Election thoughts

October 15th, 2008
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The late-game “comeback” of the Conservative Party suggests the preceding collapse discerned by the news media was more a case of wishing than thinking and evaluating. It certainly didn’t hurt that the markets were rebounding, nor that the government became much more visibly engaged in the financial situation during the last few days, nor that Conservative Party members were spooked into turning out.

While the result isn’t a triumph for prime minister Stephen Harper, it’s a solid achievement and history-making in its own way. Being out at the RRC* without high-speed access to the web, I can guess rather than state that last night’s outcome gives us the first back-to-back federal elections ever won by an Albertan as party leader, and one of less than a handful of instances of consecutive Conservative victories (Mulroney, Diefenbaker, Macdonald, ~Borden ).

As he spoke at the Calgary party rally last night, Mr. Harper looked satisfied, decisive and fully in command. I was struck by his unforced, undiluted French – not merely grasping the formal vocabulary but internalizing the natural idiom and regional pronunciation. Even the shape of his face changed as he spoke French – as if he’s gradually creating a French-Canadian persona to complement the English-Canadian one.

It was in stark contrast to Stephane Dion, whose performance was unmistakably that of a French guy reluctantly mouthing alien syllables. Last night again was embarrassing, with the Liberal leader repeating variants of “galactic economic apocalypse” (quoting from memory here) four or five times. The sheer repetition signaled “grovelling parliamentary surrender” more than I’m sure was intended or, frankly, warranted from the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Dion is far more stilted than NDP leader Jack “Call Me Prime Minister” Layton, but at least he appears to breath the same air as other humans. Apparently speaking from the ideologically purified, CO2-free atmosphere in his bunker beneath a volcano on the island of Laytonia, the NDP leader proclaimed that the election result proves that “no one party” can make decisions without the support of “the other parties”.

No, Jack. The result – solid gains for the Conservatives providing a near-majority position of 143 seats with 38 percent of the popular vote – means that Mr. Harper gets to govern. His caucus needs the support of just 12 other MPs to pass bills and resolutions. OK, given our system of party discipline, that will effectively mean one other complete caucus. But no chorus line of unanimity.

True, Mr. Harper will be held in check by the knowledge that he didn’t get quite the result he wanted. Then again, of the five broad possibilities (a majority, an increased minority, a replication of previous numbers, a decline, a defeat), the one he achieved was second-best. Not bad under the circumstances. If anything, it shows the prime minister should have dismissed his critics with even less hesitation back in the summer. Had he called the election in August, he’d have been back in government just as the financial meltdown began, probably with 155 or more seats.

Last night several pundits went through contortions to present the election result as some kind of Conservative failure, one that ring-fences Mr. Harper’s options as prime minister. But put yourself in any opposition party leader’s place: you yourself failed, your nemesis is more powerful than ever, last time around he proved remarkably able to get things done with considerably fewer seats, and he just beat you soundly (with the exception of the BQ on this last point). Do you really want to stand in his way on reasonable measures that have broad public support? Do you want to be odd man out on popular policies your opposition rival supports? Again, recall your opponent’s record of pragmatically selecting issues on which to build his party’s governing record, with only occasional stumbles. Do you really want to be the cause of yet another election, one that is unlikely to have this one’s convenient financial meltdown in its last week?

I’d say the next couple of years belong to Mr. Harper.

*Remote rural compound, registered trademark.

P.S. For a very searchable database of the election results, please check this link.

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By George Koch