Right?

THE TENSION: Conservatives Take Canada

That’s one way to put it. Others are talking about a shift to the right. Not sure about this.

First, the results should not be confused with a clear victory for the Conservative Party of Canada. Sure, they have more seats than any single other party and a bigger share of the votes. But this is far from a “landslide” victory that some were predicting.

Most clearly, it’s a defeat for the Liberals. Apparently, many people voted not for the Tories but against the Liberals. Big difference.
Oh, sure, Liberals will still be the official opposition. But they lost big.

So, losers and winners, from biggest loser to biggest winner:
Liberals lost a lot after being forced to hold elections. They lost important ridings, some of their key players have lost their seats, Paul Martin decided to resign… But Liberals still hold a third of the ridings and 30% of the support. They kept their seats in key locations such as Toronto. They remain much stronger than the Conservatives after Kim Campbell.

The Bloc lost a few seats altogether and a significant percentage of votes. In this sense, the Bloc has lost its own fights (they wanted to increase the number of seats they held and increase the number of votes to the majority of Quebec voters). But they made significant gains in some locations, defeated many key Liberals, and held their own on average. More importantly, they gained significant mindshare. The Bloc’s role of defending Quebec’s interests in Ottawa has been considered quite carefully during these elections.

The NDP can be considered a winner. They increased their number of seats, won several ridings in British Columbia, and campaigned effectively. In a way, they rallied many members of the so-called “left.” After all, Liberals haven’t been that far “left” while in power.

The Tories did win. Canada now has their leader as Prime Minister. The cabinet will be formed with members of the Conservative Party.
Much has been said about Harper’s comments that even a majority government would be kept in check. These are not words of someone who accomplishes a clear shift to the political right, not in this context. Harper is aware that he has to work with the other parties.

It’s impossible to predict what will come out of this. But, in a way, it makes it possible for the three non-governing parties to come together on a lot of issues.

An interesting point about all of this is that Canadian politics are much more about specific issues than about political lateralisation of the left/right kind. Often jokingly, commentators talk about “Big L Liberal and small l liberal” as well as “Big C Conservative and small c conservative.”

In Quebec, left/right distinctions are often irrelevant. True, Quebeckers are rather left-leaning on average. But Quebeckers will also vote “right” on some issues based on their own interests.
And it shouldn’t surprise so many people that Tories won 10 seats and many votes in Quebec. Some of the votes Quebeckers gave Tories might have had something to do with shifting right, at least in terms of fiscal issues. But some people may have wanted to have representatives of Quebec in the cabinet (as this is the first Prime Minister in a while who is not coming from Quebec). A certain opportunist attitude may have contributed. Hatred for the federal Liberals, whose involvement in scandals has left a negative impression on many Quebeckers. A desire for regime change. A vote against the concentration of power in Ontario. Good candidates in specific ridings. After all, Quebeckers did vote for Tories in the past (before the merge with the Reform Party) and those Tory votes did not imply a shift to the right.

Then there’s the issue of national identity. Some people might think that this is a victory for federalism but that would be quite misleading. After all, before the Bloc, Quebec sovereignists have had little desire to get involved in federal politics. In fact, since 1993, some sovereignists have said that a victory of the Reform Party would help their cause. If nothing else, these elections have put national issues on the table. Defining which Canada people really want. Reassess the role of different regions (BC, AlSaMa, ON, Qc, Atlantic). In some ways, the Tories did unify the country. But this unity is more layered and decentralised than it has been.

To be continued.

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

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