The People Have Spoken
It was a bittersweet result in the election last night. The most important thing to me was to deny Stephen Harper a majority government. Most of the polls indicated that it would be a minority but they were wrong. The polling numbers were not all that wrong but they failed to predict how the distribution of seats would turn out. This is hard to do in a multiparty system.
Some seats are efficient with votes and the win is just by a few votes and other riding get a win with a large number of votes for the winner, which is inefficient. Popular vote levels do not measure this. As it turned out with vote splitting between the Liberals and New Democrats and the abandonment of the Liberal party for the Conservatives and not the NDP, the Conservatives got more seats than expected. I won't comment more on this except I grieve for the damage the Conservative Party can wrought on Canadian culture. They intend to drag the social and political culture to the right so that the Conservatives are the centrist party, which most often forms the government, the position held by the Liberals historically. Years ago Stephen Harper said he wanted to destroy the Liberal Party so that Canada would be a more or less two party State with one on the right, the Conservatives and one on the Left. This is now the New Democratic Party as the Official Opposition. Perhaps, sometime I will write about why I think the Conservatives are so dangerous to Canada. Even with there victory here they still are only supported by 40% on Canadians. Such is the nature of our "winner take all" multiparty system.
The sweet for me in this election was the unbelievable expansion of the New Democratic Party.
I have supported it all by life. In it's 50 year existence it has been the conscience of the parliament, a gadfly and often a power broker in minority governments, when it held the balance of power. It dreamed of some day being a governing party but saw that happening a long way down the road. There was a time when it was a feared "socialist" party. Many years ago, it abandonned it's more radical socialist ideas such a nationalizing major industries and moved to the right. (I have personally never been happy with this but I continue to support it as the best choice) In doing this it crowded the center which was occupied by the Liberals and to some extent by the old Progressive Conservatives. In the years since, attitudes have changed and people have become more accepting of the New Democratic Party, particularly when many provinces have had good NDP governments without the sky falling in.
Well something happened that was unexpected and will transform Canada and the NDP. The people of Quebec, decided they wanted to participate in federal politics by supporting a federal party rather than continue to park their vote with the regional separatist party the Bloc Québécois. Gilles Duceppe put it in terms of Quebec wanting to give Federalism one more chance. It was as if they decided with one mind all of a sudden.
The NDP had been working for and hoping to make inroads in Quebec for many years. Quebec is very social democratic in it political and social culture. They finally won one seat in a by election a while back. They were hoping to gain two or three more this election. That would have been a hopeful sign and a beginning to build on. The NDP only ever got a couple of percentage points in the popularity polls in Quebec so there would be a long process of gaining acceptance.
Dramatically, as if out of no where a CROP poll reported that the NDP was polling higher than the BQ. This was two weeks before the election. One April 21, Justin Trudeau, a Liberal MP from Quebec, was informed of the results of this poll and his reaction was that the NDP would get only their one seat and there was some doubt about that. I am sure he wishes he could take his remarks back. Such denial!!
He was not the only one. Even the NDP could not believe their good fortune. They were still talking about a great victory of maybe 6 seats. The polls continued to hold and hope rose but it all seemed unreal. No one could predict how it would translate into actual seats. The NDP always ran a distant third. Well when all was said and done the NDP won 58 seats and reduced the BQ to a rump of 4 from their 43, in the last parliament. They also reduced the Conservatives from 11 to 6. This is more seats than the BQ ever had in its hay day.
The growing enthusiasm for the NDP was contagious and other parts of Canada saw increasing support for the NDP. There was great hope for 80 seats, an historic high. The most they had ever gotten was 43 and there was a time they had so few they almost lost their party status.
At the writ coming down the NDP had 36 seats. Well the results in Quebec and in other places in Canada saw the NDP end up with 102 seats, beyond belief, let alone expectations. The Liberals were reduced to 34 seats. The leaders of the Liberals, Michael Ignatieff and the BQ, Gilles Duceppe lost in their own ridings and resigned as the head of their parties.
I have been wondering about who these 58 Quebekers are who did not expect to win and now find they are members of parliament. Parties often find candidates for ridings where they cannot win who are just filling a space. This is where women used to get a chance to run. They are not serious candidates. Where a party has a chance to win they find a well qualified person with a lot of local recognition who has been involved in local politics or agencies of change or help. Well virtually all the Quebec NDP candidates fall into this category. They had no expectation of winning. They may even be new to the party. Most probably have not met the leader Jack Laydon. He in turn knows little or nothing of them.
The new Quebec MP's for the NDP will probably not fit the usual mold of a member of parliament. I began to search some of them out. I wish I could find a place that listed them and their biographies. So far they seem to be teachers, social activists in their communities, trade unionists, civil servants. There is one woman who is a young nurse who had served in the military. There is a retired teacher. There is a young woman concerned about rescuing abused animals. there is a brick layer, . etc. Ther are four university students; one only 19 years old. There are some quirky situations too. There is the young woman, an assistant manager in a restaurant, who decided to go to Las Vegas prior to the election date. She also does not speak much French. There may be others who do not speak much French which is required and expected in that Province. There is the Martial Arts enthusiast, a federal researcher and former member of the Communist Party. He defeated an important Conservative cabinet minister. I have not found many businessmen or lawyers. Thank God!
Most seem to be fairly well educated and young. I did read about a 71 year old woman who won and no one seem to be able to locate her. (I trust they did not run any dead people. That would be embarassing). Many of these candidates are women. The NDP encourages women to run. The NDP will have 40 women MPs more than all the other parties combined. (This is good). Parliament will definitely have a different look, at least on the Opposition side.
It will take a great effort to get the new NDP member in shape to serve. They need to get to know everyone else in the caucus. They need to learn how parliament works and how to organize an office with a staff. Some may find themselves taking French lessons. Usually, an experienced parliamentarian is assigned to mentor a new MP. with only 36 or less (we lost two NDP member here in Northern Ontario) each experienced parliamentarian may have two of more inexperienced MPs to mentor. It will be a busy time for all. I wish them well and we should be glad there is a majority government so that there will not be another election for at least 4 years. It will take that amount to time to turn a large inexperienced, never before Opposition party, into a solid credible effective unit. ( A good place to find the statistics on the election is here.)
PS: I was pleased that Elizabeth May finally won a seat in parliament after three tries. She is the first and only Green Party member. I like her. She will make a distinctive contribution to the Ottawa political scene. I hope the NDP mentor her a little. She will end up with a seat in parliament with the four rump member of the PQ, in the wilderness.