20 Oct 2015

Election 2015 - Yet Another Post-Mortem

October 20th.  Canada has a new government.  A sea of Liberal red swept in, pushing out Conservative blue.  But this wasn't the expected result.  During the 78 day long campaign, the polls showed no clear winner.  What happened?  The results can't be due to strategic voting; some long-time NDP ridings, like Ottawa Centre voted in a Liberal MP.  Pundits and the electorate were expecting a minority government; if the Conservatives had the lead, the NDP and Liberals were expected to form a coalition.  Last night's results laugh at that potential outcome.  I'm not a political scientist, nor am I a pundit or even a pretend expert on Canadian politics.  What follows is my attempt to figure out last night's results.  My breakdown after the cut.

1) The Long Campaign
While I can hear some Americans snickering at the idea of 78 days being a long election campaign, the 2015 Canadian election was the longest since 1872.  Prior to that was the 1979 election called by then-Conservative Prime Minister Joe Clark, lasting 66 days.  The Liberals won then, too.  Canadian elections are at least 36 days long by law, with no maximums.

The long campaign was supposed to help the Conservatives.  They had the largest warchest to pay for their campaigning.  They bought ads in newspapers and on TV, with two types of advertising, attack and platform.  Both types had the same core problem.  The "Just Not Ready" ads attacking Justin Trudeau attacked the Liberal leader where the Conservatives were weak, in economic policy.  The platform ads with Stephen Harper trying to look warm and fuzzy* presented policy ideas that left viewers with the thought, "You had ten years to do this already."  The Conservatives just did not have enough material to fill the full 78 days.  Attacking a provincial government as Harper did with Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberal government comes across as mis-aimed.  The electorate does know the difference between federal and provincial roles.

The NDP started the election well.  They were coming from a high after Rachel Notley led the Alberta NDP to the provincial legislature.  The federal NDP may have led a similar Orange Crush if the campaign was shorter.  But Thomas Mulcair and the NDP lost steam and thus momentum.  The gains made in 2011 were lost, but they did keep some of their seats in Quebec.

The Liberals seem to be the benefactors of the lengthy campaign.  They were slow to start and benefitted from the Conservatives' attack ads.  If the opposition is willing to show their weakness, there's no need to spend money attacking them, too.  Instead, the Liberals built up a platform and explained it, moreso that the Conservatives explained theirs.  When the NDP ran out of steam, the Liberals were well in stride and kept the pace up to the end.

2) Voter Resentment
Back in 1993, the Progressive Conservatives, under their new party leader Kim Campbell, faced an angry electorate.  Two new parties, the Bloc Quebecois, a Quebec separatist party running at the federal level, and the the Reform Party, a Western separatist party running at the federal level, formed as a result of backlash against Brian Mulroney and the failed Meech Lake Accord.  The Conservatives lost, hard, going from record majority to just two seats.  Campbell received the blame, but voters weren't angry with her; they were angry with her predecessor, Brian Mulroney, for bringing Canada to the brink of crisis.

This past election didn't have the levels of anger from 1993.  It did have voter resentment that was simmering.  The Harper Government** didn't have a Constitutional crisis threatening the future of Canada.  Instead, it had small things all building up.  The muzzling of government scientists, especially when their research contradicted Harper Government policy.  Unconstitutional laws, including C-51, a so-called anti-terrorism bill that is so full of loose definitions that terrorism can be whatever the government says it is, and C-24, which introduced two-tier citizenship.  Scandals that involved Harper-appointed senators.  Mike Duffy's trial during the election couldn't have helped the Conservatives at all.  Election Act changes*** that were perceived as making it harder for people to vote against the Conservatives.  Dean del Mastro's convinction on Electoral Act violations.  Banning the niqab.  A record $1.3 billion deficit.  Sending Canadian troops to a war zone.  The long election campaign.  But the protests that occurred during the Mulroney years never materialized.

The Conservatives may have had a false sense of security.  The polls kept showing a three-way split.  In 2011, the Conservatives won a majority with less than 40% of the popular vote.  They could hope to try to do the same thing.  Except, this year, the Liberals did just that instead.  The Conservatives lost some seats held by cabinet ministers.  Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Minister of Veteran Affairs Julian Fantino are among the newly unemployed Conservative MPs.  Cabinet ministers tend to be long-time MPs, unless the party in power is relatively young.  Losing their seats is a message.

3) Quebec
In a Canadian election, there are two provinces a party needs to get a majority, Ontario and Quebec.  Ontario is fairly predictable; urban ridings tend to be Liberal with a few Conservative suburbs while rural ridings go Conservative.  Since 1993, Quebec is a toss-up.  There's no predicting how the province will go.  In 1993, the Bloq Quebecois swept through the province, maintaining a presence there that minority governments have had to work with.  At one point, the Bloc was the official opposition.  In 2011, the Bloc were tossed out in a wave of NDP orange, something no one could have predicted.  The Harper Government focused its economic policy on the Alberta oil fields, neglecting the rest of the country.  Quebec never likes being neglected.  With many of the provinces MPs being rookies, including one who was in Las Vegas during the 2011 election and returned home to find she had a new job****, Quebec's seats in Parliament were again up for grabs.

4) Strategic Voting
Tied to voter resentment above, there was an Anyone But Conservative tide building.  Voting strategically meant studying not just the issues but the polling results and seeing which riding candidate had the best chance of beating the Conservative running.  A shorter campaign, as mentioned above, would have seen strategic voting in many areas with polls tight.  Apparently, it happened at the national level instead.  Go fig.

What do I expect from the new government?  A return to a Canada that cares for its citizens.  A Canada that is an international leader in peace and in protecting the environment.  A Canada that doesn't ignore its scientists and researchers.  I have a wish list that I would like the Canadian Government to do once Parliament returns.

  • Repeal bill C-51 immediately, before it can be used.
  • Repeal two-tier citizenship before there's an expensive constitutional challenge.
  • Restore the long-form census.  Math matters.
  • Let the scientists speak out again.
  • Forensic accounting on the Harper Government's Canada Economic Action Plan to see where the money went.  Criminal charges, if warranted, would be a bonus here.
  • Cancel the XL Pipeline project.
  • Improve International relationships, starting with the US, Canada's biggest trading partner.
This morning, Canada woke up to a new government.  Voting appears to be up from 2011; early voting was well up from the previous election.  When the voters come out, change is in the air.  Voting isn't the end, though, but the beginning.  Casting a ballot is just the start of the democratic process.  The electorate must stay involved and not get complacent.  We, as Canadians, must make the effort to keep our MPs honest and answerable.

* Stephen Harper does not do warm and fuzzy well.
** Stephen Harper branded his government the Harper Government as soon as he got a majority in 2011.  He owns everything that happened since then.
*** Canada had observers watching the election as a result of these changes.

**** Ruth Ellen Brosseau, MP for Berthier-Maskinongé, was re-elect last night.  This time, she campaigned.

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