A few years ago, when he was still alive and well and working at the CBC, Canadian radio icon Peter Gzowski held a contest. Gzowski issued a challenge to his fellow CBC employees to complete the sentence: "As Canadian as ." The winner was someone who wrote: "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances."
Mondays federal election validated the winning response to Gzowskis challenge better than even the host of Morningside could have imagined.
In an unnecessary election that started as a fait accompli for Paul Martin, quickly turned into a condemnation of the Liberals cavalier spending and mismanagement, then looked like it was going to be a coronation for Stephen Harper and the new Conservatives, and finally in the last days of the campaign produced a tenuous Liberal minority, it was the perfect Canadian ending. The Liberals hang on to power, for the time being. The Conservatives can claim some measure of victory, since the party is only months old and has made "new" inroads in Ontario. The NDP substantially increased their seat total in the House of Commons and their share of the popular vote. The Bloc has as many seats as it has ever had in Quebec. And even the Green Party attains major league status, capturing more than 2 per cent of the vote and therefore qualifying for federal funding. Everyones happy. What could be more Canadian?
Heck, theres even a hockey legend Ken Dryden in the new government. Perhaps that should be As Canadien as
At least thats how it looked Tuesday morning. But after you get past the maple syrup-coated comments of the politicians and the spin of the pollsters who got it wrong there was more to this election. To start with, it showed that U.S.-style attack ads work in Canada. The Liberals spent the last two weeks of the campaign warning voters about how Canadian institutions would be dismantled or abused by a Conservative government. Conservative MP Randy White substantiated those fears in a television interview in the last week of the campaign, saying he would favour using the not withstanding clause to pass legislation. Some unsuccessful Conservative candidates have strongly suggested Whites comments were an important factor in their defeat. Alberta Premier Ralph Kleins comments on health care didnt help either.
British Columbia, which sent 26 Conservative MPs to Ottawa in the 2000 election, elected only 21 this time around. Conservatives share of the popular vote in B.C. also declined. West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP John Reynolds, who was in the fight of his life with Liberal Blair Wilson, has suggested the Conservatives need to respond to attack ads and keep a lid on inflammatory comments by candidates.
Some of the Conservatives decline may be attributed to changing demographics. In West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast for instance, Squamishs population has changed substantially since 2000. West Vancouver itself is also outgrowing its stereotype as the last colonial outpost of British Conservatives.
But really, deep down inside, a majority of Canadians are like Gzowski liberals, if not card-carrying Liberals. We may have been mad as hell at the Liberals, but were going to take it some more. The Conservatives havent moved close enough to the centre of the political spectrum as the Progressive Conservatives did under Brian Mulroney to become a palatable alternative. Were wishy-washy, but we have witnessed a conservative government in action in the United States for the last three and a half years and most of us dont like what weve seen.
And so we have the results of Mondays election.
Paul Martin, who promised to fix Western alienation, is left with a tenuous minority government. How a federal Liberal government that will likely include Ujjal Dosanjh in a cabinet post and will be propped up by the NDP gets along with Gordon Campbells provincial Liberal government will be interesting to watch. With British Columbians going to the polls next May the Campbell Liberals will want to make some major announcements in the next 10 months things like off-shore oil exploration, reduced waiting times for health care, increased investment in the province. With the NDP playing a key role in the federal government, and organized labour gearing up to challenge them next May, the provincial Liberals will have their hands full.