GEORGE BROWN/Off the Record
Coming home late May 2 from a couple weeks of vacation in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and a newspaper convention in Vancouver, I was a little disoriented.
Even with the GPS I gave myself as a birthday present, I couldn’t find the country I left in mid-April. There was a seismic shift to the right and the middle of the road many Canadians enjoyed travelling on for so many decades seemed to come to dead-end.
Have we ever had a boring election night? Certainly we have endured dull campaigns but following the ticker after the votes have been counted is almost always exciting for one reason or another. While many media pundits were jumping onto the bandwagon as the drama in Quebec was unfolding and a majority Conservative government was being declared (everywhere except on the CBC) I did not encounter anyone who predicted the demise of the Liberal party and the decimation of the Bloc Quebecois.
For the better part of two weeks I was in an election blackout; American media didn’t seem to care that Canadians were going to elect a new government. They could be excused though if they thought it’s just something we go through every year. My news of the campaign came from following a few websites on my IPhone. Once we crossed Juan de Fuca Strait and disembarked on Vancouver Island we were assaulted by a collage of election signs. While many islanders don’t feel they have much in common with Canadians, they come by their interest in the New Democrats more honestly than Quebeckers.
In Eastern Canada the story from election night seemed to be more about NDP leader Jack Layton forming the Official Opposition than Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally returning to Parliament with a majority government. He’s the first westerner to lead a majority government since Diefenbaker 50 years ago. The Conservatives have all but one seat in Alberta and after almost 25 years, the cry from old Reform party leader Preston Manning that “The West wants in” has been answered. Forget about Ontario running the government — the new Conservative cabinet should reflect strong representation from the West.
Once Parliament is reconvened, Layton will inevitably stop smiling long enough to count the number of seats on the government side and realize that although the NDP nearly tripled its seats in the House to 102, miraculously, he has even less clout than he did in March. Layton now holds the lease on Stornoway but he used to hold the balance of power and could bring down the government on a whim.
The NDP surge in fickle Quebec was at the cost of the Bloc Quebecois. In a generation or so Quebeckers have gone from being a Liberal stronghold, to converting en mass to the Mulroney Progressive Conservatives, to electing separatists, and now they embrace the Orange Crush. For now.
This election saw the Conservatives shaving blue Liberal support from the Liberal phalanx and the NDP shaving support from red Liberals on the left — leaving the natural governing party a mere rump on the political landscape.
We’ll have four years (if the government lives up to its fixed election date promise this time) to see whether Canadians want a polarized House of Commons, whether the Liberals can re-emerge with a more appealing leader, and more importantly, a more appealing policy, and to see whether the prime minister can at least appear gracious as he pushes his agenda through Parliament without the need for opposition conciliation.
Harper must also realize that while he has a majority of the seats in Parliament, the majority of Canadians voted for opposition parties. The government can surely gently tug the country to the political right on issues such as the economy, taxation and less government spending but Canadians still want a government with a social conscience.
Canadians are like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. Turn up the heat slowly and maybe we won’t try to leap out.