Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Why your rejoicing might be premature

Okay, so much for silence until the recounts are all in. At the risk of having my idealist card taken away from me completely, I want to talk a little bit about why the final seat count (Liberals 135, Conservatives 99, Bloc Quebecois 54, NDP 19, Independent 1) isn't the joyous occasion some of you are making it out to be, and why the alternate outcome of a Conservative minority might actually turn out to have been preferable. I may be wrong (and I sincerely hope I am!), but I feel that it has to be mentioned, even though I'll probably make myself sound like a hopeless curmudgeonly pessimist who isn't satisfied with anything short of her ideal scenario of a Liberal-NDP coalition government.

First, the misconception a few of you have brought up (and which you all seem to share with Michael Moore, Dan Savage, and Ralph Nader) that a Conservative minority government would have signified an irreversible swing to the right on the part of the haven of liberalism north of the U.S. border. Yes, there are small pockets of conservatives in Canada, and yes, a few of them are even dreaded social conservatives, but on the whole this is not, and is never likely to be, a truly conservative country. If Canadians had given the Conservatives a minority government yesterday, it wouldn't have expressed their confidence in conservatism, it would have been the outcome of voting to punish the Liberals for the sponsorship scandal. Throughout this campaign, in poll after poll, when asked what kind of government they would prefer irrespective of how they were going to vote, Canadians said that they wanted a Liberal minority government. They tried to vote in such a way as to achieve that kind of slap to the Liberals without making Stephen Harper prime minister, and they managed it. But we have to keep in mind that if those voting strategies had failed and Stephen Harper *had* become prime minister, it ultimately might not have been such a bad thing. A slight Conservative minority wouldn't have found any allies to help them accomplish anything, there would have almost certainly been a vote of no confidence after less than a year, and the Conservatives would have had the shackles of a failed government on them in the subsequent election.

Next, the converse misconception that this outcome is a big win for the Liberals (a misconception which, incidentally, Paul Martin himself seems to be suffering from). Yes, they did much better than the pollsters and pundits expected, and yes, this does indicate that Canadians still want the Liberals to govern as long as they remain chastened. But in the long term they're still in major danger, and in fact, this may ultimately be the worst possible outcome for them. If either they or the NDP had gained just one more seat (and they almostdid), they could have formed a relatively stable coalition government, but as things stand, they can't. This means deciding everything on an issue-by-issue basis and working with not only the NDP, but with individual members of the Bloc, moderate Conservatives, and, if he stays independent, former Alliance MP Chuck Cadman. Though the strength of their minority will certainly make for a somewhat more stable situation than the slight Conservative minority I outlined above would have been, they still have the judicial inquiry into the sponsorship scandal to get through. Paul Martin now has the nearly impossible task of convincing Canadians that the sponsorship scandal was all the fault of Chrétien and his people, but without alienating any of those people, since that's done nothing but bite him in the ass so far. And he has to do all this not only while a bunch of judges are rooting around in his political past, trying to make mud stick to him, but also with no clear allies that he can stomach. I wish the man luck; he's going to need it. Unless he's got a rabbit's foot in his pocket *and* makes not even the slightest political misstep over the next year or so, the Liberals could very well suffer a similar fate to the hypothetical one I outlined for the Tories in the last paragraph. Even though Canadians aren't very conservative, they've certainly indicated here that they're willing to vote Conservative if the Liberals give them enough cause to doubt them. And in a democracy, you don't get what you wish for, you get what you vote for.

Reactions from the blogosphere:

Chris Jones from Points of Information: "Very interesting numbers and here's why."

Kevin Brennan from Tilting at Windmills: "What a difference a few seats makes."

James Bow: "Miss Clarkson, he's pushing me!"

Vicki Smith from Just In From Cowtown (a fellow American-in-Alberta, incidentally): "Each party accomplished something significant."

Sean from sean incognito: "It's been reported than 30% of electors voted not for their first choice, but for their second. I was one of these."

Andrew Coyne: "The biggest winner in this election is the Left."

Don from Revolutionary Moderation: "Saskatchewan should be a coalmine canary for the New Democrats."

Warren Kinsella: "Few people were aware of vote shifts heading into the weekend."

The Middleman: "I feel like I had sex with a gorgeous hooker last night ."

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