Well, in my post a week earlier I said my predictions almost always turn out wrong, so I wasn’t surprised, or terribly disappointed, by the election results. For the record, I predicted a Conservative minority. In the final week the polls indicated a strong Liberal swing to the vote and this turned out to be an accurate reading. Overall, I thought the Conservatives ran a dreadful campaign, while the other parties just waited for the tide to come in. In the event, I didn’t vote Liberal myself, but I’m glad to see the end of Stephen Harper.
I’m sure more will be added to the already large literature about Harper in the years to come. I’m still not sure why someone who was by most accounts aware of his deep personal unpopularity insisted on re-branding the federal Conservative party as the “Harper government” (and the “Harper party” in the words of the Globe and Mail this morning). In the words of John Ibbotson, “No prime minister in history and no political party have been loathed as intensely as Stephen Harper and the Conservative party.” But the two didn’t have to go together.
It’s one thing to want to rule as an autocrat, as a “party of one” in the phrase of Michael Harris, but to be so in-your-face about it is another. Perhaps it was all part of Harper’s divisive game plan, to pander to his base while repelling everyone else. If so, it was a strategy that backfired. As I said in my earlier post, Harper’s base politics can only work given certain conditions, like a divided opposition in a first-past-the-post system. He enjoyed that for his entire tenure, but the Anybody But Harper vote undid him this time (as well as undoing the fortunes of the NDP). This leaves the federal Conservative party vulnerable. As Jeffrey Simpson commented just a few days before the election:
Conservatives have their voters – their core – and that’s it. Their core isn’t large enough to win again. . . . When Rob Ford and his brother Doug are organizing a late rally for the party in Toronto, and the federal party thinks this is just fine, the message is clear: The party is down to its hard core.
It didn’t have to be this way. Canada is, in many ways, a conservative (small “c”) country. But the party’s leadership has been hijacked in the twenty-first century by angry freaks. Stephen Harper like Tim Hudak in Ontario, or even Rob Ford in Toronto could have been a more successful, effective political leader if he’d just been moderately reasonable. But being reasonable isn’t what any of these guys signed on for. They preferred to play ideologues and idiots (or actually were ideologues and idiots). Not one of them could be considered, and this is an important quality for a politician, normal. As I also indicated in my earlier post, the same thing can be said of the current Republican field in the United States. The right has spent years pandering to its base. That base now holds it hostage.
As far as the election around here went, the Liberal candidate won handily. One thing that surprises me, looking back on the last two elections, is the end of canvassing. In the last provincial election the only party that sent people door-to-door was the Green party (and that wasn’t the candidate himself but a volunteer from out of town). This year none of the candidates, or representatives from their party, came through my neighbourhood to knock on doors. None! And I only received two telephone calls in the lead up to the election. Do candidates no longer have the resources to do this kind of thing? What else are they doing with their time?
Moving forward, I’m not confident that the Liberals will provide much in the way of new ideas or leadership. One hopes for competence at best. Still, I’m interested in how a couple of issues that came up during the campaign will be handled. First, the Liberals declared that they were against the first-past-the-post election system. Now that they have a majority, will they backtrack on that? Second, the Liberals have also said that they want to “reform” the Senate (I’m all on board). This will be harder to effect, but I think would be a popular move. That said, I don’t expect any meaningful changes to be made to the current system.
I guess another way of saying this is that while Justin Trudeau’s governing style will likely be much different from Harper’s, I question how far apart he will be on substance. This isn’t being cynical, but is more just a reflection on modern politics, where it is very hard to effect real change. This is a problem, because in at least some ways this country should be looking to change direction. In ways that count, I don’t think it will.