than later, as Harper shows his true hand.I think I would support McKenna, but need to bring myself up-to-date on his perspectives, proposals, agenda. I do not want Ignatieff to ever be Prime Minister, or even influential. He is dangerous in all the wrong ways.

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