Canadian 2008 Federal Election: Reflections on a $300 million+ Vanity Project

October 14 came and went and little has changed in structure of representation in our parliament. There is a still a minority Conservative Party of Canada government in power, and the relative strength of the opposition is still the same. But there are some subtleties to reflect upon.

Before presenting my thoughts, let’s revisit the obvious – at its core, politics is a game of power. That is, the power to get your ideas across to the public, the power to connect with public opinion, the power to persuade the public to vote for you and your party, the power to get elected and the power to stay in power. That said, let’s reflect.

Miscalculation: Harper felt that he was in majority territory and called an election in September – more than a year before his “promised fixed election date.” In his victory speech, Harper said that “this was no time to be partisan.” A demonstration that he has mastered the art of political rhetoric in an election that was his to earn a majority mandate.

Minority: What appeared to be the destiny of the election. So why test the patience of the electorate and spend taxpayer money on a seemingly meaningless exercise? With the economy becoming and increasingly contentious issue, Harper & company needed to firm up support for a second (albeit another minority) mandate.

The centre and left is fractured. Why not take advantage of it? The Liberals took advantage of it for over a decade from 1993, so why not the Conservatives now? In the power game of politics this is an appropriate strategy – keep hammering away to demonstrate that you are the only unified party to lead the country. Further, with vote splitting, there are more opportunities for a Conservative candidate to seize a seat with 35% of the vote in close ridings.

Quebec: The enigma. All parties, with the exception of the Bloc, continue to struggle to make inroads in la belle province. Quebeckers know that they are being courted, and understand their role in confederacy. The also understand that unless that national political environment is not right for their interest, they have more to gain from a strong presence in opposition. Thus, the Bloc will remain relevant and a default “reservation” vote for some time.

Ontario: Long a Liberal stronghold, is now fractured with Conservatives cutting a swath through the 905-belt, southwestern and central Ontario. With 106 seats up for grabs, and Quebec proving to be a challenge, it would not be surprising if the Conservatives look to try and gain the bulk of the 13 needed seats here.

Rural/Urban Divide: Other than than Quebec and Newfoundland/Labrador, the Conservatives have connected with rural, western and suburban Canada. The NDP have staked out an interesting mix of selected urban and rural ridings (including in the Conservative fortress of Alberta), and the Greens are busy playing spoiler for the left across all ridings. The Liberals, other than the Maritimes, appear to hold appeal for constituents in the largest urban ridings in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Immigrants: Long the stronghold of the Liberals, the Conservatives have focused their efforts on courting this increasingly important voting segment. With their pick up of key suburban ridings in Vancouver and Toronto, it appears that the strategy is paying off.

Dion: Destined to become a verb of some sort once he steps down. While there are only two candidates who are ready to step up in a leadership race, the election has revealed much more. The Liberal machinery to consolidate their vote across the country is in disrepair. Their bran needs an overhaul and their messaging need to be clearer to connect with constituency that delivered them solid majorities for 12 years. Else, they will continue to bleed votes to the left, not get their voters out, and lack the strength to avoid Conservative candidates moving up the middle to seize ridings.

Alberta-style politics: The Conservatives, with their roots in Alberta, have learned much from the province’s politics. The provincial Conservatives have secured a core group of voters and the supporting machinery to get out their vote, have cornered the rural vote and have managed to drive down voter turnout to historic lows across jurisdictions in Canada. The Conservatives have worked out in driving down voter turn out, their core motivated constituency will become a much more powerful voting block. Thus, given this circumstance, it will favour the Federal Conservatives for the immediate term.

Majority: It has been long felt that a majority of voters was needed to form a majority government. Not any more. Via strategic analysis and targeted efforts, the Liberals under Chretien and now the Conservatives have worked out that they can get to the prized majority with a popular vote in the high 30s. It is now a matter of strategic targeting and resource deployment.

Overall, the 2008 Federal Election was a vanity project for the Conservatives at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer. It was an election that the public neither wanted nor cared about much. However, in the game of politics, the Conservatives have learned much toward what they need to garner a majority. And we will see how this parliament functions while the Liberals do some quick soul searching to get their once formidable machinery overhauled and functioning again.

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