Our Red/Blue Divide

Map Colours
Remember all those maps of America we saw after the 2004 U.S. election, showing the states in the northeast, northern Midwest and west coast in blue while all the rest of the map was red? Well, we have a similar divide here in Canada, except that here, blue is conservative and red is liberal (and orange is NDP and light blue is BQ). Much of the provinces west of Ontario are blue.

That’s not the divide all media has focussed on today, though. No, instead they’ve focussed on how there is no (Tory) blue in Canada’s three largest cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Toronto is red except for three splashes of orange; the island of Montreal is red in the west and north but (BQ) blue in the east, and Vancouver is red with one spot of orange. Even the Halifax area is either orange or red. That’s just one of the dilemmas Harper will have to deal with as he forms his cabinet.

Colouring Questions
Now 24 hours after the election, I can’t help thinking how it seems the Strategic Counsel polls were likely full of shit …or, at least, pro-Tory wishful thinking. I remember reading a forum a few weeks before the election, where someone pointed out the wording of some of their questions during the 2005 provincial campaign in British Columbia. The NDP got trounced in the previous election, and one of the questions went along the lines of “Is it too risky to have an NDP government?” A majority of respondents answered No, and apparently the result of that question wasn’t publicized. But the point is, the question was hardly unbiased.

Shades of Blue and Red in the Past
With 40.3% of the seats, the Conservative minority elected yesterday is “the weakest in Canadian history,” reports Gregory Morrow. Until yesterday, this record was held by the Trudeau Liberals, who won 41.3% of seats in 1972, and the record before that, with 42.3%, to the Diefenbaker Progressive Conservatives in 1957. Mind you, in 1958, Diefenbaker got the largest majority ever, with 78.5% of the seats. Mulroney’s PCs hold the record for the second largest majority in 1984 (74.8%), declining to the 17th largest in 1988 (57.3%) and total humiliation in 1993 with only 2 PC seats (against the Liberals’ 15th largest win of 60% of seats). In the case of both the weakest minorities, the party went on to win a majority in the following election.

Shades of Grey
Far be it from me to take away from the Conservatives’ euphoria of winning, but I can’t help but notice that, in another sense and excluding the BQ, they’ve won the least last night, especially in view of all expectations. The Liberals “only” lost 31 seats compared to the 2004 election, which is remarkable considering it looked at times they might only win 80ish. The NDP gained 11 and the Conservatives “only” 25. And in the strangest twist of this election, 10 of those gains were made in Québec, where they weren’t expected to get any at the onset of the election. “Harper will … have to ensure that his party’s comeback in Quebec does not turn out to be a stillbirth,” writes the Toronto Star‘s always perspicacious Chantal Hébert.

The Environics poll done over the weekend before the election suggests that considerably more people who voted Conservative did so “mainly because [it was] time for a change” as opposed to wanting a Conservative government. And two-thirds don’t want to see the same-sex marriage question brought back to Parliament. So Canadians changed, but they did so very cautiously by giving the Conservatives a very weak mandate. (By the way, in the full version of the survey result, 21% said they changed their mind on who they’d vote for during the campaign, and 6% of those because of polls showing the Conservatives in the lead.)

So, the Next Election Will Be…?
If the social conservative segment makes an ass of the Conservatives — and I’m not assuming they will, although Harper better have a good whip — and if the Liberals get themselves a good new leader by this fall, and if the Conservatives’ second budget to be tabled in early 2007 is contentious, I expect to be back at the voting booth in Spring 2007. But I admit: that’s a lot of “if”s. Harper might succeed in keeping the controversial social elements of his party in check, and if he does, Canadians in Toronto’s suburbs might stop being afraid of the Conservatives’ so-called “hidden agenda” and give them a healthy majority the next time, at which point those elements will be allowed to come out in the open. (I characterize this element as bad winners and bad losers, like this self-declared Ontario redneck blogger, who still revels in putting down Belinda Stronach, or the truly repugnant and often xenophobic commenters on Small Dead Animals, a blog by a woman I hope never to have the misfortune of meeting.) But if Harper fails to keep them in check and has only muted successes in fixing the fiscal imbalance with the provinces, and the Liberals find a good leader, a slim Liberal majority might follow. If a third consecutive minority follows, well …it won’t be the first time (PC 1962 and Lib 1963 and 1965). In fact, we’ve already seen four minorities in 11 years (1957 to 1968).

So, the next year-and-a-half will be pivotal on the Canadian political scene. If the Liberals renew themselves adequately and the Conservatives drop the ball too many times, the desire for change expressed in the Environics poll might be satisfied and the Liberals will be brought out of the repair shed. In other words, a replay of 1979-80. But if the opposite happens and the opposition parties misgauge the electorate, then we could see a replay of 1957-58. After witnessing such a volatile campaign, I think it’s way too soon to predict which it will be.