Or rather, 59% of eligible voters (13.59 million) in Canada vote for the other 32 million of us. We really have to work on that.
On October 14th, 2008, Canadians decided on another minority, Conservative government, but not necessarily in that order.
The end result was 143 seats for the Conservatives, 76 for the Liberals, 50 for the Bloc Quebecois, 37 for the NDP, 2 Independents and no Green Part seats.
Not quite the majority that Stephen Harper craved, but more seats than he had before anyways. Why didn't he get the majority? Well, it's been said that Harper's campaign had only two weaknesses that kept the majority out of his grasp; failure to capture more seats in Quebec, and the stunning success of Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams' Anything But Conservative campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador. Why was Harper unable to win seats in these two regions? For Newfoundland the answer seems obvious; the charisma of Premiers Williams and his influence on the decisions of voters on election day cannot be by any means underestimated. But in Québec, why did Harper's once strong numbers fall through?
The answer can be found in the examination of the policies pursued by the Prime Minister and how they were reacted to by la belle province. As anyone who lived through the referendum of 1995 knows, the Québecois are almost paranoid about protecting their language, rituals, and culture. The cuts to the arts in Québec of $45 million (a relatively pitiful amount by the standards of the federal budget) and bill C-10, which cut funding to films that were contrary to public policy, were highlighted by Bloc leader Gilles Ducceppe as a knife plunging towards Québec's heart. Because the sole purpose of the Bloc is to protect french culture; by separating if possible or a the very least keeping an eagle eye on the federalist parties; voters who may have chosen Conservative were persuaded to vote for the sepratists instead. This was in addition to the proposal by the Conservatives to allow youth aged 14 to be charged as adults for violent crimes, which was again highlighted by Ducceppe as an attempt to slice away the foundations of Québec.
The Liberal campaign was; in a word, disastrous. Leader Stephané Dion's choice of campaigning on the idea of a tax shift was risky at best, and although sound in reasoning failed to be explained to the public by Monsieur Dion. The tally of 76 seats is shocking, seeing as the Liberals are the naturally dominant party in the country, having recorded seats in recent elections in every province. The weakness of the leader and his inability to explain his platform resulted in the siphoning off of the red vote to the Conservatives and the NDP wherever swing ridings could be found, with a particular change noticeable in Ontario and British Columbia. The one plus to the Liberal campaign was the election of Justin Trudeau, son of the late Pierre of the same surname. With Dion stepping down as soon as Monday, party heavyweights such as Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae are sure to compete for the top red job, bringing new leadership and fresh ideas into a tired, struggling brand of politics.
Indeed it seems difficult to understand why the Liberals could possibly lose a campaign. Under Chretien, they handled the economy masterfully and eliminated an annual budget deficit of $43 billion, replacing it with surpluses that paid down our national debt and increased the amount of money that Canadians kept in their pockets. Dion himself was the dynamic author of the Clarity Act in 2001, having been appointed to cabinet by Chretien following the 1995 referendum to keep Canada unified. It was Chretien who gave a stirring address immediately following 9/11 to bolster morale and join the war on terror, and it was also Chretien who boldly stood up to be counted in defying the will of the United States in declaring war on Iraq.
Under the next Prime Minister, Paul Martin, John Gomery's uncovering of the corruption of the long-lived Liberal regime caused massive damage to the party's credibility in Québec, which was pounced on by the new leader of a bigger, better Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper. But when Harper was elected in 2006, he trimmed surpluses and spent more than any progressive Canadian government had ever before, so it is difficult to see why the Conservatives, who screwed the economy over in the 1980's and were working towards it again in the beginning of this millennium, were seen in this election as the better managers of our economy.
Again, it falls back on Dion and his failure to, for lack of a better and more cliché phrase, 'sell himself". Thus, the Liberals are reduced in seats nearly everywhere, The NDP increase seat count, and the only thing that prevents a Conservative majority is the agile politicking of Gilles Ducceppe and Danny Williams; who cashed in on Harper's insensitive image.
Enough griping about the Liberals. Lord only knows that they're getting plenty of that from...well, just about everyone.
Let's talk a little bit about the minor parties. I've already discussed Ducceppe's brilliant performance, but let's talk about the implications of it. Although this may be dampened by the economic downturn, the resurgence of the Bloc as a political force allows them the freedom to redefine their brand, and get back to their roots. Yes, I mean separatism. I will watch over the next decade or so with interest to see if the Québecois nation ruffles it's feathers again, or permanently morphs into a group that represents the interests of Québeckers as it has in the past few sittings of parliament. The future of the party is in question, but under Ducceppe faces a brighter future.
Then there's the NDP. Jack Layton is certainly the most dynamic leader, and perhaps the most radical of all the federal parties. His spending proposals smacked of classic socialism and the ideals of equalization, and he was able to sell himself far more effectively than any of the other leaders, essentially single-handedly strengthening a brand that has a far smaller traditional base than either of the other major national parties. Although cliché at times and too good at rhetoric at others, Layton is the best orator (in English at least), and most likely champion of the Canadian working class. He still faces the disadvantage of the crowded 'left-wing' of Canadian politics, and isn't nearly as dynamic or inspiring as we might like him to be.
Of course we can't forget Elizabeth May and the Green Party. With the best showing in history, the Green Party captured thousands more votes in a few ridings than it had in the party's entire history. One of those ridings happened to be the one that Elizabeth May was running in, where she garnered an astounding 12, 620 votes from the riding of Central Nova. Unfortunately, her chief rival Peter McKay, former leader of the Progressive Conservatives and popular minister of defense, got 18, 239, beating her by about 50 %. However, she did score a seat in the leader's debates in which she performed surprisingly well, and she managed to put forward her policies and topics in such a way that they stayed relevant throughout the campaign, particularly the issue of proportional representation, which was mentioned in CBC's coverage of election night several times.
Now you might be asking, what does this minority parliament mean for me, my family, and the economy?
Firstly, it means that when Harper summons the legislature, Canada will suffer terrible damage from the current economic downturn if the elected parties cannot work together to keep the ark that it our country afloat. It also means that any economic policies that are passed are more likely to represent the interests of a greater slice of the Canadian pie, because of the fact that any policy passed by this government must have the support of at least one other party. In my view, this is a very good thing, as it forces co-operation, discussion, and ultimately better governance. Slower governance maybe, but I would rather have a well thought out plan for the economy than a hastily constructed notion that I hope will work to save us from Bay Street.
Just before I close, I'd like to return to the idea that I expressed at the beginning of this post; the fact that Canada's 32 million people are being represented by 59 % of the people who can vote, about 13.5 million. Not only that, but the government, the Conservatives, received 36 % of that vote, about 4.3 million votes. That means that approximately one in every eight people decide how the rest of us are governed.
A little scary, isn't it? Now, seeing as membership in the political community of Canada is fairly mandatory, there's nothing one can really do about being ruled by the structure that's in place. But by voting, we can bring about a change in structure. If the Canadian people decide that they want proportional representation, they will elect a party that promises that in it's platform.
The only problem with this is that the society in which we live is pretty good, and no one sees any reason to change what we have. We're comfortable in buying the latest technology that the market has to offer, working in corporations for money so we can buy material goods, watching our favorite T.V. show on Wednesday nights (actually mine is on Tuesday - Rick Mercer is brilliant), and believing everything that the news tells us. We aren't being harmed, life is good, so why change it?
We just don't care. We see no reason why we should.
What's the solution? Ironically, our free market system might be creating one for us; crisis. If things do get bad and they need to be changed, then we'll conveniently remember our democratic right and exercise it promptly.
But until then?
Like Stephen Harper said: God Bless Canada.