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Canadian Voters Kick Stephen Harper Out Of Office After Nine Years

Ottawa Shooting 20141022

After nine years in power as both a minority and majority government, Canada’s Conservative Party was tossed out by Canadian voters in favor of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, which won a solid majority in Parliament that will give them a free hand in governing for the next four years:

OTTAWA — The nine-year reign of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party came to a sudden and stunning end on Monday night at the hands of Justin Trudeau, the young leader of the Liberal Party.

Starting with a sweep of the Atlantic provinces, the Liberals capitalized on what many Canadians saw as Mr. Harper’s heavy-handed style, and the party went on to capture 184 of the 338 seats in the next House of Commons. The unexpected rout occurred 47 years after Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, first swept to power.

Justin Trudeau, who will be 44 on Christmas Day, will become Canada’s second-youngest prime minister and the first to follow a parent into office.

While the Liberal Party had emerged on top in several polls over the past week, its lead was short of conclusive and Mr. Trudeau was an untested figure. There was no ambiguity, however, in Monday’s results.

The Conservatives were reduced to 99 seats from 159 in the last Parliament, according to preliminary results. The New Democratic Party, which had held second place and formed the official opposition, held on to only 44 seats after suffering substantial losses in Quebec to the Liberals.

“More than a hundred years ago a great prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier, talked about sunny ways, he knew that politics can be a positive force and that is the message Canadians sent today,” Mr. Trudeau told supporters in Montreal. “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways, this is what positive politics can do.”

Speaking in Calgary, Alberta, Mr. Harper conceded defeat but vowed to supporters that the Conservatives would rise again.

“The disappointment you all so feel, is my responsibility and mine alone,” he said. While Mr. Harper made no mention of his plans, the Conservative Party issued a statement saying that he had resigned as its leader.

The election became something of a referendum on Mr. Harper’s approach to government, which, in the view of his critics, has often focused on issues important to core Conservative supporters, mostly in the West, rather than to much of the population.

Dominic LeBlanc, a prominent Liberal member of Parliament who was handily re-elected in New Brunswick, attributed the party’s extraordinary revival, following a period during which many people forecast its extinction, to Mr. Trudeau, who became the party’s leader in 2013.

The focus of the campaign fluttered among issues, including a scandal over Conservative senators’ expenses; antiterrorism measures Mr. Harper introduced; pensions; the stagnation of the economy brought about by plunging oil prices; the government’s handling of refugees; the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact; and Mr. Harper’s attempts to ban the wearing of face veils known as niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.

I hope what this tells us is Canadians across the country have responded positively to Mr. Trudeau’s positive message,” Mr. LeBlanc told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The younger Mr. Trudeau proved as adept as his father in attracting crowds, and he, too, had a flamboyant streak — taking part in celebrity boxing matches. As votes were being counted in Ontario and Quebec, the provinces that account for about two-thirds of Canada’s population, the extent of the Liberals’ win was still not fully clear. It is a remarkable turnaround for the Liberals. During the last election in 2011, the party fell to third place for the first time in its history, holding just 34 seats. Even before all of the voting ended on Monday, the party had won or was leading in 152 electoral districts. The Conservatives had won or were leading 95 seats and the New Democratic Party had 25.

For much of the 78-day race, all three major political parties were in a statistical dead heat, according to various polls. Canadians only vote for members of Parliament, not the prime minister or parties, making it difficult to translate poll findings. And Mr. Harper won the three previous elections without ever exceeding 40 percent of the popular vote.

While the Canadian election was initially met with summer-vacation indifference when it was called on Aug. 2, the dramatic ending appeared to have attracted voter interest.

Turnout fell to as low as 58.8 percent in 2008 and was 61.1 percent in the last parliamentary elections, in 2011. The agency that supervises federal elections reported that 68.5 percent of the country’s 25.6 million voters cast ballots in this election.

