Canadians come to their senses, reject Conservatives and their austerity economics

Back in May I posted about the “seismic event” in provincial elections in Alberta, Canada, the “Texas of Canada” for its conservative politics. Alberta is a lesson for Arizona:

After 43 years in power, the citizens of Alberta finally decided that they had had enough of the conservative policies of the Progressive Conservatives and threw them out of office en masse in one of the most stunning electoral defeats ever. This was a revolution by the ballot box.

On Monday, in Canada’s national parliamentary elections, that “seismic event” redoubled: Canadians rejected the Conservatives and their austerity economics and also the New Democrat Party that won decisively in Alberta in May, handing a stunning come from behind landslide victory to the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Screenshot from 2015-10-20 12:34:58

Canada’s election was the Highest voter turnout since 1993. There is a lesson in there.

The Toronto Star, reports, Liberal comeback headed for history books: Hébert:

TrudeauCanada’s progressive majority got its act together on Monday and ushered Stephen Harper out with a vengeance.

In the process they brought their own resolution to the problem of vote splitting on the left of the Conservatives, steamrolling the NDP to hand Justin Trudeau (above) the first Liberal majority victory in 15 years.

In the end, the election turned out to be more than about terminating the Conservative decade in power. It resulted in a Liberal comeback that is headed straight for the history books.

The red wave that the Liberals had hoped for at the tail end of the campaign swept Atlantic Canada and then carried on into Quebec.

The last Liberal leader to come out of Quebec with a majority of the province’s seats before this election was . . . Trudeau’s father in 1980.

Ontario decisively broke the back of the Conservative bid for a fourth consecutive mandate. In Canada’s largest province, the Liberals won more than twice as many seats as the Conservatives.

In the process, Ontario voters parted with their long-held tradition of putting their election eggs in different federal and provincial baskets.

Over the course of a bit more than a year, they have now installed or helped install Liberals at both Queen’s Park and in the House of Commons.

Harper is said to have stuck around for this campaign to get the satisfaction of beating Pierre Trudeau’s son in an election. Instead, his name will forever be joined with that of his Liberal nemesis in Canada’s electoral annals.

Almost 40 years apart, both tried and failed to secure a fourth consecutive mandate.

Unlike Trudeau who came back to power less than a year later, Harper will wear this defeat for all time.

Whether the Conservatives can agree on a successor without tearing the party apart is not a given.

Monday’s election finish was not the worst Conservative rout ever or even Harper’s poorest finish. He lost his first campaign to Paul Martin in 2004 with 99 seats.

But the party is less healthy than its seat count would suggest. Behind the facade of a second-place finish, there are cracks in the Conservative foundation along the familiar Tory versus Reform/Alliance fault line. It will be hard for a party that has taken no prisoners for a decade, including within its own ranks, to find a unifying figure to replace Harper.

As for the Bloc Québécois, even niqab politics could not yield the 12 seats it needed to once again enjoy official party status in Parliament. For the second consecutive federal election in a row, Quebec voters have turned their backs on the sovereigntist to cast their lot with a federalist party. The Bloc came out of the night with more seats but a smaller share of the popular vote than it had managed to keep four years ago. This is not the kind of momentum-inducing result Parti Québécois Leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau was hoping for.

Still, in the end, it was the NDP that suffered the most brutal night. Eighty days ago, the New Democrats has federal power in sight for the first time in their history. After the votes were counted, the party could be said to have been set back two decades. The party was shut out of Atlantic Canada; it was reduced to a distant also-ran in Quebec. It won fewer than 10 seats in Ontario. It is returning to a distant third place in the House of Commons, a lessened position to which Mulcair is no more suited than Harper would have been in the role of leader of the opposition to Trudeau.

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[A] lot of new blood was also shed in the war between the NDP and the Liberals as promising candidates for one party defeated equally promising ones for another.

* * *

The NDP has just sacrificed its most talented slate of candidates ever to a self-destructive battle against the Liberals.

The editors of the Star deliver a brutal editorial analysis of the Conservatives, Trudeau’s victory is a triumph for decency: Editorial:

Cheers broke out across the land as Canadian voters chased Stephen Harper’s arrogant Conservatives from office on Monday night, in a richly deserved rebuke after years of corrosive misgovernance.

Thus ends a dismal, divisive era in our political history.

Confounding the pundits and pollsters, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have pulled off a remarkable political comeback after spending the past decade in the political wilderness. The Liberals have surged from third place to earn a commanding mandate to chart a more progressive direction for Canada. It’s one for the record books.

This is Trudeaumania II, nothing less, surfing a wave of revulsion at Harper’s spiteful governing style.

Trudeau’s compelling vision of a Canada that is “open and confident and hopeful” caught the spirit of voters who believe this country can be more generous, more ambitious and more successful. Millions were repelled by Conservative efforts to scare people into voting for the status quo. And Trudeau’s call to “come together as a country” proved to be a stronger motivator than the Tories’ divisive tactics.

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Throughout the campaign Trudeau spoke out fiercely and repeatedly for human rights when the Conservatives were trying to make cheap political gains by stoking unwarranted fears about terrorism, by hounding vulnerable niqab-wearing Muslim women and by abandoning desperate Syrian refugees to their fate.

Trudeau rejected a Tory economic model that left too many behind, and refused to be shackled by the conventional wisdom that budget-balancing trumps all. That progressive vision informed his promises of greater tax fairness, his bold investment in job-creating infrastructure and his pulling together of a generous, equitable child benefit from a hodgepodge of Tory programs that collectively favoured the affluent.

