Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Thoughts on a bittersweet election

Let's get one thing straight: Stephen Harper may have won a majority government but the majority of Canadians did not vote for Stephen Harper.

The majority of Canadians (more than 60 percent of us) voted against Stephen Harper. The Conservative Party did not win a majority government because the majority of Canadians support the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party won a majority government because the majority of Canadians split their vote on the left.

The numbers in this election tell a very important story: 39.7 percent of Canadians voted Conservative; 30.9 percent voted NDP; 18.8 percent voted Liberal; 6.1 percent voted Bloc Quebecois; and 4.5 percent voted for something else. That means more than 60 percent of us voted against Stephen Harper. The majority of us voted for change.

But we shot ourselves in the foot. We split our votes between the NDP and the Liberals. And, in turn, the NDP and Liberals canceled each other out and sent votes to the Conservatives. In the riding of Scarborough Centre, for example, the Conservative candidate won with about 13,400 votes. But if you combined the votes that were evenly split between the Liberal and NDP candidates in that same riding you'd end up with more than 23,000 votes against the Conservative Party. In the end, this vote splitting is how the Conservatives built their majority.

Still, it was a momentous night for both the NDP and the Green Party. The NDP made a huge leap to second place, winning more than 100 seats and forming the Official Opposition. The Green Party now has a seat in the House of Commons for the first time in Canadian history. This is huge. And it is very exciting. I'm elated to know the NDP will hold Harper accountable on social justice issues. I'm overjoyed to know the Green Party will be in the House of Commons to speak up on environmental issues. I feel like shaking a bottle of champagne and spraying it all over the room.

Watching the election results come in was quite the wild ride. I was shocked to see Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lose his seat to the Conservatives (I was sure he'd win by a comfortable margin). I was also shocked to see the destruction of the Liberal Party and the collapse of the Bloc Quebecois. Of course, you can't write either party off entirely. Parties crash and burn and rise again. In the 1993 election, the Conservative Party dropped from a 154-seat majority to just two seats. But they managed to claw their way back into power. There's no reason the Liberals can't do the same thing.

So where do we go from here? I think the main challenge is for Jack Layton to be an effective Opposition leader. He has to make sure the "orange wave" keeps surging forward, especially in Quebec. He has to make sure the party's popularity stays high.

Because we now have a majority government, we won't have another election until 2015 (election law dictates that a majority government has a four-year mandate to govern). So we're stuck with a Conservative majority for the next four years.

In the meantime, I think we need to talk seriously about merging the left. A recast NDP that includes Liberals is probably the surest way to defeat Stephen Harper in the next election. I don't want to head toward a polarized two-party system like they have in America but we have to do something about all of this vote splitting.

The next four years will be a critical test for the NDP. If the NDP and the Liberals decide not to merge, then Jack Layton is going to have to do a bang-up job as Opposition leader. He is going to have to convince Canadians that he'd be a better prime minister than Stephen Harper.

Stephen Harper just has to continue governing the same way he's been governing all along -- disrespecting the democratic process, tightly controlling the message, restricting journalists' access to information, ignoring the environment, trashing our international reputation, freezing foreign aid to Africa, cutting corporate taxes, buying fighter jets, beefing up prisons, loosening environmental regulations, and generally just putting competition ahead of compassion.

The deeper Stephen Harper corkscrews us down into this cesspool, the better Jack Layton is going to look. Maybe we'll be ready to elect an NDP prime minister four years from now.

The election may have ended tonight but the real work begins tomorrow.

No comments: