Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Election Changed Everything

So many people out there are saying this recent election changed nothing because we have another Conservative minority government, but that quick knee jerk reaction to the election ignores a lot of what has changed.

First of all, the Conservatives have a much larger number of seats and this does matter a lot. In 2006 the Conservatives were elected with 124 members versus the 103 for the Liberals. The Conservatives were 31 seats short of passing anything in the house. They needed to either the Bloc of the Liberals support them to pass anything. Over the next two years the constant trend was in favour of the Conservatives and against the Liberals when it came to representation in the house. By the time the election was called, the Conservatives were only 25 short of the majority and any one other party was enough to pass something. The government even had a small margin to allow for people to away from the house of commons and still have bills pass.

With the latest election, the Conservatives are now only 12 seats short of a majority and often only 10 short as they can count on the 2 independents much of the time. The government only needs one party to agree to pass anything and they have a large enough margin that they can afford to have members not in Ottawa when a vote is called.

Over the next year we are going to see a number of MPs resign because they are finished with their time in Ottawa and want to move onto something else. The two parties that will see the most resignations are the Liberals and the Bloc because they have the most MPs that have served the longest time. Conservatives will stick around as they are government and most of the New Democrats have not been MPs for very long.

I would expect to start seeing MPs resigning shortly into the new year and at a rate of four per year till the next election. Each resignation puts the government 1/2 a member closer to a majority. Within one year I expect to see an average of three vacancies in the house at any given time. I also expect the by-elections to improve things for the government at a rate of one new MP per five by-elections, meaning that by the end of three years the government will be up two to three MPs from where it is now.

Given the hard tack to the left by the Liberal party lately and the concept that the Liberals and the NDP could be one party, I would not be surprised to see some Liberals cross the floor to the government side. One per year is what I expect. I also can see some Bloc members considering a move to the Conservatives in 2010.

Where I see the house at by the fall of 2011:
  • Conservatives - 148
  • Liberals - 67
  • Bloc - 47
  • NDP - 38
  • Ind - 3
  • Green - 1
  • Vacant - 4
  • Needed for a Majority - 152
Yes, I believe that a Green, Elizabeth May, will be able to win a by-election.

By the fall sitting of the house, the Conservatives will be close enough to a majority that they will only need the independents to pass something or may be able to pass a bill because enough MPs are not in the house on a given day.

The second big change from this election is how badly the Liberals did in the election. This matters because there has be government in waiting during a minority parliament to make an election relevant. The Liberals are not realistically ready to govern and do not look like a government in waiting after the last election. Contrast that to the Conservatives in 2004 when they were the official opposition.

The Liberals took the biggest hit in voter numbers and this will significantly reduce their funding. The party is a precarious position with respect to finances and needs to have a long break till the next election. How bad was the election for them?

In BC the Liberals went from being tied with the NDP to well behind the NDP. The Liberals fell below 10% in 10 ridings and will not get their expenses back. The party went from being a force in 25 to 30 ridings to only 15.

In Alberta the Liberals have seen their vote fall to half of what it has been in the past. The party used to win seats in Edmonton and hold seats there. They were clearly and strongly the number two in the area, now they are out of the race.

In Manitoba, the Liberals were the largest party in 1997 and 2000. This time they were reduced to a single seat and missed the 10% number in five ridings.

The results in Ontario should scare the Liberals. They were reduced to 1/3 of the vote. The 100 seat block the province delivered to Chretien in three elections was the back bone of their majority governments. Much more worrisome for the Liberals is how that vote was distributed. The Liberal vote did not fall like a tide, but instead it held in some areas - Toronto - and collapsed in others - Central Ontario.

In Hamilton the Liberals emerged as the third place party. Two of the seats were NDP v Conservatives, something you see in BC but not normally in Ontario.

All in all, the Liberals have been effectively pushed into a Toronto region party, admittedly that is a large region with a lot of seats. In the GTA, the Liberals received 460 000 votes, 12.6% of their votes and over one quarter of their MPs. The GTA represents 8.1% of Canadians. In the GTA the Liberals managed to get 46.3% of the vote.

When you take the GTA out of the mix, the Liberal vote in the rest of the country drops to 24.7%, only a small drop of 1.6 percentage points, but still very telling of how weak the party is in many areas. Outside of the GTA in Ontario the Liberals managed to get 30.8% of the vote.

The Liberals did manage to hold onto their vote in PEI, increase it in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Quebec. The first two offer no scope for more seats, but Quebec may offer the Liberals some new hope in the future, but much depends on what happens in Quebec politics.

On the surface the Bloc looks like it weathered the election well, but they have some underlying weaknesses. The Bloc managed to elect 50 MPs with only 38.1% of the vote, their second lowest precentage in an election. The Bloc lost about one tenth of their support level from the 2006 election. In 2004 they won 41 seats with over 50% of the vote, in 2006 that was reduced to 26 and now in 2008 it is at 15. In 67 of 75 ridings the number of Bloc votes went down.

The Bloc MPs must be asking themselves what point is there in them being in Ottawa. They also have to wonder how the next election might go. With three federalist parties splitting the vote, they benefited in this election. Will this math continue for another election?

I can see a number of Bloc MPs retiring, I can see Duceppe stepping down, I can even see some of the Bloc MPs sitting as independents or crossing to the Conservatives. The Bloc is in a limbo and needs to figure out where it is going.

The NDP comes out of the election on a high with more MPs and some real solid bases in the country. They now have seats in 8 of 10 provinces and in all of the regions of the country. In five of the provinces the NDP was the second place party. This election really marks a new high point for the NDP. The party vote did not rise as much as Jack Layton hoped for, but the other statistics point to very positive results.

244 NDP candidates broke 10% and therefore are eligible for a rebate on their election expenses. This is 30 more than in 2006 and should mean they will have more money to spend in the next election. In 2000 only 57 New Democrats broke that 10% mark.

The NDP was a contender in 109 ridings in this election, up from 86 in 2006. The NDP has a lot more ground they can realistically aim to win in the next election than ever before. In the past the NDP has been factor in about 1/4 of the ridings in the country, they are now serious in over 1/3 of the ridings.

The NDP will have to ramp up going after the Liberals to pull in more voters in the next election. The NDP also needs to recruit serious star candidates in many of the ridings they do not hold at the moment. They need to build their team for 2012 now and make sure they do not have any fringe party people running for them.

The NDP also needs to make it clear to Canadians that they are the left wing party and if the Liberals are left, they need to join the NDP.

In 2012, unless through some fluke there is an early election, the ridings over which the election will be fought will mainly be held by the Liberals and the Bloc. The 2012 election should also see new ridings added in BC, Alberta and Ontario. The 22 proposed seats will all end up in areas that in this election voted Conservative and are likely to increase the number of Conservative safe seats in the next election.
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