When 'the people' spoke Monday, they said all the right things

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The Gazette, Friday, May 6, 2011

John Turner once said, after losing in the 1984 Mulroney landslide: "The people have spoken, and the people are always right."

Which isn't to say that they always get it right, but they sure did on Monday.

Consider: The voters have returned a majority Conservative government, with a strong NDP opposition that will have four years to mature, with the Liberals reduced to third-party status for the first time in history, and the Bloc relegated to no status at all. Good riddance.

This is a best case outcome for Canada. The worst case would have been a Conservative minority government, defeated on a throne speech or budget, and replaced by an inexperienced NDP-led coalition. The loonie wouldn't have been overvalued for very long.

Jack Layton is going to have enough challenges managing a caucus that includes half a dozen university students from Quebec - the Mc-Gill Five, plus one. They're all going to be carded at the bar of the Château Laurier, and they'll need credit cards to check into the hotel.

But it wasn't one of Layton's freshman members who slipped on the first banana peel, but his deputy leader, Tom Mulcair, who told the CBC four times on Wednesday that the reason the U.S. wouldn't release photos of the dead Osama bin Laden was because "I don't think that those photos exist." The conspiracy theory school of foreign policy.

Meanwhile, they're looking for Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the barmaid from Carleton University who's been on vacation in Vegas, and whose nomination papers are being questioned. Her lack of French didn't seem to be an issue in Berthier-Maskinongé, where she won by 4,000 votes without even showing up.

Layton learned the importance of a united and disciplined caucus from his father, Bob Layton, who was Conservative caucus chair in the Mulroney years. Everyone's laughing at the kids in the hall now, but some of them might turn out to be stars. They'll just have to finish their degrees later. Meantime, they're going to be making $157,000 a year, which is not your average entry-level salary.

The Orange Spring in Quebec will result in one of two outcomes - either they will disappoint, as Mario Dumont and the ADQ did in the legislature, or they'll surprise voters and emerge as an authentic government-in-waiting.

The Liberals had better hope the NDP are laughed out of town. It's going to take them two elections, if not three, to recover from Monday's shellacking. Until this week, their worst-ever showing was 40 seats under Turner in a 282-seat House in 1984, and 27 per cent of the vote under Stéphane Dion in 2008. Under Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals were reduced to 34 seats in a 308-seat House, and 18 per cent of the vote.

What happened? They got their heads handed to them by the voters. They forced an election Canadians didn't want on an issue, contempt of Parliament, that voters didn't see as fundamental. As in 2008 with the Green Shift, the Liberals had a message that couldn't be sold, and a messenger who couldn't sell it. Iggy also took a hit in the English debate from Layton, and then in his interview with Peter Mansbridge inexplicably speculated on the constitutional process of forming a coalition government, playing right into Stephen Harper's narrative of an opposition coalition.

And in the final week, the Liberals got squeezed from both the left and the right in Ontario, with some strategic voters moving to the NDP to stop Harper from getting a majority, and others moving from the Liberals to the Conservatives to stop the socialist hordes. In the Greater Toronto Area, where voters have strong memories of the disastrous NDP government in the 1990s, it was the first thing Conservative candidates were hearing at the door in the final week.

It was kind of a reverse echo effect. Voters in Ontario heard that Quebecers were moving to Layton and the NDP. Their response was: "That's all very well for you, but it doesn't work for us." Meanwhile, Quebecers were in the process of rejecting Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc as a party that had got old and tired, with a message they didn't want to hear. No one saw the Orange Wave rising as high as it did, but it reduced the Bloc from 47 seats to four, making it totally irrelevant in Ottawa. That's 43 fewer riding offices with staff working for the Péquistes against the Quebec Liberals of Jean Charest. Did someone say winning conditions?

There's been a tectonic shift in the political landscape, and a fundamental realignment, with the right in a majority, the left holding them to account, the Liberals reduced to a rump, and the Bloc reduced to rubble.

The socialist project might be expensive, but it's very much preferable to the separatist one.

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