Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A few observations on Canada's election on May 2

   It is the morning after the night before. Canadian voters have finally given Stephen Harper the majority government that he has craved all his life. Polls had projected the possibility of official opposition status for the New Democratic Party, but everyone, including Jack Layton, was pleasantly surprised at the number of seats that the NDP earned yesterday. They almost tripled their seats, largely by almost eliminating the Bloc Quebecois. The NDP also won many new seats in Toronto, where my own riding went NDP.
   What few people expected was the Conservative's sizable majority. What worried me, even before the orange  tide washed across Quebec, was the possibility of vote splitting elsewhere in the country. I watched the Conservatives win many seats in Atlantic Canada. In many ridings the Liberals and NDP apparently split the left of center vote, and as a result the Conservatives shot up the middle and won their coveted majority.
   The Liberals were decimated in this election. Many voters, who had traditionally voted for the Liberals, deserted the party in droves. Some indeed voted for the NDP, but others feared a NDP majority and voted Conservative. This also contributed to the Conservative majority.
    Most worrisome for me last night was the polarization of politics in Canada. Chantel Hebert wrote about this in the Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/984493--hebert-no-common-ground-left-in-the-commons?bn=1.
   Hebert describes Harper as the most Conservative prime minister in Canada's modern history, and the NDP as Canada' most left-leaning party. But she warns that if Harper continues his trademark "take-no-prisoner" approach in the new Parliament, he might face the same fate as Brian Mulrony's Tories did in 1993. Only five years after winning a second majority, the Tories were almost wiped out.
    In the past pundits observed that a majority government was impossible in Canada as long as the BQ held so many seats in Quebec. The PQ, with only four seats left, has been largely eliminated. And thus the Conservative majority became possible.
    While I am very disappointed by this majority, mostly because of Harper's behavior in the last Parliament, I console myself with the thought that many friends and family members voted for the Conservatives. They are very happy this morning, even though other friends and family are as disappointed as I am. We can live together, I hope. But we may have to avoid talking about Stephen Harper or Jack Layton.
    One thing that does please me this morning is the thought that, while Canada has become more polarized, no lives were lost in this election, unlike in other countries like Nigeria. The leaders of two political parties did resign. In both cases, they lost their own seats. But neither they nor any followers died. That is good news.
    PS In a future posting I want to examine the first-past-the post electoral system in Canada, where the Conservatives can enjoy a majority with only 40% of the vote. This is too big a topic for today.

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