October 15, 2008

Conservatives Win Minority Govt Amid Larger Battle

Conservatives Win Minority Govt Amid Larger Battle

Analysis by Chris Arsenault

VANCOUVER, Oct 15 (IPS) - While Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives will continue ruling Canada as a minority government, they are several steps closer to a coveted parliamentary majority after Tuesday's general election.

The Conservatives increased their parliamentary seat count by 16 to 143. The opposition Liberals led by Stéphane Dion lost 17 seats to finish with 76. Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party (NDP) won 37 seats, an increase of 7. The Bloc Quebecois, which only runs candidates in Quebec, won 50 seats up from 44 in the last election.

Despite optimistic polling numbers and inclusion in the televised leaders' debate, the Green Party did not win any seats in Canada's first past the post voting system.

The Conservatives won about 37 percent of the popular vote, up one percentage point from the 2006 election. The Liberals' popular vote dropped to 27 percent, one of the lowest levels in the party's history.

The one area where the Conservatives lost ground was Quebec, where their cuts to funding for artists and promises of mandatory sentences for offenders as young as 14 alienated voters.

"Without the Bloc Québécois, Stephen Harper would be forming a majority government," said Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, who supports the idea of Quebec province separating from Canada. The Bloc won two-thirds of Quebec's ridings, even though most Quebeckers are opposed to separation from Canada.

Prior to Tuesday's election, some observers were discussing the possibility of a coalition government between the three opposition parties, who share some key policy goals.

"The NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals (in their leftist Dionista variant, at least) are all pro-Kyoto [Protocol], down-the-line socially liberal, anti-American, weak on crime, culturally nationalistic, and fiscally redistributionist," opined Jonathan Kay in a post-election blog entry for the conservative National Post.

"Scary stuff," wrote Kay. "And here's the scariest part: About two-thirds of Canadians voted for this vision on Tuesday."

Because of Canada's election laws, a coalition government of the three allegedly leftist parties seems unlikely and thus the views of the majority of Canadians won't be realised.

Fundamentally, Canada's 40th Parliament will look very similar to the one which preceded it. "What a waste of money, a 300-million-dollar election which told us what we already knew," one voter in northern British Columbia told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as election results came in. Prior to the election, most polls had forecast another minority government.

In calling the election just three years into a four-year term, Harper violated his promise to institute fixed election dates so politicians couldn't call voters to the polls whenever it seemed to their partisan advantage.

The question then, according to some voters, is why did Prime Minister Harper dissolve Parliament and call an election? The answer may lie at Harper's alma mater, the University of Calgary.

Tom Flanagan, one of Harper's closest advisors and a political science professor from the far right "Calgary school" at the university, outlined the Conservatives' long-term strategy during a series of pre-election interviews.

"Strategically, this is sort of a prolonged war of attrition," Dr. Flanagan told CTV news when the election was called on Sep. 7. "You can fight a war with some objective less than total victory," he said, predicting that poor outcomes for the Liberals would lead the party to dump Stéphane Dion as its leader.

Dion will likely be turfed by the Liberal party executive in the coming weeks and months.

High-profile Liberals and potential party leaders including former Ontario Premier Bob Rae and former Harvard professor and Iraq war supporter Michael Ignatieff have yet to pay off their debts from the last Liberal leadership race.

Another race for the Liberal leadership would invariably leave the party in a weaker financial position while creating rifts within party ranks. During the most recent campaign, the Conservatives significantly outspent their opponents, buying prime television air time. More debt for Liberals could make the party even weaker in future elections.

In the wake of Tuesday's results, everything seems to be going according to Dr. Flanagan's pre-election plan.

The Conservative minority, strengthened by Tuesday's election, coupled with Stéphane Dion's lacklusture performance will "throw the Liberals into turmoil and give Harper... a virtually free hand in Parliament for quite a while and really handicap his main opponent," according to Flanagan.

There is nothing unique or troubling about conservative intellectuals providing guidance to political parties. However, Dr. Flanagan, a purported admirer of the neo-conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, has raised the ire of other academics and native groups.

In his book "First Nations? Second Thoughts" Flanagan writes that, "the European colonisation of North America was inevitable, and, if we accept the philosophical analysis of John Locke and Emer de Vattel, justifiable."

"The reality is that if Flanagan was making these kinds of statements about any other group in Canada -- Jewish, Italians, French -- he would not be given a senior role in a major national party and would more likely be exiled into the political wilderness," wrote Chief Phil Fontaine from the Assembly of First Nations.

Besides a series of interviews at the beginning of the campaign outlining the Conservatives' long-term strategies, Flanagan stayed quiet for most of the election. Instead of his hard-line rhetoric, the Conservatives opted for television ads focusing on Prime Minister Harper talking gently in a simple down home blue-collared sweater.

But, with the Harper Conservatives in a stronger position than ever before and the Liberals severely weakened, it seems like everything is going according to plan for Dr. Tom Flanagan and his colleagues at the neo-conservative Calgary school.


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