Harper loses bid for Conservative majority

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After two years of right-wing rule on Oct. 14 voters punished the incumbent Conservative Party government headed by Stephen Harper by refusing to give him a majority government.

The Conservatives, or Tories, won 143 seats and obtained 37.6 percent of the vote, up 16 seats and 1.3 percent more votes from the elections held in 2006. In a number of these districts the anti-Harper vote was split between contending left parties, allowing the Conservatives to win. The Liberal Party lost 20 seats, dropping to 76 seats from 96, and its popular vote shrank to 26 percent, 4 percent less than two years ago.

Women’s and arts organizations in Quebec mobilized effectively to prevent Harper from winning extra seats he needed to form a majority government. The Tories lost in most urban centers, except in Alberta. The Party did not win any seats in Toronto or Montreal and only one in Vancouver, the three largest cities in Canada.

The Conservative lead in the polls began to fade towards election day as the economy began faltering, despite Harper’s assurances that the fundamentals of the Canadian economy were strong. Conservative efforts to capitalize on fear about crime also failed.

The right leaning Liberal Party efforts to campaign from the left, offering to implement a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and more social spending, failed to win over voters.

The Bloc Quebecois, which promised to protect Quebec’s interests in Ottawa, won 50 seats with 10 percent of the vote, two more seats than 2006.

The left improved its electoral results but not its overall presence in Parliament because of the “first past the post” electoral system which disenfranchise most people who vote for small parties and inflates the number of seats in Parliament for the large parties. Small parties, whose support is spread across the country, lack the critical mass of support in many districts needed to win seats.

The social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) won 37 seats and 18.2 percent of the vote, 7 seats more than in 2006. The Green Party won no seats even though it won 6.8 percent of the vote, up 4.5 percent from 2006. The remaining nine small parties that contested the election and independent candidates, four of which identify as being on the left, including the Communist Party of Canada, garnered 1.2 percent of the popular vote.

The Canadian Communist Party, which ran 24 candidates, reported that its overall vote went up slightly from 2006, despite a lack of coverage from the corporate-controlled national media, which largely ignored small parties. Kimball Cariou, a party candidate in Vancouver and a member of the party’s central executive, told the World in an e-mail interview that the party received a positive response from many voters: “As the economic crisis worsened, the primary concern of most left-minded voters was to defeat the Tories.” He said that the party’s election website received 3 million hits during the election campaign.

A portion of left-wing voters also voted for Liberal candidates in certain ridings, or for larger center-left parties such as the NDP, to keep the Conservatives from winning a majority government.

The election results do not indicate that voters turned to the right, as nearly 62 percent of voters cast their ballots for parties on the left, or for those that campaigned from the left, such as the Liberal Party and Bloc Quebecois. Harper, a fundamentalist Christian who shares an ideological affinity with the right-wing evangelical movement in the United States only increased his party’s share of the popular vote by 1.3 percent from the 2006 elections.

According to Elections Canada, voter turnout was 59 percent, down from 64 percent in 2006, indicating a continuing downward slide in voting rates. Tough new ID requirements to vote, introduced by the Tories before the election, also disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of young people and tenants, charge critics.

Because the Tories don’t have a majority in Parliament they will have to look to other parties for support. The Conservatives need 155 votes to pass legislation, 10 more than what they have. Analysts suggest that they will likely look to the right leaning, divided Liberal party for support. Liberal leader Stephane Dion has said that he will work with Harper to deal with the economic challenges facing Canada.

tpelzer@shaw.ca