News reports indicated that voters faced unusually long lines at some of the 66,000 polling stations on Monday. A rush of traffic temporarily overwhelmed the website of Elections Canada, the agency responsible for federal votes.

Many analysts have said that Mr. Harper set a campaign period of twice the usual length in the hope that the more voters saw of Mr. Trudeau during his first term as leader of the Liberals, the less they would like him. Early Conservative ads emphasized Mr. Trudeau’s relative political inexperience and concluded with the slogan, “Just not ready.”

If that was the case, it backfired.

More from Toronto’s Globe And Mail:

In a stunning political comeback propelled by a national desire for change, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals won a decisive majority Monday night, bringing an end to the Stephen Harper era and a decade of Conservative rule.

Long derided by opponents as shallow and inexperienced, the Liberal Leader will now be the second Trudeau to take up residence as Prime Minister at 24 Sussex Dr. after leading the Liberals from the political wilderness back into government.

The result signals a vast reversal of fortunes for a party that was all but written off after winning just 34 seats in the past election. Their seat haul on Monday – with huge gains across the country – amounts to the largest increase in seats for a party between elections in Canadian history. The party was elected in 175 ridings and leading in a handful of others late Monday night.

The vote put an end to a long, acrimonious campaign that saw charges of Conservative Islamophobia and a bitter fight between the Liberals and NDP for the “change vote,” a battle the Liberals won.

In his victory speech in Montreal, Mr. Trudeau sent out a message of unity to Canadians, continuing the positive approach he adopted during the campaign. The Liberals operated on the principle that “you can appeal to the better angels of our nature, and you can win doing it,” he said.

For Mr. Harper and the Conservatives, the loss comes as a stern repudiation by voters and marks an end to their nearly 10-year hold on power, a polarizing stretch that has seen taxes cut, crime punished more severely, and a more combative role for Canada on the world stage.

The New Democrats placed a distant third and will be sorely disappointed with their showing under Leader Tom Mulcair.

Mr. Harper called on the party’s caucus to appoint a new interim leader Monday night as it became clear that the Tories had been handed a resounding defeat after a campaign that was criticized for its harsh, divisive tone. Mr. Harper has long said he would resign if the party lost this election.

He didn’t address resignation in his concession speech, but said he accepted the result.

“During the past nine and a half years it has been an unbelievable honour to serve as your Prime Minister,” he said in his Calgary riding, which he won. “We gave everything we have to give and we have no regrets whatsoever. Friends, how could we? We remain citizens of the best country on Earth.”

Jason Kenney, Defence Minister in the outgoing government and a likely front-runner for the Tory leadership, said it was “obviously a bad night for the Conservative Party, but we’ll come back.”

“On substantive points, we’ve been a very good government. I think where we went wrong was on tone and we have to learn from our mistakes. Obviously, the collapse of the NDP didn’t help us at all,” said Mr. Kenney, who won his Calgary seat handily.

New Democrats came into the campaign with better standing and higher hopes than the party had ever had. Having won 103 seats in 2011, the party also had a massive base in Quebec, after an Orange Wave gave them a surprising 58 seats in the province.The NDP hoped to build on their unprecedented success four years ago and form the party’s first national government in 2015. But after leading in opinion polls for most of August, the party stumbled in the home stretch. Their Quebec stronghold has been reduced to a rump of less than a dozen seats.

“With this election, Canadians have asked us all to work for them. We will not let them down,” said Mr. Mulcair in his concession speech. The NDP Leader held onto his Montreal seat comfortably.

(…)

The emphatic win for the Liberals across the country was the culmination of an often brutal contest bookended by the Mike Duffy Senate scandal and the controversy involving Liberal campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier – who subsequently resigned.

The Conservatives hoped to run on their economic stewardship, but struggled during the lengthy campaign to combat the desire for change in the electorate – what Tory staff privately called an impulse to “dump Harper.”

“Distractions,” as Conservatives called them, included revelations at the Duffy fraud trial, charges the government was failing Syrian refugees and a backlash outside Quebec to Mr. Harper’s comments that he would consider banning the niqab among federal public servants.

