Well the results are in, and as expected the Conservative Party of Canada has won a minority government. It will take a few days for the dust to settle and the recounts to be over and done with until we know their exact margin of victory. As it stands now though the final tally of seats is: Conservatives 124, Liberals 103, Bloc Quebecois 51, New Democratic Party 29, and one Independent.
The biggest news of the night may not be the results, but the fact that Liberal leader, and now former Prime Minister, Paul Martin has announced his resignation. Although there was speculation that he would not run again as leader if the Liberals lost, his resignation so soon after the results were finalized is surprising.
Although the Conservatives picked up a few seats in the Toronto Metro Area, the numbers were not sufficient to make any serious inroads into the traditional Liberal power base. They did pick up an additional 12 seats, and the N.D.P. also picked up 5. The Conservatives held on to their rural Ontario seats, and took some from the Liberals, but it was the N.D.P. who benefited the most from the soft Liberal vote in Ontario
Where the Conservatives picked up seats was Quebec. They managed to take eight seats away from the Bloc Quebecois and two from the Liberals. Whether this was simply a protest vote against the Liberals, or the beginnings of a trend towards supporting a federalist party that will guarantee more provincial rights remains to be seen.
In the Maritimes the situation remained virtually unchanged with only two seats changing hands, from the Liberals to the Conservatives.
On the Prairies nothing much changed from the last election, save for the Conservatives solidifying their hold on Western Canada. They completely swept Alberta, the home province of the former Alliance Party; won 13 of a possible 14 in Saskatchewan with one seat going to the Liberals; and in Manitoba the results look to be identical to last election at Conservatives 7, N.D.P. 4, and Liberals 3.
British Columbia, where polls closed last in Canada, will decide what the final size of Harper’s margin of victory will be. Although as of 12:40 am E.S.T. with all the polls closed for well over an hour now, things look to be close to final. At dissolution of the house the Liberals only had eight of the 36 seats, and the N.D.P. five so the only way the Conservatives had to go was up.
This was the Conservative party’s chance for a major breakthrough across Canada. The Liberals were beset by scandal and the public was ready to make a change. Liberal leader Paul Martin was widely seen as inept by the majority of the country, while Steven Harper of the Conservatives looked solid and dependable.
Polls leading up to the election showed them with leads as large as twelve percent of the popular vote, which would have translated to a majority government. But in the end they could only muster 36% of the vote compared to the Liberal’s 30% and the N.D.P.’s 17%.
This can only be seen as something of a disappointment for a party that had hopes of forming a majority government at one point. In fact even the size of their minority is somewhat less than anticipated. In order for them to pass any legislation they will have to garner significant opposition support for their programming, which will limit their effectiveness as a government.
The Conservatives will be hard pressed to find common ground with either the Liberals or the N.D.P. on much of their agenda unless they are willing to modify elements of it radically. Approaching the Bloc Quebecois at this point would be seen as an extremely cynical manoeuvre considering their rhetoric of the campaign about aligning with separatists.
The question now is whether or not Steven Harper and his Conservative party will be able to do anything with their election win of any significance. Their best bet is to try and accomplish as much as possible as early as possible while the Liberals don’t have a leader. They won’t be in any hurry to have an election until their new leader, whoever it maybe, has a chance to settle into office.
That should give the Conservatives about a year to show Canadians what they can do in government. Although I don’t think that means they should be able to count on being able to force through anything contentious like anti-abortion legislation or massive spending cuts to health care and other social programming.
The smartest thing they can do is enact some safe legislation that will make people comfortable enough with them that the scary Conservative label becomes hard to play in future elections. If they are able to do that, they give themselves a healthy chance at a majority next time around.
The next year or so promises to be an interesting time in Canadian politics, with lots to watch and talk about. The big question being, who will the Liberals find to replace Paul Martin? But there’s also the fun of whether Steven Harper will be able to keep some of the more extreme elements in his party quiet. It’s one thing to keep them under wraps for an election, another all together when they’re in power.
Either one of those items could cause the pendulum of power to swing back again to the Liberals. If Alexander Trudeau is ready to take up the reigns of the Liberal party, picking up the mantle of his late father Pierre, or the Conservatives spend the next year shooting themselves in the foot, the Conservatives could see all the gains of this election vanish in the blink of an eye.