Debriefing the 2019 Canadian Election
It’s been a week since the 2019 election, and things have calmed down. The Liberals are now settling into their new government, as the minority leaders this time, with the Conservatives trailing them with the large majority of the popular vote. In fact, the Liberals have the lowest share of the popular vote, despite winning, in Canadian history. Overall, the election was a loss for all of the major parties. The Liberals lost their commanding majority in parliament, the Conservatives failed to reach a minority government, the NDP lost all of their seats in Quebec, and the PPC failed to win a single seat. The party that could truly consider this election a victory was the Bloc Quebecois, with the Greens also claiming a marginal victory. So, what was a disappointing election for not only most of the parties but also the electorate on the whole, has only raised more questions about what the future of Canada will look like.
Analyzing the election, there simply needs to be something said about Conservative’s lack of a plan to reach out to a new voter base. The fact is, in Canadian politics, the Conservatives already have a very faithful, solid base upon which they draw support. The real issue is with reaching out to new voters. From 2006 to 2015, the Conservatives have always had between 5.3 million to 5.8 million. That Scheer only won about 300,000 more votes in the 2019 election, especially with the scandals surrounding the Liberals, can be viewed as a failure to reach out to voters disenchanted with the left. As for the failures on the other half, Trudeau played it relatively smart in the leadup to the election, especially with the scandals bogging him down. By not bringing any more unnecessary attention to him and his campaign (unlike Scheer who was criticized for some campaign speeches), he made it easier for the voters that weren’t convinced by the Conservatives’ rhetoric. Another key thing that helped the Liberals was their branding of being the party of stopping climate change. Regardless of their actual accomplishments on this front, their enthusiasm of branding themselves this way could have been a huge tipping point for some undecided voters, especially given the Conservatives’ lack of policies to stop this issue. For the NDP, a large majority of the issue for them in this election was the loss of all Quebec ridings, except for one. One of the reasons for this could be the resurgence of Quebec nationalism, and the other reason could be simply the appearance of Jagmeet Singh. He simply does not look like a typical Quebecer, which can be a factor, especially in a culture as closed off as Quebec society. It’s not as if Singh’s policy platform is overly different from Blanchet’s, as they are both strongly progressive in their own right. It seems that appearance and pandering to nationalist tendencies really do matter for the Quebec electorate. As for the Greens, they got one more seat. Really not much to say there.
As for how the current government will run, it will likely be full of disagreement, and policy creation will slow down. The Liberals have ruled out any form of a formal coalition, which is definitely the smart move, as they will need support from either side of the spectrum, whether it be on pipelines or on the climate. As a whole though, this government will be able to continue their progressive agenda, as the Liberals are likely to have major support from the progressive bloc consisting of the NDP, Greens, and the Bloc Quebecois. Either way, the Liberals will have to make several concessions to either the progressive bloc or the Conservatives to get help from them. This will make parliament interesting in the coming years. And what for the potential of a vote of no confidence? At this point, no party will honestly want to go through re-election. If anything, re-election would only fire up more Liberal voters, and solidify Liberal support in the aftermath of an already chaotic election. That is something that none of the other parties wants.
Looking at the election, it really brings up a number of issues, only exacerbated by the fact that the Liberals only hold a minority. Regionalism is the largest of these. This election has really shown the difference in political culture within the different regions. The territories and Atlantic Canada were as usual solidly Liberal. Quebec has revived the perpetual nationalist movement in their province and is now solidly Bloc Quebecois with some Liberal representation (but that is in large part to Trudeau’s own heritage and views on progressivism). Where eastern Canada is solidly left-wing, the shift to conservatism really starts with western Ontario. With a short interlude from north and central Manitoba, the prairie provinces and eastern British Colombia are overwhelmingly conservative, with other parties hardly getting any representation. The only province in the entirety of Canada with any semblance of balance in politics seems to be BC. Aside from them, Canada really seems to have split itself up into different political subcultures. While this might not necessarily be a bad thing (and one might argue that these differences were always present in Canadian politics), it really does show a divide in the Canadian electorate. This has led to the rise of separatism.
This election has once again reinvigorated Quebec separatism. After the past few elections, the Bloc Quebecois really seemed like a dead party hanging onto a few ridings by the skin of their teeth. Their fortunes have changed under Blanchet’s leadership and while he has stated that he was not running a campaign directly for separatism, Blanchet is a known separatist sympathizer and his voter base is primarily filled with those who are not totally against separation. Separatism is not only an issue here, but also in the west. On the other side of the country, separatist sentiment has been rising heavily in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The prairie provinces have long been feeling a lack of representation on the federal level, especially with the reluctance of the government to support the oil industry and dairy industry in the west. Aside from that, the overall political culture is drastically different to that of the east. The truth is, it is really unlikely that separation will truly happen. At this point, not only is separation politically unfeasible and something that many people would disagree with, but also something that would destroy the prairie economy. Despite this, talk of this will certainly cause the gap between western Canada and the east to grow.
Aside from the topic of the separatism, the issue surrounding the voting system will likely come to the forefront once again. Regardless of one’s take on the issue, it is undeniable that the majority of people voted Conservative in this election, and yet they still lost. The NDP would share similar grievances as well because they are technically underrepresented in parliament. Questions will be raised at to the effectiveness of the first past the post system Canada uses right now, whether the system should be switched to another one like proportional representation or instant-runoff voting.
On the whole, does this election spell trouble for Canadians? Not at all. But because voters voted very stereotypically this election, a lot of the divide between Canadians was shown in this election. This stereotypical voting was primarily because of the campaigns run by the candidates. Scheer was the typical Conservative, appealing to the west. Trudeau was typically Liberal, vying for progressive voters in the east and votes from the poorer areas of Canada. The others ran very typical campaigns as well, and because of that, the results were very typical of the subcultures within Canada. So, while separatist movements might be brewing under the covers, it is very unlikely that it will actually come to fruition. Ultimately, will this government be very successful? Probably not. But more importantly, is Canada in trouble? Not even close.