Whether it be what we feared or what we hoped for, the outcome is mostly what we expected. The Conservatives have a minority government, and Stephen Harper is the new Prime Minister of Canada. For Americans (or other non-Canadians) who may not have seen it, here are the totals:
Party - Seats - Popular VoteWhen we first moved here, Stephen Harper was an embarrassment. It seemed clear the Conservatives wouldn't form a government as long as he was the party leader - which shows the limits of appearance and punditry. Now it remains to be seen if the old, scary Harper will crawl out of the remade, centrist, big-tent Harper. I imagine the Conservatives are thinking long-term, and will take it slow.
Conservatives - 124 - 36.25%
Liberals - 103 - 30.22%
Bloc Quebecois - 51 - 10.48%
New Democrats - 29 - 17.49%
Independent - 1 - .52%
Considering the Liberals ran a terrible campaign, always on the defensive and in damage-control mode, and considering the giant suitcase labeled SCANDAL they were lugging around, they won an awful lot of seats. In my view, this speaks of both the rejection of the Conservative Party by a substantial number of Canadians, and a general satisfaction with the status quo. Because, scandals aside, the Liberals didn't leave much to complain about.
The forward movement of the NDP is exciting. They increased their seats from 19 to 29, and I'm eager to see how they do in the Harper Parliament.
My own riding of Mississauga South returned its Liberal MP to Ottawa, as did the rest of Mississauga - and indeed, most of the GTA. I'll remember this next time I hear snarky comments about "the 905s". The suburban 905s are more conservative than the urban 416s, to be sure, but give me a break, it's not Alberta.
One thing I noticed last night was that the urban vs. rural divide that runs so deep in the US (contrary to red state vs blue state cliche, this is the real divide) is very much present in Canada, too. British Columbia is a perfect example of that, voting like a conservative western state in most ridings, and voting like a progressive urban enclave in Vancouver. All the Conservative gains in Quebec were in rural Quebec, not in Montreal. Indeed, the Conservative seat-count in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver combined comes to a grand total of zero.
I really enjoyed the CBC coverage last night. Trying to conform (wink, wink), we watched Rick Mercer first. I'll probably never understand why this guy is so popular for saying what we all already know. (In between Rick Mercer and election coverage we switched over to CTV for "Corner Gas," and finally caught the Ukrainian Dancing episode!)
Anyway, I really appreciated the CBC coverage, and if you've ever watched election returns on a US network, you know why. CBC was serious without being somber, entertaining without being ridiculous, offered good commentary, and always, always: context. Personally, I could do without the George Stroumboulopoulos reach-younger-viewers segment, but at least it's not filmed sideways with jump-cuts like a wannabe music video.
One more observation, and one question.
Before I began researching moving to Canada, I thought the Canadian Parliament had proportional representation. I'm not referring to representation by population, as in the US House of Representatives, where states with higher populations have more representatives. (When I asked about proportional representation, this is what people generally thought I meant.) I'm referring to the system used by several European parliaments, where seats are distributed according to the actual percentage of popular vote, as opposed to the first-past-the-post riding-by-riding system.
Under a proportional system, if the NDP won, say, 33% of the overall popular vote, they would hold 33% of the seats. This encourages the building of smaller parties, and the existence of more parties, thus more voices, in the system. I'd like to see that here.
[Late addition: Proportional representation also encourages greater participation in the system, and discourages strategic voting. Now, if you are the minority in your riding or district, your vote will almost never "count" - it will always disappear into the majority. But if you knew your vote would join together with others like yours all over the country, you would be more likely to vote, and vote your conscience.]
My question is a simple one, but one that confounded Allan and I last night. What does it mean to say a party "holds the balance of power"? There was much discussion last night over whether or not the New Democrats do indeed have that. But we couldn't quite figure out what it means.
Last night, I was thinking of wmtc's great friend Wrye, who worked a long day running a polling station in Vancouver. Days like that are exhausting and exhilarating. It's exciting to see democracy up-close and personal. The people have spoken. At least here in Canada, we know what they said. (Paper ballots rock.)