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election day in canada. it could have been worse

Depending on your point of view, Canada’s federal election was either a $300-million stimulus to the economy, or a bite out of the taxpayers…

Depending on your point of view, Canada’s federal election was either a $300-million stimulus to the economy, or a bite out of the taxpayers pocket of similar value.

To the average Canadian, Stephen Harper’s grand gamble for a majority government had little other effect.

There are a small number of people in whose lives the election made a major difference, for the good or the bad — most of whom either gained or lost some very good jobs in Ottawa.

Among those who must surely have some regrets this week are the leaders of Canada’s political parties.

Chief among those with nasty election hangovers must of course be Stephane Dion, who for a few dizzy days saw himself as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. To be fair, he really was the Liberal leader for a while there, insofar as the term applies to the advance edge of a group walking over a cliff.

When history speaks of Stephane Dion, it will remember only a victim: his silly deal-making with the Greens, his inability to engage the public on the climate crisis, or to wipe the lipstick from the Conservative pig, and that bumbling, fumbling CTV moment with its subsequent cries of “no fair.”

By all accounts, Stephane Dion is a nice man. What the Liberals seem to have forgotten is that Canada hasn’t had a nice man for a prime minister since Lester Pearson.

Nobody, not even king-for-a-day-maker Gerard Kennedy, can have taken Dion seriously as a political leader. He simply fell through the cracks between two rival factions in the party. His imminent departure will now permit those factions to rejoin the fray.

Second in line for the box of tissues must surely be Elizabeth May, whose Greens tallied up a giant debt without gaining a seat.

Her promise to sit in the visitors, gallery and wait for an election rings hollow — surely she’ll need to make a living somehow, and anyway, it’s unlikely she’ll find the Liberals ready to stand aside for her again in the near future.

A tip for Ms. May: there is one deal left to cut with the Grits, a simple transaction, and the only one that will ever allow you to run uncontested by a Liberal again. For a $10 fee you can buy a Liberal membership, whereupon you will be eligible to step in the footsteps of Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh.

Stephen Harper, who dragged us all into this very expensive exercise in futility, is smiling this week, but only out of relief that things didn’t go any worse. Had he called this election and failed to make any gains at all, his own political future would be only a shade more secure than Dion’s.

Harper’s characteristic shrug is for once the most appropriate response to his situation — that of a gambler who has bet his stake and come out even. His disappointment at failing to hit the jackpot is tempered by the knowledge that he will live to bet another day.

For their multimillion dollar gamble (with both their own money and the public’s) the Conservatives gained a few seats in Parliament, and one percentage point in popular support. From this they will claim the moral authority to govern.

In return, they have lost Stephane Dion, one of their strongest assets. Often characterized as a schoolyard bully, Stephen Harper will surely miss the bespectacled easy-to-pick-on kid on whom he built his reputation.

Jack Layton, leader of the fourth party going into this election emerged as leader of the — uh-oh — fourth party. It’s so hard to tell whether the NDP leader is happy about his party’s historic gain in seats, or sad that it will make almost no difference to his position in the House — that brave smile never seems to leave his face.

Having improved his party’s standing in each of the last three elections, Layton needn’t worry about his job in the near future. But we know he must be disappointed not to be moving into the prime-ministerial mansion, because all through the campaign he told us so.

A couple of notes to Jack. One: get real. Everybody knew you had as much chance of becoming prime minister as Elizabeth May had of defeating Peter MacKay in Central Nova, and we knew you knew it too. Even with the Liberals collapsing before your eyes, you weren’t even remotely in line for the leader of the Opposition’s job.

The best chance the NDP had was to build some momentum for the next election, which they managed to do. They would have managed better if Layton had set realistic goals and spent his campaign millions on winnable ridings, instead of pouring them down the drain in Quebec.

Note two to Jack: get off message once in a while. Main Street versus Bay Street, and kitchen tables versus boardroom tables, are both very workable tropes, but nobody likes listening to a stuck record. For future success, try leaving the words “for Canadian families” out of at least every second utterance.

Last among the losers in this unlovely charade were the people of Canada.

For all our money spent, and for all the time wasted as the capitalist economic bubbles burst all around us, we are stuck with the political status quo. Oh well. Much like Layton and Harper, we can always console ourselves with the fact that it could have been much worse.

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