A promise to establish a tip line for reports of “barbaric cultural practices” was also widely condemned as inflammatory.

The final week of the campaign also saw the increasingly frustrated Conservatives use cash-register sound effects to emphasize the cost of Liberal tax hikes, and trot out Rob Ford, Toronto’s former crack-smoking mayor, and his brother Doug at rallies in the city.

Conservative attack ads aiming to paint Mr. Trudeau as a shallow upstart – “Just Not Ready,” went the slogan – also failed to gain major traction, as the Liberal Leader outperformed expectations.

The first leaders’ debate in particular established Mr. Trudeau as a credible aspirant for prime minister, after a Tory spokesperson said he would do well to show up with his pants on.

Mr. Trudeau capitalized on his youthful persona, presenting himself as a sunny, energetic alternative to the staid, controlling Mr. Harper.

The Liberal campaign ended on a high, with Mr. Trudeau drawing big crowds at every stop. Over the course of the race, he took thousands of selfies, which supporters uploaded on social media, generating additional exposure at no cost.

The party platform also made a mark with voters. Liberals said the key moment of the campaign came as they announced, in late August, that they would run three deficits of up to $10-billion a year to pay for infrastructure spending. The move allowed the party to present a more ambitious agenda, but also created a clear contrast with the NDP and the Conservative Party that both vowed to balance the books.

The fact of the Conservative Party being pushed out of power is not entirely surprising, of course. As I noted on Saturday, all of the late pre-election polling was showing Trudeau’s Liberal Party leading both in the national opinion polls and in the seat projections for the next Parliament, the only question seemed to be whether Trudeau would have a majority or minority government and whether the outcome would be so close that Harper might try to form his own government before the Liberals are given a chance. Additionally, Harper had been in power for more than nine years, which put him right up there in terms of tenure in office with recent incumbents Brian Mulroney at just over eight and a half years and Jean Chretien at just over ten years. With the exception of Trudeau’s father, who served a total of more than fifteen non-consecutive years as Prime Minister in the 70s and early 80s, a decade seems to be about the most time that Canadian voters are willing to keep a Prime Minister in office in the modern era, so in that sense Harper had seemingly reached the end of the road anyway. The fact that opinion polling even while he was still on power had been showing him falling in public approval while the Liberal Party recovered from the defeat it had suffered in 2011 made it seemingly inevitable that the Conservatives would lose power. What is somewhat surprising is the extent of the Liberal victory here, and while that might suggest that the polling in Canada was off in ways similar to what we’ve seen this year in Great Britain and Israel, but given the fact that it’s never easy to project the outcome of a race for a national legislature made up of individual constituencies I’m not sure that criticism would be fair. Heading into yesterday, the one thing the polls made clear was the Harper was headed to defeat, and that’s what happen, the fact that it was so decisive is likely attributable to the fact that turnout was higher than Canada has seen in either of its last two national elections.

As far as the United States is concerned, the election of a new government is likely to have little impact on our relationship with Ottawa. As with the United Kingdom, the relationship between the United States and Canada, and the interests we have in common, are generally something that transcend the platforms of the respective political parties in either country. If there are to be changes, though, they’ll likely be seen in areas such as foreign policy and energy policy. Throughout his time in office, Prime Minister Harper has been a strong supporter of American policy in the War on Terror and has contributed material and personnel support to operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Whether that will continue under Trudeau’s Liberal Party remains to be seen. One issue that is likely to be strongly impacted by these results, though, is the Keystone XL pipeline. Harper’s government was a strong backer of the project, as well as other energy projects in Canada, but it does not appear that Trudeau’s new government will continue those policies. In fact, the pipeline itself may be eliminated as a campaign issue here in the United States not because of any action by the Obama Administration, but because of the political changes in Ottawa. Beyond that, though, things aren’t likely to change much as far as the relationship between Washington and Ottawa notwithstanding the fact that there’s been something of a political earthquake in Canadian politics.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Very happy to see that the Canadian public resoundingly vetoed Harpers overtly racist turn. Conservatives of good will should really ask themselves why racism and bigotry is often the go to tool when conservatives find themselves in electoral trouble.