And he vowed to reinvigorate Canada’s key institutions. He promised to respect the Supreme Court, to empower Parliament, to restore the tradition of making public policy based on science and evidence instead of political whim, and to work collaboratively with the provinces on climate change and other challenges.

Canadians will expect the Liberal leader to remain true to this agenda.

And they will expect Canada’s next Parliament, with the Conservatives as the official opposition, to be productive and responsive to voters’ call for change.

Canada urgently needs a course correction after nearly a decade of a “Harper government” that was relentlessly divisive, scandal-ridden, contemptuous of national institutions, ambitious only in its desire to hobble government, and socially regressive. It hit rock bottom with Harper’s Hail Mary appearance at a weekend Ford Nation rally in Etobicoke organized by Rob Ford, Toronto’s toxic former mayor, and his brother Doug.

This election was a referendum on Harper’s domineering leadership, and its fatal shortcomings.

* * *

If the Conservatives hope to regain Canadians’ confidence they must repair broken faith with the public, instead of creating enemies at every turn.

Bitter as the outcome is for Tom Mulcair and the NDP, now consigned to third-party status, they deserve credit for running a principled, if overly cautious, campaign. There is no dishonour in their defeat. Canadians who voted NDP will now expect the party, however enfeebled, to make good on its platform promise to “work with other federalist parties” to repair the damage done during the past decade.

Certainly, given the sheer strength of the popular vote for change, the NDP can credibly lend support to a Liberal government. Working together, the two parties can make a positive difference and deliver the progressive, accountable, equitable governance the country needs.

But today the victory belongs unmistakably to Trudeau and his Liberals. They fought an uphill campaign, appealed to Canadians’ fundamental decency and sense of fairness, and they carried the nation along with them.

Larry Summers writes at the Washington Post that there is a message from the Canadian election for American politicians: Canadian elections proof that an anti-austerity message is a winning one:

The Canadian Liberal Party won an overwhelming victory in Monday’s election. Voters decisively rejected the ruling Conservative Party and placed the Liberal Party far ahead of the left wing New Democratic Party. This is obviously important for Canada. But there are also two lessons here for American political observers.

First, polls often get it wrong. As in Britain, and now the Canadian election, results were much more decisive than had been expected. A Liberal majority looked extremely unlikely two months ago. Even three days ago, I suspect Liberals would have been thrilled if they could have counted on a clear plurality of the vote. An era when less than 10 percent of voters respond to pollsters, and where mass opinion changes rapidly, will be one where Election Day is again a day of drama.

Second, in an era of extraordinarily low interest rates and slow growth, it is becoming increasingly clear that progressives do best when they reject austerity and embrace public investment. The British Labour Party and the Canadian NDP sought to demonstrate their soundness by embracing budget balancing as an objective. Their results were terrible.

The Canadian Liberals on the other hand were rewarded for a very different choice. As incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau told the Financial Times, “People keep telling me we have made a risky choice in this time when there is this political mantra of balanced budgets as a way to demonstrate responsible leadership. I am on the side of economists who say: Why put off investing when we have an opportunity now?”

Indeed, many Canadian political commentators noted the strategic importance of the Liberals’ infrastructure pledge. Martin Patriquin in Maclean’s called the infrastructure plan “the all-important wedge to isolate the NDP.” Michelle Gagnon in CBC news identified the announcement of deficit-funded infrastructure spending  as “the first turning point.” And, as noted on Bloomberg, “Trudeau entered the campaign in third place and his numbers began to increase after he broke from his rivals to favor three years of deficit spending, in part to fund an infrastructure blitz aimed at stoking Canada’s sluggish economy.”

More infrastructure investment is not just good economics. It is good politics. Let us hope that American presidential candidates get the word!

7 responses to “Canadians come to their senses, reject Conservatives and their austerity economics

  1. And there was an immediate drop in the value of the Loonie! Seems the rest of the world knows what Canada’s future looks like with an inexperienced Trudeau in charge!

    • It’s not a surprise that the world immediately devalued Canada’s currency. With liberals coming into power virtually promising to raise their national debt there isn’t much to inspire confidence there.

  2. It’s understandable that Liberals won after so many years of Conservatives in control. People get tired of having adults in charge all the time, so they elect that fun uncle that never quite grew up and gives them unfettered access to the treasury for all sorts of handouts and fun projects. After a while when the party gets old, crime goes up, the Treasury is empty, and something serious has to be done, they go back to electing adults (Conservatives) to clean up the mess. It’s just the natural cycle of politics.

    • It would be nice if you made statements consistent with the historical record. The people you describe as “adults” have done much more damage to economies than the “non-adults”. An easy, albeit short term, comparison of the most recent Bush record with the Clinton and Obama records totally destroys your point.
      I could be wrong, but you also seem to be implying an equivalence of Canada’s Liberals with the U.S.’s Democrats and an equivalence of Canada’s Progressive Conservatives (Yes, that oxymoron is what they are named.) with the U.S.’s Republicans. It is much more complicated than that!

      • Ha! Ha! Ha! I knew that posting would get a rise out of somebody! I am aware that Canada’s political parties and system bear little resemblance to the U.S. System. My Wife was Canadian and through her and her relatives I learned a lot about how Canada works, it’s history, it’s customs, it’s eccenticities. etc.

        For both Countries, we rarely have an adult in chanrge.

    • Donna Gratehouse

      Austerity is not about cleaning up anything. It’s about dismantling social safety nets and transferring all the nation’s wealth into the hands of rich people.

      • Sad to say, but history demonstrates you are correct, Donna. With the majority of the national budget going to pay the national and interest on the national deby there is not much left over. And in practicing austerity with what’s left, the first things cut are usually programs that benefit the poor. It’s a sad state of affairs.