Starting with the winner, there’s no disputing that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ran a highly successful campaign. After descending from clear frontrunner to third place, it would’ve been easy to conjure up the prospect of another dismal Liberal finish along the lines of the 2011 Michael Ignatieff debacle. Instead, Trudeau and his campaign team righted the ship, took advantage of the opportunities provided and ended up with a solid, comfortable majority.
That said, though, it’s important to put the majority in perspective. In terms of popular vote share and per cent of seats won, it was identical to Stephen Harper’s Conservative victory in 2011.
To be specific, Harper did marginally better in the popular vote (39.6 per cent versus 39.5 per cent) and marginally poorer with respect to seats won (53.9 per cent versus 54.4 per cent). Yes, Trudeau won a larger absolute seat total, but the size of the House of Commons had increased by 30 seats in the interim.
And impressive as the Liberal performance was, it was less so than Jean Chretien’s mandates in 1993 and 2000. Chretien’s seat haul was certainly enhanced by the luxury of a split opposition, but that had no bearing on his popular vote share, which breached the 40 per cent mark both times.
So any talk of a “historical” or “transformational” win is really just euphoria getting out of hand. And as those of us old enough to remember Trudeau’s charismatic father will recall, although his 1968 sweep was substantially larger than his son’s in 2015, a mere four years later he was hanging on by his fingernails against the haplessly inept Robert Stanfield.
That, however, doesn’t mean the same thing will happen again. Whereas the elder Trudeau had sharp edges that could quickly change your perception of him from total awesomeness to off-putting arrogance, Justin doesn’t project a similar vibe. More apparently likable than his father, his popularity may have an additional degree of resilience.
As for the Conservatives, while being evicted after nearly 10 years in office certainly hurts, all governments eventually fall foul of the “time for a change” mantra. And their vote performance was reasonably respectable, certainly far superior to that of the post-Trudeau 1984 Liberals or the post-Mulroney 1993 Tories.
Further, there are reasons to believe that the Conservatives remain within striking distance. For instance, a post-election Angus Reid survey indicated that slightly more than half of Canadians have a positive – or at least non-negative – view of the Harper legacy. Put another way, despite all that’s been vented about Harper’s departure being the equivalent of an exorcism, that’s not a majority view. The Conservative brand may be bruised, but it’s by no means poisoned.
A couple of things, mind you, could prove problematic. One would be a reprise of the crippling blue/red split that persisted through the 1990s and into the early 21st century. The other would be if Harper were to hang around as a John Diefenbaker-like spirit, either plotting a personal return to power or seeking to pull the strings from the shadows. However, none of these scenarios appear to be in the cards.
All of which brings us to the NDP, the party that a mere three months ago fancied its chances of going all the way. Instead, they’re pretty much back to where they were in the 1980s – in a distant third place and without a plausible path to power.
Finally, no sober retrospective would be complete without touching on a couple of memes that gained great media currency in the months leading up to the election, only to be dashed by the cold winds of reality.
One was the anticipated Notley effect, whereby the provincial NDP win in Alberta was supposed to not only signal a rising NDP tide nationally but also the end of federal Conservative dominance in the province. But when the votes were counted, the Conservatives’ Alberta share was just shy of 60 per cent.
The other pervasive meme had to do with the new voter ID requirements, which were allegedly a sneaky attempt to suppress participation. Instead, turnout jumped by eight points.
I tell you, one just doesn’t know what to believe these days.