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  2. Balder H. Dasche says:

    A word of advice in re Mr. Putin. You’ll be seeing him long after Mr. Obama and some of the others G -types. Best not try telling him anything ‘Harperish” to his face just yet. And be careful of the Aussies, what they’ve got could be contagious.

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  3. george says:

    I don’t know if it was an earthquake, in Canada we tend to turn over gov’ts after a couple of terms (a good thing I’d argue) – the Conservatives losing power was expected.

    What was unexpected was a Liberal majority, most thought it’d be a minority gov’t. Which tend to be the preferred gov’ts – I suspect if we could vote directly for minority gov’ts that’s what we’d have this time, and every time. The problem with first past the post systems is that with 40% you get majorities – Chretien’s majority, Harper’s majority, and now Trudeau’s majority are all with about only 40% of the vote.

    On the plus side, before the election Trudeau promised to bring in some sort of proportional representation (party seats proportional to popular vote) – I’m cynical enough to think he’ll forget about that now that he’s the beneficiary of a 40% majority, but who knows, maybe he’ll buck the political trend and stick to his promises.

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  4. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t know if it it was an earthquake. The Canadians were simply tired of Harper. The conservative party is not all that conservative, to the left of Obama on many issues, and the Liberal party is not that much liberal. The real liberal party, the NDP actually lost seats.

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  5. pylon says:

    @Ron Beasley: On what issues are the Conservatives to the left of Obama? As in – “we support this position on the issue” not “we have a right wing position but don’t dare try to pass it because they’d turf us out right quick”.

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  6. george says:

    @pylon:

    Don’t we have a thread on this already going?

    Anyway:

    Public health option (even among themselves the most they ask for is private option along with the public option – Obama wouldn’t even go that far).

    Very limited access to hand guns (the conservatives gun position is relaxed on long guns – so are rural NDP’s btw), but they’ve shown no interest in making the restricted PAL (ie hand gun restriction license) easier to get. Obama on the other hand respects the 2nd amendment.

    The conservatives have kept social security at a level far beyond what Obama’s gov’t has, and have shown no sign of changing that. You could argue that the combination of that and low taxes is a financial disaster (I’d say taxes should be raised to pay for it), but they haven’t come close to cutting the net back to American standards.

    And … well, there’s a whole thread on this topic, where we’re disagreeing (politely, in good Canadian fashion) on this. And that’s despite my irritation at having to defend Harper (I voted NDP which gives you an idea where I stand on his policies). He was a lousy, incompetent politician. And governed to the left of Obama.

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  7. george says:

    Part of my irritation on this is probably because I tend to go NDP/Green, and I think the Liberals talk like the NDP and govern like the Conservatives (in fact going through a century and a half of Canadian history its one of the most striking things about the two parties). Calling the Conservatives right wing ignores the obvious: they govern more or less like the so called centrist Liberals.

    What politicians promise (like Chretien’s 15 year promise of public daycare) or talk about in private is irrelevant; its what they actually deliver that counts. The Conservatives and Liberals are very close in how they govern, and always have been.

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  8. pylon says:

    @george:

    Keeping popular laws isn’t left wing – it’s just not doing unpopular things (yet).

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  9. george says:

    @pylon:

    Keeping popular laws isn’t left wing – it’s just not doing unpopular things

    It occurs to me you’re right in that – keeping the status quo is actually the definition of conservative. So perhaps you’re right that Harper acted conservatively, though its a definition of conservative that probably isn’t in use much in America right now. I’ll concede the point.

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  10. george says:

    I should add that I mean currently conservatism in America refers to trying to go back to a mythical, Hollywood picture of the 50’s (or maybe the 1770’s in some cases), rather than in trying to preserve current laws and norms.

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