The Liberals' historic defeat: living in interesting times

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I can see what used to be Michael Ignatieff’s riding from my house. I live in what was Gerard Kennedy’s riding. On election night, Kennedy lost his seat. Ignatieff lost a great deal more.

When I queued to vote at the local public school, it all seemed so serene and almost pastoral. The ritual was not meaningfully different than would have taken place when the school was built (some time in the sixties if the yellow concrete block walls are any indication). Volunteers sat behind folding tables in the school gym. There were paper rolls and ballots and cardboard ballot boxes. There were stubby pencils. We lined up quietly, politely, and cast our votes. There was not a computer or TV or radio in sight. I’m sure we all had our cell phones, but none rang or chirped. The results of the election were not so serene.

In fact, there was an undertone of violence in the electoral results. The NDP surged, the Bloc imploded, votes were spit, and the Liberal party was largely destroyed. A lot of the damage was done here in the Greater Toronto Area.

Having lived in other parts of Canada, I have seen how Toronto was painted with broad brush. It was the centre for media and cultural elites -- an obvious NDP bastion. Or, it was the home of Bay Street bankers-Tories or traditional right-leaning Liberals.  

Now, if you don’t like Harper, you can blame Ontario and Toronto for electing him.

In truth though, Toronto has always been up for grabs. While rural Ontario is reliably conservative, the downtown ridings have swung Liberal /NDP for some time, and the suburbs have also been in play. Last time around, the Liberals won big. This time, however, the rise of the NDP has split the vote and the Conservatives have picked up enough seats from the Liberals to form a majority. 

There are ironies evident in this evening’s results. The NDP support is a major factor in the Conservative majority. So, in reaching official opposition status, Jack Layton may have handed away the real power to influence governance. Jack will have more to say in parliament, and less influence on policy. The Liberals triggered this election, and were crushed for it.

Michael Ignatieff acknowledged defeat in his speech as graciously as could be expected. However, rather than falling on his sword immediately and resigning, he chose to stay on as long as the party desired.

This means very little. Ignatieff is finished as leader of the Liberal Party. If they are to make a comeback, they need new blood and new ideas. Whether the Liberals are remade or seek merger with the NDP is hard to predict. 

Jack Layton is the hero of the moment. It will take time to decide if the NDP is the new “natural” party to oppose the Conservatives or if this is transient. Regardless of the long term, the moment is historic, and Jack is to be congratulated. 

In their overwhelming victory in Quebec, the NDP toppled the bloc, and forced Gille Duceppe’s resignation. This might be the most interesting result. It could mean Quebec will be in play next election. It could also mean that NDP policy will have to change in response to fifty nine new Quebec MPs. And, it means Quebecers will expect action. 

Congratulations to Elizabeth May. A seat is a start.

Stephen Harper got the majority he desired. Regardless of what one thinks of his policies, Harper ran an effective campaign. While one might say he owes his majority to vote splitting between NDP and Liberals, the Conservatives gained in popular vote, and won strategic battles in key ridings.

So, on May 3, Harper will get to set the agenda. He has a majority. According to our recent election law, the ball is his court until the third Monday of October, 2015.

Let’s hope that election is as engaging as this one.

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