Canadian Election 2011: Instant Analysis (before reading the morning papers, anyway)

There will be lots of talk about this or that epoch changing development. That’s great for pundits, but we need only look back to the ADQ’s recent victory and then subsequent demise in Quebec politics for a cautionary tale. The New Democrats have a chance to really become a major force nationally, but that is an organizational challenge that will (or won’t) be met over the next four years. Yesterday’s election merely means they have a chance.

The New Democrats’ rise to official opposition also means two other lines of commentary will be everywhere:

1. They will be blamed for Liberal losses and “vote splitting” in Ontario. While it is true that in some ridings the combined vote for NDP and Liberal candidates would have handily beaten the Conservative candidate, it is not clear what people actually mean by vote splitting. Since many liberals would not vote for an NDP candidate and many NDP voters would not vote liberal, I don’t see how one party can be blamed. Also, since the NDP is the official opposition, isn’t it the case that the Liberals are sapping their numbers rather than the other way around? And for those who still believe the antidemocratic line about liberals being a “natural governing” party, there should be some concern about Conservatives encroaching on that territory.

2. There will be much talk in English Canada about how Quebec voters repudiated the politics of the Bloc Quebecois and have “rejoined the federation” or somesuch silliness. If NDP fans need to take a cautionary tale from the right wing ADQ, Bloc haters might well take a cautionary tale from the Progressive Conservatives, who were also “eliminated from federal politics” once in recent memory. How did that work out long term? Granted, the party was reorganized, but still. Moreover, last night’s Anglo CBC commentators who claimed separatism was done-for clearly haven’t been following Quebec politics very closely, with the Parti Quebecois set to unseat the provincial Liberals in the next election. Maybe it won’t happen, but if it does, independence will be a major topic of discussion. And Quebec’s political difference from the rest of the country, as outlined in yesterday’s election, will be a topic of conversation for quite some time.

Of course the real story is Harper’s new conservative majority and what it will mean. I only briefly lived under any majority government in Canada (after arriving in 2004 before Martin returned with a minority) and so I don’t have a good sense of what it really means, as opposed to what people say it means. Certainly my experience of mandates in the US seems pretty irrelevant for gauging federal Canadian politics. It certainly means that we’ll have nine years of Stephen Harper, which is longer than I lived under any American president. And he’ll have a lot of time to put his agenda into place.

There is talk of how the Conservatives are “good for business” in the press, and my left friends seem to see him as an Americanizer (yes, that’s meant as a bad thing). For me, the jury is out on both counts. The Canadian Conservatives have a different style and operate at a different register than American Republicans to my eyes, even though some of the results might be homologous. And the “good for business” thing seems an outright lie to me. They will be good for the rich, certainly, but sometimes what business most needs is regulation. Canadians–even Conservatives–are smug about how the banks didn’t go down during the financial crisis the way they did in the US and elsewhere. That was the result of regulation, and nothing else.

On a personal level, I can at least be fairly certain that I will be able to cast a vote in the next federal election. A small consolation, but meaningful to me.

One reply on “Canadian Election 2011: Instant Analysis (before reading the morning papers, anyway)”

  1. 1) Re: vote-splitting, it’s really something that will be difficult to parse overnight. Each riding is its own unique case study. For e.g., there’s no way Martha Hall Findlay would have lost her seat had the NDP candidate not gotten nearly 10,000 votes (a jump of over 4,500). But then again, that 4,500 jump could probably be attributed to the lack of Green candidate and should you really expect that candidate to jump to the Liberals before the NDP?

    It does put into perspective the right-wing calls of vote-splitting in the 1990s/2000. There’s ALWAYS been the NDP to potentially eat into the Liberal vote… it just didn’t mean as much when there was counter-splitting on the other side. The Libs-NDP combined for roughly 47% of the popular vote in ’93, 49% in 1997, 49% in 2000, as compared to a Tory-Reform blend of 35%, 40% and 37% respectively. The “left” (such as one imagines it) was always significantly ahead percentage wise, they just so happened to get a split that broke in favour of left-centre. Now, with the “right” doesn’t have to deal with any splits at all. If you identify as right-leaning in Canada, you vote Conservative, it’s just that simple. It’s not that simple if you identify anywhere from centre to left.

    2) re: the inverse argument of the Liberals sapping the NDP…that depends on how comfortable Ontario will get with the NDP in the next four years. Ironically, the biggest knock against Bob Rae for the leadership race was that he’d “be a disaster in Ontario”…..and now look what happened!

    If Ontario still has predominantly middle-of-the-road voters that wouldn’t touch the NDP with a ten foot pole in four years, then the NDP will probably still be seen in 2015 as they are now: a party with just enough surge to get in the Liberals’ way but not nearly enough to be taken seriously in Ontario. And seeing as Ontario is where the seats are at, that would spell good news for the Tories.

    3) I don’t think the majority of CBC commentators were writing off separatism. To the contrary, I think many of them were stating that this could be the most dangerous result of all for federalists.

    4) The Conservatives are “good for business” line doesn’t wash to me. Fiscally, Canada was considered a model G8 country long before Harper ever came into the saddle. As you point out here, for all of their faults, the Liberal Party’s (comparative to American counterparts) tougher stance against banks is probably as much if not more to thank for Canada’s economy not tanking as hard during the 2008 economic crash.

    The GST tax cut struck (and strikes) me as utterly senseless and accomplished little other than taking a few cents off of Smarties (whoopdedoo) and if the goal was to encourage spending on larger items, continued cuts into income tax (which the Liberals had already begun) would have accomplished the same thing.

    What’s striking about Harper’s electoral success is that he projects a rather “creepy” persona according to many but it’s that cold-heartedness that actually plays into his “good for business” image. Whereas other political leaders concern themselves with presenting an image of being “for the people,” the undercurrent of Harper’s rhetoric is one of stability: “Hey, if I don’t ever blink and if I’m unfazed by every allegation, even those that are true, it must mean that I’m terribly EFFICIENT.”

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