It doesn’t really matter that Conservative Ryan Leef got only 34 per cent of the vote. Or that he beat runner-up Larry Bagnell by just 132 ballots out of 16,057 cast. He will be the Yukon’s MP for the next five years.
We should wish him well. Yukoners need a strong voice in Ottawa.
Prime Minister Harper may not permit MPs much freedom of action on Parliament Hill, but he does give them considerable influence over local projects. If you have a project you want funded you know who to call.
Many people are afraid that Leef will also be the kind of Conservative MP you can call if you want someone else’s project defunded. Conservative MP Brad Trost crowed in a recent speech at an anti-abortion conference about leading a successful campaign to “defund Planned Parenthood.” We’ll see what kind of MP Leef chooses to be on that front.
The Conservatives now have a majority and can quickly push through their promises. Likely early moves include an omnibus anti-crime bill, packaging the dozen or so anti-crime measures that have been languishing in Parliament during the Tory minority government. We can assume the gun registry will be shut down shortly, as well as the $2-per-vote subsidy for political parties.
One consolation for the Liberals is that they got so few votes they won’t actually lose that much money.
The Conservatives may also rebalance the seats in Parliament to keep up with population growth, and maybe some minor tweaks to the Senate such as term limits.
Here in the Yukon, Leef promised to “vote for Yukoners.” An early test of this catchy slogan will be whether the Conservatives extend the $60-million Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative. This was set up by Liberal Paul Martin and extended by Conservative Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq until 2012. She pointedly referred to it as a “time-limited” program in her announcement. If the Conservatives end the program as planned, we’ll see if Leef votes for or against that budget. It means a lot of cash for Yukon health care.
The NDP were also big winners on election night. They have supplanted the Liberals as the official opposition. If they can deliver a good performance in opposition, which Jack Layton is quite likely to do, then they have a chance of permanently altering the Canadian political landscape. Without a centre party like the Liberals, we get a BC-style two party system.
In this kind of system, the NDP will eventually get to govern. They may have to wait out a few terms of Conservative rule while the Canadian public gets used to the idea, and the NDP dumps some of its policies that make centrist Canadians nervous. But eventually the Tory government will get tired and the NDP will have a shot.
The big question for the NDP is how much to emulate the UK’s New Labour in tacking to the centre to capture votes, even if it exasperates long-time activists on the left.
The Liberals were, of course, the big losers of the campaign. They got their lowest share of the popular vote since Confederation. Their candidates came third and fourth even in seats that 10 years ago were considered safe.
The news was harsh for Yukon Liberal Larry Bagnell. But it was mitigated by the fact that Larry goes out with near universal respect from across the political spectrum in the Yukon. His concession speech was a model of class and character. It’s likely that more than 132 Yukoners would have had second thoughts about voting against Bagnell earlier in the day if they had heard it. In many ways, he goes out at the top of his game and with his head held high.
The election was also bad news for the Greens. The election unleashed a massive pent-up desire for political change from Canadians, yet the Greens got fewer votes than 2008. Their share went from 6.9 per cent in 2008 to only 3.9 per cent this time. Over 350,000 fewer people voted Green this election, despite the number of voters growing by almost a million.
But this bad news was masked by the victory of leader Elizabeth May, the first ever Green to win election to the House of Commons. May is decent and dedicated, but she clearly failed to connect with the millions of Canadians looking to vote for someone other than the Liberals and Conservatives.
This kind of political opportunity doesn’t come often. She missed the opportunity Jack Layton seized, although she can point to the stronger NDP national organization and her exclusion from the televised debates. We’ll now see if she has the political instinct to recreate this missed opportunity, or if she remains stuck with around five per cent support.
We won’t have another federal election until around 2016. Now it’s time for Ryan Leef and the Conservatives to enjoy the thrill of victory, and for the other parties to decide what – if anything – they learned from the 2011 campaign. For Larry Bagnell, it’s a chance to rest after more than a decade of dedicated service to the Yukon.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.