The status quo results of the Sept. 20 federal election hide much turmoil just below the surface of the numbers. Already there is talk about leaders taking responsibility for the deemed failure of their leadership. Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives won the popular vote, but fell 50 seats short of a majority result. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh ran a spirited campaign, slightly improved his party’s vote count, but gained only one seat.
Justin Trudeau called the election when the Liberals were ahead in the polls, in majority territory, only to be handed leftovers for all the trouble of investing $600 million in an electoral exercise that was meant to cement important policy mandates. Now he will again have to work with opposition parties to pass his important ‘progressive’ policies.
The Bloc’s Yves-François Blanchet was fortunate to receive a highly-controversial question in the English debate, which turned out to be a golden lift to his party’s fortunes. Still, the Bloc fell a half dozen seats short of their intended goal. If the platforms of each party were made clear during the election campaign, is a lack of success because party leaders failed? Do they all deserve the boot, to be replaced by new aspirants?
In 2015 Trudeau promised a major reform of the electoral system, but after securing a majority government, he quickly broke that promise as consultations showed that some sort of proportional representation was the consensus of Canadians. Not his preferred ranked ballot system.
So in today’s democratic Canada we have a system where the Bloc received half the popular vote of the NDP but got more seats than the NDP. The NDP, which secured about half the popular vote the Liberals got, were saddled with one-sixth of the seats the Liberals won. Electoral reform is needed, but the Liberals cannot be relied on to democratize the system to better reflect the voting intentions of Canadians in Parliament. That is because of short-term political expediency. Winning is more important than principle. Giving voice to the leaders of smaller parties with increased representation in the House was not one the prime Minister wished to entertain – putting the interests of the Liberal party ahead of the interests of Canadians.
Forty percent of Canadians did not cast ballots in this election. Various motivations have been stated for this low turnout. Apathy with respect to failed electoral promises? Voting made more difficult as fewer polling stations were made available to Canadians? Worries about Covid contamination? Packaged with the fact that the Liberals received votes from 33% of the 60% of Canadians who cast their ballots, that super important mandate the Prime Minister sought is based on a pretty slim wedge of Canadians. Democracy, you say?
The ruling Liberals find themselves in minority territory, and are experienced enough to know how to tiptoe through pitfalls of political challenges. The question Canadians are asking themselves, at least those who care about where the country is going, is will Parliament work for all Canadians, delivering the good policies they need, or will the turmoil end in another stalemate?
Carl Hager lives in Gatineau and is on the executive of the Pontiac NDP riding association