Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Canada Votes 2008

By Michael J.W. Stickings


For reasons related to my work, I generally don't blog about Canadian politics. I don't even think I've mentioned the 2008 federal election at all.

But today, October 14, Canadians went or are going to the polls to vote for their representatives to the federal House of Commons, the lower house of our federal Parliament. Again. For the fourth time in less than eight years. And for the 40th time in our history.

I voted a few hours ago in my suburban Toronto riding. For the record, I voted Liberal.

At the time of dissolution, the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper held the most seats, but not a majority of them, in the House of Commons. In the 2006 election, it won 124 of 308 seats. The Liberals were second with 103, the Bloc Quebecois (a separatist party that only runs candidates in Quebec) third with 51, and the left-wing New Democrats third with 29. One independent won a seat. The numbers have changed a bit since then, with the Liberals losing a handful of seats, but the Conservatives have governed with a minority since the 2006 election.

Although there is fixed-date election legislation in place that requires elections to be held every four years, Prime Minister Harper was able, not without some controversy, to force the dissolution of Parliament. Needless to say, what he wants is to win a majority of seats and so to be able to govern (i.e., pass legislation, etc.) without having to rely on the support of any of the other parties, or individual MPs, in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives have been well ahead in the polls throughout the election campaign, which has lasted for just over a month, but the gap has narrowed. It no longer looks like they will secure a majority. They need 155, but they will likely end up in the 130s. The Liberals, performing weakly under a fairly weak leader (Stephane Dion, whom I supported for the party leadership in 2006), will finish second, but the NDP, led by Toronto-based Jack Layton, should finish a strong third outside of Quebec and the Greens (which have never won a seat) look to do well, for them, at least in terms of the overall popular vote (Elizabeth May, the party leader, is trying to unseat a well-known Conservative in Nova Scotia, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, but she will finish second at best in her riding). The BQ could see a reduction in its seat total.

For more on the election, see the Wikipedia entry here.

CBC will have all the results here. Polls closed here in Ontario at 9:30 pm. Polls in B.C. and the Yukon remain open until 10:00 pm. Results are already slowly trickling in.

It looks to be a long, long night.


10:14 pm - It's still very early, but the numbers don't look good for the Liberals. The Conservatives are currently up 121 to 75, even winning a seat in Prince Edward Island, usually a Liberal stronghold. The BQ is leading in 40 ridings, the NDP in 27. A majority may still be unattainable for the Tories, but they could reach the 140s.

I'll be back with updates throughout the evening.

10:20 pm - The Conservatives have reached 126, which is the number of seats they held at dissolution. I keep thinking there's no way they can pull off a majority, but...

I'm getting more and more worried.

10:27 pm - The NDP, as expected, is doing really well, elected or leading in 30 ridings. Much of this has to do with Liberal weakness, but Layton has also emerged as an especially strong leader. Meanwhile, the BQ seems to be underperforming in Quebec.

The CBC has a fun interactive map here.

10:35 pm - Obviously, the major party leaders have all won their individual seats. Former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, once a New Democrat and now a Liberal MP from Toronto-Centre, has won, too. One key question will be whether Dion holds on to the Liberal leadership or not. He's been extremely ineffectual. He's smart, and has a solid environmental record and platform, but he's a terrible communicator, more awkward university professor than dynamic political leader. Should he step down, or be forced out, the two top candidates to replace him would likely be Rae on the left of the party and, on the right, noted author, professor, and international relations theorist Michael Ignatieff, who holds a seat in the southwest area of Toronto -- or, rather, has held one and will hold it still after tonight.

10:43 pm - The Conservatives are up to 142 (leading and elected).

10:45 pm - Remember, this is all about single member ("first-past-the-post") ridings, not the popular vote. It is generally the party with the most seats in the House of Commons that forms the government. And even leading and elected in 142 ridings, fairly close to a majority, the Conservatives have only won just over a third of the vote, currently 36.64 percent. The Liberals are second with 28.49 percent, the NDP third with 19.48 percent. The BQ only has 7.46 percent of the vote nationally, but of course its vote is concentrated in Quebec, where it is currently leading or elected in 47 ridings.

10:48 pm - The CBC has just predicted a minority Conservative government. It will be a larger minority, but, still, at least not a majority. I had hoped for a somewhat stronger performance from the Liberals, but, overall, I can't be too unhappy with this result.

12:08 am - Alright, well, it's all been predictably anti-climactic. The Conservatives won a few more seats than expected, the Liberals collapsed into an even more distant second, and the NDP made some solid gains. What happens now is unclear: Will Harper be able to govern effectively with his new minority? Will there be pressure on Dion to step down? If so, will he? Will the three opposition parties be able to unite on ad hoc bases to repel some of Harper's more adventurous Conservative plans? How will all four parties respond to the financial crisis, one that has deepened over the course of the campaign? Is consensus, or at least majority consensus, possible with respect to the issues that are now front and center for Canadians, including the economy, Afghanistan, and the global warming?

12:12 am - The Globe has more here.

12:14 am - One thing to keep in mind. Although the seat totals favour the Conservatives -- now at 143, with the Liberals trailing at 77, then the BQ at 49, and the NDP at 37 -- popular support for Harper's party remains well below 40 percent. Which means that the overwhelming majority of Canadians continues to prefer the liberal-to-moderate parties (the centrist Liberals, center-left NDP, and center-left (for the most part) BQ) over the Tories. Canada remains, in essence, a liberal-progressive country. What is different now is that for the second straight election the Conservative have beaten a weak Liberal Party, traditionally Canada's major governing party, and a divided liberal-progressive opposition. Once again, the Conservatives won even though most Canadians are against them.

To me, the NDP and the BQ have reached, or almost reached, their respective ceilings. If the Conservatives are eventually to be beaten, then -- perhaps in four years, perhaps sooner -- it will take a re-energized, rejuvenated Liberal Party. And I'm just not sure Dion is the right man for the job. He had his chance, he disappointed, and it may now, or soon, be time to move on, to Rae or Ignatieff. (I'll take Rae.)

For now, though, we must accept what was, going in, the likeliest of outcomes, another Conservative minority. I don't see any point in wallowing in defeat. It's over. And the effort must now be, for the Liberals, on being again the loyal but determined opposition in the House of Commons, and on rebuilding. The next federal election, after all, may be upon us before we know it.

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  • Michael, when was the last time any party had a majority in the HoC?

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 11:02 AM  

  • The Liberals had a majority under Chretien and (briefly) Martin from 1993 to 2004. Chretien won three majorities in a row (1993, 1997, and 2000). Martin then won a Liberal minority in 2004. Harper has won back-to-back minorities in 2006 and 2008.

    There isn't really a norm, though there have been majorities more often than not. Mulroney won majorities in 1984 and 1988. With the exception of a Conservative minority win in 1979 under Clarke, Trudeau won four elections between 1968 and 1980, winning three majorities. The exception was 1972, when he won a slim 2-seat victory over the Conservatives. Even in 1979, though, the Liberals still won the popular vote by a wide margin.

    Trudeau's Liberal predecessor, Pearson, won minorities in 1963 and 1965.

    Harper's Conservatives have a fairly strong minority now, though, and with the focus on the economy and with the Liberals in disarray, or at least facing what could be a contentious leadership race (should Dion drop out or be pushed out), they'll have a bit of a honeymoon. And it's not like the three opposition parties like each other all that much. As long as Harper doesn't over-reach, they likely won't put up a united front against him.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 11:16 AM  

  • Thanks, Michael. I took the liberty of posting your response at BBWW to answer my question about majorities.

    By Blogger Mustang Bobby, at 11:24 AM  

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