BY JENNIFER HOEGG
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Canada woke up to a Conservative government May 3. Stephen Harper led the party to 167 seats, well over the 155 necessary for a majority.
Jack Layton’s orange wave brought the party to historic highs, mostly on the basis of success in Quebec. Layton will lead the first NDP Official Opposition with 102 MPs.
The Liberals were reduced to third party status for the first time in Canada’s history, at 34 seats. Even leader Michael Ignatieff failed to win his Ontario seat.
In another historic first, Elizabeth May won a seat for the Green Party, but the party’s share of the popular vote was cut almost in half.
Four seats remain for the Bloc Quebecois. Leader Gilles Duceppe, who was defeated in his riding, announced his resignation before the night was over.
Here in Nova Scotia, only one seat changed hands: Dartmouth-Cole Harbour went to former provincial NDP leader Robert Chisholm over Liberal incumbent Mike Savage.
Scott Brison won in Kings-Hants for the sixth time, but only beat Conservative challenger David Morse by 1173 votes.
In West Nova, Greg Kerr widened his margin of victory over repeat Liberal candidate Robert Thibault, taking the seat with 4494 votes.
Dr. Ian Stewart, a professor of political science at Acadia, said the close margin in Kings-Hants is not surprising. “This historically was one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. In some sense, Scott Brison’s success as a Liberal has been slightly anomalous.”
Facing an ebbing Liberal tide and his strongest Conservative candidate since Brison himself crossed to Liberal benches in 2003, Stewart says “nobody should be terribly surprised at a time when the Liberals were in decline.”
While Brison will be “one of the major members of the Liberal front bench”, he will only be a strong player in a weak party. “The Liberal party will go through a period of some soul searching.”
Strategic voting may have hurt NDP candidate Mark Rogers, Stewart says, with some voters who may have otherwise been caught up in the NDP’s national momentum.
“If there had been a single riding the Liberals hoped they would pick up,” Stewart says, West Nova was it Stewart says. “But it wasn’t close.”
Provincially, the NDP hold in Halifax, Liberals in Cape Breton and Conservatives in rural mainland Nova Scotia, Brison being the one exception, does not surprise Stewart. “We know the politics of Cape Breton are different from the politics of metro which is different from the politics of rural mainland.”
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The Bloc’s decline from 47 seats to four is a big change, Stewart says. “I think people were expecting the Bloc would decline but not as much as they did.” The results remind him of the 1993 election when the Progressive Conservatives plummeted from majority status to two seats in the House of Commons.
The NDP’s 58 seats in Quebec may change the party’s policy positions, Stewart adds. “It’s not all roses for the NDP,” he cautions. Policies on a strong, united Canada and advocacy for national programs may go by the wayside, he guesses. Like the Mulroney Conservative’s 1984 success in Quebec, some of the Quebec caucus may not be prepared for victory.
However, with no threat of another election before 2015, “their job is simplified. “They are now situated to be the obvious alternative if the Harper government fails to satisfy Canadians over the next four years.”
And what does a Conservative majority under Prime Minister Harper mean?
“I think we know a few things, “ Stewart says. “We know he is going to get rid of the long gun registry… that will be number one on his hit list.”
Next will be a law and order agenda.
“It’s probable that he’s going to eliminate subsidies to political parties. That is going to make it difficult for the Green Party,” he says. In 2008, the Greens polled six per cent of national votes, giving them financial resources from a per-vote subsidy allowing for national staff and ads. May 2, they received less than four per cent of the popular vote.
“What’s going to happen is parties are going to raise money from committed rank and file members,” Stewart says. “The Conservatives have done very well raising money from private sources” and the NDP have a large number of members. The Liberals have fewer. Elimination of public subsidy for political parties could result in a “financial death spiral” for the Liberals.
Stewart says he would be surprised if Harper undertook a radical remake of social programs. “Canadians have no appetite for the radical restructuring of the welfare state.”
Instead, he says, they might concentrate on consolidating their position as “Canada’s governing party.
“It depends whether the party is in it for the long term or just one glorious attempt to implement ideology.”