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Gamble that failed
Oct 16, 2008

Stephen Harper took a gamble and lost. Stéphane Dion took a gamble and lost. Jack Layton took a gamble and lost. Elizabeth May took a gamble and lost.

So, who won? 

Certainly not Canadian voters who could be facing another unwanted federal election within months.

If there was any winner, it was Gilles Duceppe, whose Bloc Québecois managed to keep the Tories from making a breakthrough in Québec while keeping the Liberals at bay.

Of course, as in any election, there were slight triumphs. Harper and the Conservatives managed to win a few more seats in the House of Commons, but not a majority that under the circumstances should have been a slam-dunk. Harper faced off against the weakest political opponents in recent history — Dion — who couldn’t explain his carbon tax and Green Shift without soliciting complete bewilderment. 

Dion pinned all his election hopes on an extremely complicated plan and lost big time. Under his confused leadership, the Liberals were the biggest losers in the October 14 election. Dion had a “dream team” of high-profile personalities, but he wasn’t the person to lead it and the Canadian people told him so in spades. In Manitoba, the Liberals only managed to hang onto one of the three seats they held prior to the election.

On the other hand, the Conservatives had a leader — an iron-fisted one — but not much of a team and they hung onto a minority government. Yet, Canadians have a nagging suspicion of Harper, especially in Canada’s three largest cities and Quebec, which was evident by the election results. Without winning in Quebec, Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver, Harper can never claim the majority government he covets so much.

Perhaps the Tories are destined to advance no further under Harper’s leadership. During the previous two elections, the Liberals were first bloodied by the sponsorship scandal and then left in leadership turmoil, and yet the Harper Conservatives couldn’t take advantage of their good fortune. Sure, the Harper-led Conservatives gained more seats with the passing of each election — reaching a new plateau of 144 seats this time — but the cherished majority has eluded them.

It was Harper’s gamble to call an election, contrary to the fixed-date election legislation he had championed, which may have turned off many voters. Few believed Harper when he claimed Parliament had become dysfunctional, necessitating an election. The election call seemed more like opportunism than necessity. 

Still, it was smooth sailing for Harper during the initial stages of the campaign, but then the thing he feared so greatly happened — and wanted to avoid by calling a snap election — the prospect of economic turmoil brought on by collapsing markets in the U.S. and the world. Canadians found out they weren’t immune as claimed by Harper when they saw the value of stocks they held  in their pension plans tumble, threatening to wipe out their retirement savings. 

The collapse of the American economy meant less exports and more lay-offs in industrial Eastern Canada. Those laid-off were not reassured when Harper opined that Canadians didn’t have to worry too much about the economy and there were bargains to be had in the stock market.

Harper was also unable to comprehend that a piddling $45-million cut in arts funding would be his downfall in Québec. His cavalier manner in dismissing the cut made Québecers believe Harper was the reincarnation of the barbarian at the gate. 

One success for Harper and the Conservatives was convincing many Canadians that the Green Shift espoused by Dion was nothing more than a tax grab at a time when gasoline and home fuel is more costly then ever.

In the end, it was the small mistakes made by Harper — the so-called gaffes, although Dion had his fair share — which made Canadians suspicious of the attempted rebranding of the Tory leader as a cuddly sweater-clad politician that prevented the Tories from forming a majority government.

During the last days of the campaign Dion claimed Canadians wanted change and only the Liberals could replace the Tories, but it seems no one really believed this assertion. In fact, the Liberals were the only major party to lose seats to the other parties. The probable result of his failure to revive the Liberals is that Dion’s party leadership will soon end.

On the other hand, Jack Layton managed to lead his party to winning 38 seats — primarily at the expense of the Liberals — in the House of Commons, the highest NDP total since 44 seats were won under the leadership of Ed Broadbent in 1988. 

But, Layton failed to win enough seats to claim the title of prime minister in the House, a prospect he assured his followers and Canadians was within his grasp. Layton’s bold assertion lacked substance, since even a severely weakened Liberal Party remains the Official Opposition. The NDP is actually the fourth ranking party in the House, as the seat totals of the Conservatives, Liberals and the Bloc outnumber the NDP.

Then there’s Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader. What was she thinking when she ran against Conservative Party stalwart and highly-popular Defence Minister Peter MacKay? Among the political blunders that marred the election campaign, this mistake was huge. Although she was praised for her performance in the two televised debates, May eventually proved she was politically näive by taking on one of the biggest Tories on the block. Billed as a battle between David and Goliath — unlike in the Bible story, Goliath slew David.

May may have finished second in Central Nova to MacKay, but it was not a victory for a leader of a reputed national party. The Green Party’s support across Canada went up marginally, yet it is difficult to describe a party with no seats in the House as victorious.

Whomever is the Liberal leader in the next election, he or she would be wise not to link up with the Greens as Dion did. It was a link that had no other outcome than a loss of votes for the Liberals.

Since there was no real change in the standings in the House, Canadians can look forward to another unwanted election in another 18 or 24 months. Oh boy!