Last week, several colleagues at the University undertook a post mortem of the federal election. Two of our recent PhD graduates, David Coletto (2010), now CEO of Abacus Data, and Paul Fairie (2013), a principal with Centrality Data Science, provided a fine-grained analysis of what had been a two-part campaign. Part one, Canadians decided that the Conservatives would not have another term. In the much shorter second part, they decided that the Liberals were agents of “change.”
Were they? Political Scientist Lisa Young wondered whether 2015 was a “pivotal” or “critical” election the way 1993 was. Back then, the first two parties, led by Quebecers, and the Reform party, led by Preston Manning, gained 191 seats. The fourth and fifth parties, the NDP and the PCs, lost 189 seats. After 1993, federal politics consisted of a series of responses to fragmented conservative parties until the Conservative minority government, a little over a decade later. Perhaps 2015, means a return to the “brokerage politics” of the period prior to the Mulroney government.
Everyone agreed this was not an election about interests. Canadians thought the Conservatives had done a good job managing the economy. As Tom Flanagan remarked on another occasion, quoting Hunter S. Thompson, it was about fear and loathing – where loathing of Harper trumped fear of leaving the country hostage to profound inexperience.
Last week, Flanagan added that the long campaign did not benefit the Conservatives because so many unforeseen events happened – from the migrant crisis to the niqab. Worse, by agreeing to respect the fixed election date and delivering a spring budget, the Conservatives telegraphed their platform and ensured they had little to announce during the campaign. Thus were they outflanked by the Liberals, and PC photo-ops were a bore.
No one said much about the nature of the three elements of Liberal coalition. So here goes.
First, came the revenge of the Laurentian elites, exemplified by the Media Party. The journalists’ union, the Canadian Media Guild, for example, registered as an anti-Harper Super-PAC with Elections Canada. Nor was it a surprise that southern Ontario, and especially Toronto, went solidly Liberal. A decade of self-inflicted pain in Ontario was blamed on the West.
Quebec, the lynchpin of Laurentian Canada, restored its tradition of tribal voting. Including Justin Trudeau, for 50 of the past 70 years, the Prime Minster has come from Lower Canada.
A second factor was the revenge of what the leading literary critic of Maritime fiction, Janice Keefer, called the “loser ethos.” The Conservatives reduced the presence of bureaucrats in Canadians’ lives. In Atlantic Canada, they reduced citizens’ dependence on ‘pogey’. Thus, the red wave began in that part of the country most addicted to chunky-style pork-barrelling.
The third element in the resentment coalition was provided by the most disempowered and miserable, as well as the most corrupt, sub-population in Canadian society: the First Nations. The Conservatives thought corruption and poverty were connected, so they passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The clan bosses, now styled Grand Chiefs, hated it.
In contrast, the Liberals recovered their institutionalized mendacity: Trudeau promised to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, though many are far beyond federal jurisdiction. How does he propose to get the Pope to apologize for the residential schools?
Only the productive prairies, eastern B.C., and southwestern Ontario remained Conservative. The rest of the country, seduced by flashy imagery and inspired by loathing, voted for content-free “change.”
This is not a recipe for brokerage politics. Nothing good ever came from the politics of resentment.
Barry Cooper is a Research Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.