Canadian Political Landscape – Post May 2 2011

The landscape of Canadian politics changed dramatically on May 2nd. For the first time the mighty Liberal Party of Canada found itself neither the governing party nor the Official Opposition, but reduced to a humbling third place finish with only 34 seats nationwide.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) elbowed their way, at least for this election, into the center left, while the Conservatives elbowed their way into the center right, at least for now. 

Party platforms, nor anything that happened during the election campaign, produced the humiliating loss suffered by the once “natural governing” party of Canada.  Their defeat and demise had more to do with dirty tricks carried out by people or entities yet unknown, a concentrated, two-year attack ad campaign by the Conservatives to discredit Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of the Liberal Party, and their own mismanagement and misreading of the Canadian electorate. 

The persistent withering attacks by the Conservatives undermined any policy discussion that could possibly have happened on the national stage. The nation’s attention focused instead on a man who returned to Canada after a prestigious career as a war reporter and professor at Harvard University, to lead the Liberal Party. Michael Ignatieff did not stand a chance.

The Conservative campaign was the most tightly controlled, tightly-scripted campaign I have ever witnessed. They suppressed all real dialogue and discussion about key issues — and they got away with it. They deflected serious questions about misappropriation of funds, fraud, withholding information from Parliament and their attitude toward Parliament — and they got away with it.

They demonized coalition governments to the point that they set them against democracy itself.  Sadly, no one mentioned that virtually all other major liberal-democratic nations in the world, including the United States, are governed by either coalition governments or some form of cooperative government.  Even the UK is now governed by a coalition.

They demonized the debate in the House of Commons, belittled the opposition parties as being little more than a nuisance to implementing their agendas, and bluntly stated that the very existence and well-being of our country rested upon them getting their “strong, stable, national, Conservative, majority government”.

Has their ever been a more bald-faced pitch for power in our history? My conservative friends may write this off as the ramblings of a liberal sore-loser.  Oh yes, I am angry, but not because the Liberals lost.  They had it coming.  They made their share of mistakes.

Their platform was packaged a bit too well, too slick, not accessible enough. I associate a Family Pack with meat at Loblaw’s store.  Did the Learning Passport mean someone could study abroad and the government would pay for it?  There were too many layers in their platform.  Information was not accessible enough and clearly stated.  Some ideas were good and I hope the Conservatives implement them along the way, but the Liberals failed to get their message to the people.

I liked Michael Ignatieff, but he did not connect with the people. He did everything right. He held town hall meetings right across the country in the year prior to the vote. He answered fielded unscreened questions from random voters. (A living nightmare for Mr Harper).  He proved to be a master of the town hall, but it wasn’t enough.

When the Conservatives pounded Ignatieff with attack ads, the Liberals. The most significant failure by the Liberals was they just didn’t present themselves as a party ready to assume power. They triggered an ill-timed election over an issue that was lost on most Canadians. Then, they allowed the Conservatives to define the debate.

The people of “la belle province” finally awakened from their sovereignist trance and elected 58 seats from a national party.  Unfortunately for both the Liberals and Conservatives the national party they chose was the NDP.

While the NDP formed the Official Opposition for the first time, it is a one-time deal. Mr Layton will have more than he can handle over the next four years maintaining any kind of control.  Most of the new MPs never thought they could win.  Bob Rae in 1990 lives again!

Oh yes, the Green Party finally elected a seat.  I guess they get to join the leader’s debate next time.  May 3, Michael Ignatieff offered this insight: The best thing for the Liberal Party is four years of Conservative government and four years of NDP opposition. 

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