Saturday, October 18, 2008

Inconclusive Federal Election

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Going into this year’s federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had good reason to believe he would emerge with a solid majority government. As it is, he and his fellow Conservatives can count themselves lucky that they have come out with 143 seats, 12 short of a majority, albeit 16 more than they had in the last Parliament.
Conversely, the Liberals were heading toward an electoral calamity at the outset of the election campaign. According to some early polls, the party seemed likely to end up in fourth place, behind both the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democrats as well as the Conservatives.
What, then, went wrong for the Conservatives during the election campaign? Part of the explanation has to be Harper’s uninspired performance in the leadership debates. However, a close study of the polling data will probably show that a far more important factor in the declining Conservative fortunes has been the sudden collapse in world-wide credit markets that threatens to plunge Canada and most other leading industrialized countries into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
No one in the Parliament of Canada foresaw this impending economic turmoil. Certainly, if Harper had done so, he would not have triggered an early election, because he would have known that rightly or wrongly, many, if not most, voters would pin much of the blame on the government.
In reality, the Harper government was not at all responsible for the international credit crunch that has crippled the world economy over the past few weeks. And the same goes for the preceding Liberal governments of former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Jean Chretien.
The same cannot be said for the Republicans and Democrats in the United States. While the Republican
Bush administration relaxed collateral requirements for investment banks, Democrats in the Congress pressured mortgage lenders to multiply “Ninja” loans to people with no income, no jobs and no assets. Together, these risky policies have fostered the ruination of all of the big investment banks and mortgage lenders in the United States.
Meanwhile, in Western Europe, a similar failure of regulatory oversight has led to the bankruptcy of some of the region’s top savings banks. In contrast, Canada stands out in having a fundamentally sound banking system. And for that blessing, both Conservative and Liberal governments as well as a succession of prudent and well-informed advisors in the federal finance department deserve enormous credit.
Regardless, egged on by the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, many voters have blamed the Conservative government for the prevailing economic uncertainty. And that’s not altogether a bad disposition. In the long run, the country is likely to be better governed to the extent that voters judge politicians mainly on the basis of their past achievements in office rather than their promises of pie in the sky for the future.
Of course, the biggest losers in Tuesday’s voting were the Liberals, having retained only 76 seats with barely 26 per cent of the popular vote – the lowest percentage ever achieve in a general election by the Liberal Party of Canada. For this electoral setback, party leader Stephane Dion bears much of the blame: He not only failed to inspire many voters, but also should have known it was an act of political suicide to propose a “Green Shift” policy for raising carbon taxes at a time of record gasoline prices.
As a general rule, Canadians support the proposition, “Make the polluter pay.” But they are not so keen on the slogan when they are asked to pay for their own pollution in the form of higher home-heating and gasoline bills.
Be that as it may, Harper has ended back pretty much where he was before the election with a minority government facing a hostile opposition. This time, though, he and the opposition leaders had better resolve to work together to achieve a functional Parliament, because most voters are bound to be hugely upset with any politician who is responsible for precipitating another early election.

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