Now that the dust has settled, and all the obvious points have been made, I’d like to take a minute to dissect the federal election that happened on Monday.
In this election, 30 new seats were added to the House of Commons, totaling 338 seats. The Liberal Party gained 150 seats from the 2011 election, winning a majority government with 184 seats. The Conservatives had 99 seats, losing 60, and the NDP won 44, losing 51. The Bloc Quebecois won 10 seats, gaining 6, and the Green Party stayed steady with 1 seat.
To start, let’s look at the 3 third-place parties.
The sole Green seat was won by the party leader, Elizabeth May, who will likely hold her seat until she gets bored of Parliament or the people of Saanich and the Gulf Islands grow tired of her. The Green Party may pick up another seat in Parliament by adopting an MP thrown out of his or her party for discipline problems or possible malfeasance, as it has done twice before. Barring a miracle, there are few signs that it will ever elect a large number of MPs.
At first glance, the Bloc winning 2 1/2 times as many seats would be a troubling reversal of its march to extinction. But there are three points that indicate otherwise: (1) the popular vote for the Bloc went down by about 70,000, from 889,000 votes in 2011 to 818,000 in 2015; (2) they still fell short of the 12 seats needed for official parliamentary party status, denying them a large amount of funding, which, combined with the abolition of the per-vote subsidy, continues to starve the party of resources; and (3) Gilles Duceppe, the only strong leader the Bloc has had in nearly 20 years, was again defeated in his riding of Laurier–Sainte-Marie by the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière (for which she truly is an unsung heroine in the pantheon of great federalists), and then Duceppe again resigned as leader, which means that the Bloc will go through another round of leadership races, intrigue, retribution, infighting, defections, and general destruction of morale.
A lot of attention has been paid to the implosion of the New Democrats. From a first-place seat in the polls in August it plunged into an abysmal showing: its Maritime caucus was wiped out completely, as was its caucus in the GTA outside of central Hamilton. Most damning of all, it went from 59 seats in Quebec to a mere 16. (The Tories, by contrast, went from winning 5 seats in Quebec in 2011 to 12 seats this time.) Party stars and stalwarts like Megan Leslie, Peter Stoffer, Peggy Nash, Pat Martin, Dennis Bevington, Wayne Marston, Andrew Cash, Paul Dewar and Nycole Turmel had the rug seemingly pulled out from underneath them. And so far, Thomas Mulcair has not resigned as leader, which is usually expected when a party is beaten like this.
(Meanwhile, oddly, several of the most egregious “paper candidates” that were elected almost by accident in Quebec in 2011 survived: Pierre-Luc Dusseault, elected as MP for Sherbrooke at the age of 19, was returned to his seat; as was Berthier–Maskinongé’s Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the barmaid at Carleton University who never set foot in her riding before 2011 and spent a week of her first campaign in Las Vegas; as was Matthew Dubé of Beloeil–Chambly, a member of the “McGill Four”, a quartet of twentysomething undergrads elected around Montreal. The other three – Lauren Liu, Charmaine Borg, and Mylène Freeman – were defeated.)
But here’s the thing: this election was the second-best showing in NDP history. Before the Orange Crush of 2011, the best the NDP had ever done was 43 seats under Ed Broadbent in 1988. Thomas Mulcair deserves some credit for keeping the lightning-in-a-bottle charisma of Jack Layton from evaporating completely, and it may just be that going forward, though it may stay in 3rd place, the NDP will be able to consistently raise caucuses of 30 to 50 members, rather than the 10 to 30 members it was used to mustering before Jack.
And now the big two, and the questions everyone is asking: How did Trudeau do it? And how didn’t Harper?
For Harper, appropriately, I think a Bible verse sums it up, from Proverbs 16: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Harper, though he may have kept the country out of disaster, had been in charge for 9 years, and history has shown that serving any more than 9 or 10 years is reserved for only the most exceptional of our prime ministers: it has only ever been accomplished by Macdonald, Laurier, King, and Trudeau the Elder. It has to be admitted that Harper, crafty statesman though he is, is not quite of that caliber. Harper believed his presence was necessary for the salvation of Canada. In the public’s eyes, he had done nothing of great enough importance to overcome all the little things that turned people off. It was the natural time for him to go, and if he would not go himself, the nation would send him away. Other than a general enmity with the man himself, and a mounting nebulous sense of xenophobia emanating from so much niqab talk, the Conservatives didn’t seem to be any more hated than they usually are. Perhaps the Conservative platform, had it not had Harper attached to it, could have won at least a minority government: the Globe and Mail seemed to think so. And we’ll find out if it can in about 4 years.
Trudeau’s appeal, conversely, can be summed up with a different line from Proverbs 16: “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” Trudeau was all peaches and light throughout the campaign, always sticking to the central theme that the Liberals would not merely work to stave off disaster, but actively try to make the country a better place. It looked even more positive when contrasted against the Conservatives, who spent an awful lot of time talking about what a disaster the other parties would be. And Trudeau had one big thing that Harper could not have: potential.
Whoever was going to win this election was going to face an uphill battle: commodity prices are down, housing prices out of control, student debt is untamed, mechanization and outsourcing eating into the job market, the Navy is a mess, the post office in crisis, railways in decline, roads and bridges crumbling, airfare costs too much, phone and Internet service giving poor value for money, veterans slighted, indigenous persons aggrieved, long-term theoretical science research ignored for short-term industrial concerns. Trudeau may not have a mind big enough to solve these problems, but as long as he’s got a good heart and enough sense to listen to people who know what they’re talking about, one of Canada’s greatest gambles just might see some payoff.