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History Repeating Itself As Farce

(If you're not interested in Canadian politics, I suggest just skipping this entry. :P)

Well, I'll be damned.

Welcome back to the moment in history that made me a supporter of electoral reform to address the issue of vote-splitting. Only this time our "far too few votes" got, instead of Jean Chretien's "friendly dictatorship" of a majority government elected with, which could at least enact its agenda, another minority (if a lot closer than I expected or like), and another year (more likely two-plus) of partisan bickering from all corners, Conservative parliamentary disruption manuals (along with John Baird and Pierre Polievre, who are walking disruptions in and of themselves), and the Liberal opposition rolling over on anything important because they're afraid of facing the electorate until they break out the knives next spring and get someone besides poor Stephane Dion in the big chair, before another election where even fewer people will vote than the 58 percent that came this go-around. So, you know, more of the same.

But Harper, I think, can't be entirely happy. He had the best political situation he's likely to get for a while - the left-wing vote as split as the right was back in the 90s, along with an earnest but completely out-of-depth opposition leader pushing an ill-timed (if necessary) change - and still managed to throw away a majority by a bare twelve seats. I won't say there's nowhere for him to get a majority in some future election, but with an economic downturn on the horizon (along with the looming specter of energy prices), circumstances are not in his favour.

Even so, I don't think he'll leave (as some were suggesting on the CBC last night.) Harper doesn't have an Ignatieff, a Rae, or a Kennedy in the background, or various "anonymous conservatives" spouting to the media with knives out - so he can look a lot more like a leader (which won him this election), but it also means that without him, the CPC and the conservative ascendancy in Canada are in dire straits. So Harper should end up staying on.

But Dion will be even less happy than Harper, to lose nearly thirty seats (from losing 4% of votes at that). Currently, he's putting a brave face on, but his days as Opposition Leader are numbered: he's going to eat more than his share of the blame for initially pushing the Green Shift, and generally for not being any of the two or three other people that were supposed to win the last Liberal leadership.

So off they go to another convention and campaign they can't afford, without addressing the actual problem they have: their utter failure to adapt to the new political financing rules (that favour parties like the CPC and NDP that can count on grassroots support, instead of old-school political machines like the Liberals.) They need to figure out what sort of party they're going to be, and reinvent themselves like the Conservatives had to after their infamous post-Mulroney flameout. There's room for a centre-left party in Canada, they just need to actually stand for something that's enough to gather support. Dion tried with the Green Shift as a platform cornerstone, but he wasn't able to sell it (assuming it could be sold at this point in time), and he doesn't have a strong enough position in his party to put them behind it.

Now, for more convenient bite-sized thoughts:
  • I voted for the NDP again, and I'm happy to see them gain seats (those suggesting that the NDP and Greens played a Nader role, I will say again: fix your leadership, or fix the system - don't assume that anyone left of Stephen Harper is obligated to support you.) Jack Layton should be happy too, and he probably is. He didn't hit the Broadbent standard (close, though!), nor did he get into 24 Sussex or Stornoway, but either he's actually delusional or he was just putting on a show for the public in expecting to.
  • I'm especially happy that the Conservative strangehold on Alberta got broken in Edmonton-Strathcona, and that's not just because half my friends still live there. :D Congrats to Linda Duncan and her supporters. Perhaps it's a sign that Harper needs to look back over his shoulder at his base: when the West gets in, only to be muzzled while the government does much the same thing it always does in an effort not to rock the canoe and get tossed into the drink, perhaps the cycle needs to come around again.
  • Anyone who ever thought I should go into electoral politics, I'm going to point you at Stephane Dion when I explain why this will never happen. I felt a pang of sympathy when that disastrous CTV interview came out last Friday, because I would probably have done the same sort of thing with a hypothetical - try and pin down the specifics so I can make a better answer. But this doesn't play well on TV. In general, I like Dion best of anyone who could possibly lead the LPC, (leaving entirely aside the comedy Justin Trudeau option) but he's never going to win a national election unless Stephen Harper eats a live baby on TV or otherwise has to depart the scene. 
  • The comedy Justin Trudeau option actually did win his seat in Quebec (good show on his part - it was a tough riding with a popular Bloc incumbent). We'll see where he goes, going forward, but I suspect that any leadership campaign on his part would be fraught with difficulty just because of the appearance of him playing on his name rather than any actual qualifications to lead the LPC or the country.
  • This is going to lead to a whole new round of "unite the left" speculation, which is an unavoidably good tactical idea that makes a two-party system a near-inevitable result of a first-past-the-post system, but if I was asked "are there two parties that fit worse together than the PCs and Reform", the answer would be "the NDP and the Liberals." Since neither of those two parties is in a position to actually swallow the other like happened in the CPC, expect no movement on that front.
  • Note that the voices decrying this result are only rarely the same voices that were decrying the Chretien results I mention above. A movement for electoral reform has to come from the bottom up, because established powers rarely have an interest in changing the system (even the finance rules that so changed the political dynamics in Canada only got passed because Chretien was on his way out - and possibly because he wanted to leave a land mine for Paul Martin to step on, but either way it wasn't out of a principled desire to hamstring himself.)
And now, time to go live the rest of my life that doesn't revolve around elections. :)


( Walk among 3 shadows — Cast a shadow )
Oct. 15th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
I voted NDP too, but since I live in Calgary, my non-Conservative vote didn't count. It was pretty sick. I think in my little SW section, the conservatives had something like 38,000 votes, and the second spot had the Green Party (!) with 6,000 votes. (Which actually surprised me, they beat out the Libs in one or two ridings in Calgary).

It's just sick that it cost all this money, and nothing changed. And I think they really need to fix their voting system, because it sounds like a lot of people were turned away - first time student voters especially.

..Oh god, is this our Florida 2000?
Oct. 15th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)

..Oh god, is this our Florida 2000?

Not really: more like we've had a succession of smaller electoral injustices over the past twenty years or so.

Nothing changed mostly because nothing was ever going to change: the BQ's outsized influence makes it more or less impossible for anyone to form a majority with them around, unless they have a lot more support in the rest of the country than anyone's likely to get with votes going in three or four directions, and the various problems the party leaders have getting people to like them.
Oct. 16th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
Actually, if they wanted some serious challenges they would unite the Greens and the NDP. Those two are drawing from a nearly identical base and a Green Democratic Party led by May would do a damn fine job at the polls.
( Walk among 3 shadows — Cast a shadow )