The federal election in Canada this month changed the political landscape beyond recognition.
After two successive minority governments, conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper won his long-sought majority on a low-tax deficit-cutting plan and crime agenda, winning 166 seats out of a total of 308.
That in itself was quite a feat but the jaw-dropping results on election night provoked a seismic shift in the representation at the House of Commons, Canada’s lower chamber.
For the first time in history, the New Democratic Party (NDP), a social-democratic left-leaning party, became the official opposition in the House of Commons, replacing the Liberal Party of Canada which scored its worst political performance in history. The NDP grabbed 103 seats, up from 36, beating their own 1988 historic breakthrough of 43 seats. The Liberals dropped to 34 seats from 77, and the Conservatives gained 23 seats, dominating every region except Québec.
Now, two weeks later, we can reflect on what to make of all this.
It seems Canada was due for a change.
Released this week, an Ipsos-Reid poll reports that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party now commands approximately 40 percent of the Canadian public’s support, with the Liberal party’s popularity dropping 4 percentage points since the beginning of the month. Liberal support is now at 25 percent. This means that if elections were held today the Conservatives, a minority party, could gain a majority of the seats in the House of Commons.
The results come as no surprise to the polling firm’s head, Darrell Bricker: “the Liberals, these days, just have no traction at all.” Under Ignatieff’s leadership, the Liberals have been losing steam and are at one of their lowest levels of support since September 2008.
The Conservatives, while performing better nationally, have not gained ground in Quebec province despite falling popularity there for the Liberals. Instead, the Bloc Québecois has gained momentum, increasing support to 42 percent.
At the same time, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s strategy has changed from trying to bring down the current government to accusing the Conservatives of a partisan-bias when allocating economic stimulus funds.
Canadian voters have grown weary of repeated elections in recent years, with 54 percent of respondents indicating they would blame the Liberals and Ignatieff if a fall election is held. Fifty-one percent of respondents would be motivated to vote against the party solely for that reason.
Don’t adjust your set. Just when things were settling down on the Canadian election front, things are heating up again...
Under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership, the Liberal Party of Canada seems more determined than ever to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government.
Three weeks ago, Harper survived a Liberal ways and means motion in the House of Commons with the pro-independence, Québec-based Bloc Québécois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) as unlikely allies.
The vote not only kept the Conservatives in power but it also saved the Liberals from a likely bad showing at the polls. Undaunted, they signalled last week that they would try again to topple the Conservatives, saying the government doesn’t have the confidence of the House. But a non-confidence motion introduced in the House of Commons last week failed to win enough support.
But the trump card is in NDP Leader Jack Layton’s hands. After repeatedly calling for an election to shake out the Conservatives and after opposing their every move, Layton indicated that his party will support the government—at least until a more generous benefits package for the unemployed is passed into law.
Members of Parliament returned to work this week in pre-campaign mode. In just a few weeks—by the end of this month or early October—legislators and voters will know the fate of a possible fall vote. This would be Canadians’ fourth vote in five years.
Fuelled by election speculation, federal parties have reserved buses and planes and booked meeting halls. Discussions with television networks to organize leaders’ debates are already underway.
The man behind this frenzy: Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. At a Liberal caucus meeting in northern Ontario two weeks ago, he vowed to bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government at the first opportunity.
But the timing couldn’t be worse. Polls show Canadians are suffering from election fatigue. On October 14, 2008, they were thrown into yet another unwanted election, showing their discontent at the voting booths and with voter turnout at just 58 percent.
Last year’s election returned Harper’s minority Conservative government to power, winning 143 of 308 seats. Under Stéphane Dion at the time, the Liberal Party won a dismal 77 seats. The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) won 37 seats while the pro-independence Bloc Québécois, which only runs candidates in the province of Québec, elected 49 Members of Parliament (MP).
A year later, the political landscape has hardly changed. Polls show the gap is widening between the governing Tories and the Liberal Party with the Liberals losing support in vote-rich Québec and Ontario. The Bloc Québécois remains consistently on top in Québec followed by the Liberals. A recent Harris-Decima/Canadian Press survey reports that the Conservatives are at 34 percent voter approval and the Liberals are at 31 percent with the NDP hovering at 15 percent. A recent Ekos /Canadian Broadcasting Corporation poll also shows Liberal support is softening and Harper is increasing his lead with 34 percent support versus 31 percent for the Liberals.
Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff gave a speech at the Canadian Club of Ottawa today in which he criticized the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “giving up on Canada’s place in the world,” and allowing Canada’s international reputation to deteriorate to the point that “Canada is becoming the country that dares not speak its name.” Among other things Mr. Ignatieff claimed that Mr. Harper has ceded Canada’s responsibilities in Afghanistan, let trade with China and India falter and failed to stand up for Canadians abroad.
This week’s speech follows news on September 1 that the Liberals intend to topple the Canadian government, forcing Canada’s second national elections in less than one year. Since 2006, concerns that Canadians are weary of federal elections have allowed the Conservative party to govern without a majority of parliamentary votes. Today’s speech is part of a pre-election strategy for Mr. Ignatieff and a response to critics who claim the Liberal leader has not articulated his vision for the country.