Welcome to Harperland; Tory majority tackles jobs, economic growth
On April 30, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated his 51st birthday.
But perhaps the greatest birthday celebration for King Stephen came two days following, on May 2, when the Canadian electorate renewed its incumbent leader with an upgraded majority government.
As polls closed on the night of May 2, the results were clear: Canadians have given a vote of confidence to Harper and his Conservative government.
“We’re asking Canadians for a clear majority so we can focus on business and the nation’s economy,” Harper said during the April 12 national leaders’ debate.
Ask and you shall receive. Not a bad end result for an election that the Conservatives, and the Canadian voting public, didn’t want—marking the fourth general election in the past seven years—and one that was pushed by the former Opposition and its leader Michael Ignatieff in a failed attempt to gain power.
Ignatieff’s desire for change wasn’t met by the voting public who, at its core, voted for what matters most: jobs, lower taxes, economic growth and, among the hotly debated issues of the election campaign, healthcare.
“We’ve made it very clear that we support Canada’s system of universal public health insurance. Many provinces have been experimenting with private delivery within that model, which is very different than privatization of the system. We want to see how we can ensure that we get better and clearer outcomes for the dollars we are all spending,” Harper said, illustrating his fiscal prudence. “As much as Canadians value our system, it has challenges, and I think everyone wants to see it perform better, but this is not to question the fundamentals of the universal public system [of health insurance]. That’s what we all believe in, in this country.”
The polls have spoken
When polls closed, the Conservatives climbed to a majority, from 143 seats, passed the 155 threshold, to 167 representatives in the House of Commons. It’s the most seats held by the right wing party since Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives in 1988, then holding 169 seats.
“Canadians have chosen hope and we will govern for every Canadian including those who didn’t vote for us,” Harper said during his victory speech. “All the lessons of the last few years, holding to our principles, but also adapting those lessons that have come with a minority government, we must continue to practice as a majority government.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting twists of the electoral outcome was the surging New Democratic Party, led by the charismatic Jack Layton. The ‘orange wave’ picked up volume in the final days leading up to the polls. The result? Decimation of both the Liberal Party and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which both lost 43 seats, falling from 77 and 47 seats, respectively. The current stand sees the Liberals hold 34 seats and the Bloc Quebecois a meagre four.
The nail in the coffin was that neither party leader, Ignatieff of the Liberals nor Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois, succeeded in winning his own riding. To note, in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ignatieff was defeated by Conservative MP Bernard Trottier, losing by nearly 3,000 votes. In Quebec, the collapse of the Bloc Quebecois included the fall of Duceppe, who lost his riding by nearly 5,400 votes. The Laurier—Sainte-Marie riding is now represented by New Democratic Party MP Helene Laverdiere. Such a loss, the Bloc Quebecois crashed below the 12-seat minimum to be considered Official Party Status in the House of Commons.
It marks embarrassing defeats for the two parties. The once-dominant Liberals fell to their worst showing in party history, less than the previous low of 40 seats it held under short-tenured leader John Turner in 1984. Both leaders, Ignatieff and Duceppe, have since announced their resignations and the two parties will now be left to restructure and rise from the ashes. They’ll have plenty of time, considering that now with a majority government in Harper’s back pocket, the next fixed election isn’t for quite some time, in October 2015, a refreshing break from the polls for Canadian voters.
What it means: For the New Democratic Party
While the focus is on Prime Minister Harper’s support growing to a majority, the emergence of the New Democratic Party, and leader Layton, whose message truly touched base in the lead up to May 2, particularly in Quebec, where the NDP grabbed a staggering 60 seats from the former Bloc Quebecois stronghold, cannot be ignored.
“In this campaign, the NDP promised to get Ottawa working for you and your family. Canadians responded in record numbers all across the land,” Layton said from the podium, acknowledging the NDP support that will see House of Commons representation grow from 36 seats to 102 seats, adding 66 seats for its strongest showing in party history.
“I have congratulated Stephen Harper for his victory. It is an achievement that is remarkable and he has a great responsibility. I wish him good luck and I’ve told Mr. Harper that I’d be happy to work with his party to obtain concrete results and to discuss the different means to obtain results for Canadian families,” Layton said. “Canadians have asked the NDP to take on more responsibility in Parliament. For the first time in our history, we are asked to serve as Canada’s official Opposition. I’ve always favoured proposition over opposition, but we will oppose the government when it is off track.”
Layton also acknowledged the ‘orange wave’, something the mustachioed leader attributes to the youth vote. “Young Canadians are a source of hope for our country’s future. We can build the Canada we want, worthy of the hopes and dreams of those young Canadians, who said ‘no’ to the politics of usual, and ‘yes’ to a Canada where anything is possible.”
What it means: For the Liberal Party
“At least we get into government. You’ll be in opposition forever!” Ignatieff retorted during the national leaders’ debate, a statement Layton classified as a characterization of the Liberal Party’s “sense of entitlement.”
Layton’s newly acquired official Opposition status is all too deserving. Consider this: Layton will settle into Ignatieff’s former home, Stornoway, Ottawa’s official home of the Opposition leader, while Ignatieff now eats his words.
But perhaps most impressive of Ignatieff’s collapse is that he indeed finished worse than 2008 embattled Liberal leader Stéphane Dion who, like Ignatieff, resigned following defeat. Considering how soundly embarrassed Dion was in 2008, and for Ignatieff to finish worse, truly symbolizes the disenchanted, out of touch state of the Liberal Party. Those remarks of entitlement were all the more evident in Ignatieff’s concession speech.
“Democracy teaches hard lessons and we have to learn them all to read the lessons that the Canadian people have taught our party tonight,” Ignatieff said in his swan song. “Leaders also have to be big enough to accept their responsibility for historic defeat. Defeat is a teacher. I’ve learned more from it than from the victories I have achieved. I’m very proud of what we tried to do. We tried to run a different campaign. We were open to all issues.
“I will always remember the passion, imagination, and courage that I saw across the country over the last six weeks. It was an unforgettable experience.”
The theme of Ignatieff’s concession speech was much like his campaign—contradictive, lacking in clear direction, wheels spinning in a muddled outlook.
“We have to be courageous enough to look at ourselves in the mirror and listen to the Canadian people. There was a longing for change, but unfortunately we couldn’t be the beneficiary,” Ignatieff said, then following with, “This party has a deep and ancient tradition. I see some tears in the audience tonight, but there should be no tears. There should be pride for what we fought, for what we believed, for our faith in the great traditions of this party.
“I will play any part that the party wishes me to play as we go forward, to rebuild, to reform the vital centre of Canadian politics.”
But can the red party really strive for reform when the failed pillars of the Liberals’ past success are so firmly regarded? Or is this simply another case of same old, same old from the Entitled Party? With a House of Commons now littered with rookie New Democratic MPs, including 19-year-old Sherbrooke, Que. elected Pierre-Luc Dusseault, perhaps an accelerated reform for the Liberal Party could be to reach out to the NDP and join forces in an effort to progressively supplement and unite the left.
“It’s very important for us to remember what we’ve always fought for…equality of rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and hope for all Canadians; a passionate commitment to national unity, a love of our fellow citizen and pride in our country, and desire to see it stand strong and tall on the international stage,” Ignatieff said. “These are essential, internal values of this party.
“I will not be remaining as leader of this party,” Ignatieff said, May 3, in a resignation statement, adding that a Liberal caucus will choose a new interim leader prior to May 11. “The surest guarantee of the survival of the Liberal Party will be four years of Conservative, right wing government, and four years of NDP, left wing opposition. I think, after that experience, Canadians will discover why you have a Liberal Party in the centre,” touching on his comments from the previous day, whereby his belief of a need for the centre was highlighted.
“We have seen, I think, the emergence of a polarization in Canadian politics. We have a government that will pretend to govern from the centre, and there is a risk that it will move the country to the right,” Ignatieff defended. “We’ll have an official opposition that will criticize from the centre but will possibly move the country to the left. That makes it all the more important to keep the vital centre of Canadian political life alive…that has been the historic role of the Liberal Party.”
No word yet on whether Ignatieff has packed a suitcase or two for a return to his comfy professing role at Massachusetts-based Harvard University.
“There must be someone out there, who looks at me and thinks, ‘He didn’t get there, but I will.’ I hope that person—I hope it’s a young woman—will hold true to that dream of public life and public service,” Ignatieff concluded. “It’s what I believed in. I was inspired by the people who went before me.”
What it means: For the Conservative Party
Speaking from the podium in his home riding of Calgary Southwest, Prime Minister Harper exclaiming, “What a great night!”, just after 11 p.m. Mountain time on May 2.
“Canada has a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government,” Harper beamed, also acknowledging those Conservatives candidates who were not successful in their riding bids, who “nevertheless made a real contribution to our great Conservative victory”, as well as the voting support, described as “our strength, our inspiration, and our conscience.”
To quote the Prime Minister, Canada can now turn the page on repeated elections and begin concentrating on the long term, begin answering questions, and focus on building a great future.
It’s right down to business for Harper and his fellow Conservatives, ready to put into place the Federal Budget, the same proposal that kicked off this first-past-the-post race when Parliament was dissolved in late March. Perhaps a refined budget will instead be implemented, carrying less fluff and more economic, Conservative realism. The budget’s implementation will focus on job creation and economic growth, without raising taxes, with the ultimate goal to reverse Canada’s deficit to a surplus by 2014-15.
“Travelling around our country, one gets a sense of its still greater potential. Nothing, not recession, not natural disaster, nor war, has stopped the rise of this country,” Harper said, concluding his victory speech. “There is a spirit in this land, the true character of the Canadian people.”
Back to the celebration. “[My staff] pulled me up to the room and made me pop champagne. After I said a few words, they wanted me to guzzle it out of the bottle and, as some of you may know, I’m not much of a drinker, but I did,” Harper joked. “But they tricked me, there was only about [an inch] in it so, so much for my wild side.”
See you in 2015.