Looking on the bright side
Now that some of the dust has settled from the elections, I thought I'd take a minute to evaluate things.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. We Liberals lost these elections big time. It is our worse showing since Confederation. I am a strong believer that it never pays to quit when the going gets tough, but it is also equally important not to dillute one's self about the gravity of the situation.
Having said that, even though I have long since completed my studies at Ottawa U's History program, I remain a perpetual student of history, and I am particularly well acquainted with military history. As I examine the makeup of Canada's latest Parliament, I am reminded of the situation of the American Navy immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. History is cruel and ironic and Pearl Harbor was no exception. The irony of the situation was that even though the aerial attack had left most of the American fleet under water, with few casualties for the Imperial fleet, the venture had also been a disaster for the Japanese.
As fate would have it (some conspiracy minded historians have argued that fate had nothing to do with it), both of the American Aircraft Carriers were away from Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Far more valuable in modern warfare than the battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor, the Carriers led the Americans to the victory at Midway, which turned the tide of the Pacific War against the Empire of the Sun. The Japanese also missed several important submarines and an oil refinery at Pearl Harbor.
The paralel here is that like Admiral Yamamoto, Prime Minister Harper has failed to strike the killing blow that he needed to survive. For the third consecutive election, Mr. Harper has failed to win a majority government. He has come close, but his chances of going any further are limited at best.
If you add up the votes collected by each of the Liberals, NDP, BQ, and Green, you get 61% of Canadians who did not vote for the Prime Minister. Now this worked fine politically for Jean Chrétien, because he was a centrist who could win votes on either side of the political spectrum. Harper can only attract the right. Since the Liberals swung pretty hard to the left under Dion's leadership, there isn't much room for the PM to grow. If his party lets him have another election (and I suspect they will), it will be his last chance to win a majority.
Not quite convinced? Think of it this way: 61% of Canadian voters want the government to live up to its Kyoto obligations. 61% of Canadian voters want a socially minded government. Stephen Harper can't offer this.
Rumour has it that Stéphane Dion is set to resign as leader of the Liberal Party tomorrow afternoon. If that's his decision then so be it, but I remain more convinced than ever that it's the biggest favour he could possibly do for the Conservative Party at this juncture. The last thing we need right now is to go through another divisive and costly leadership debate. Even if we don't tear each other apart, the PM will just call a snap election before the new leader has even had a chance to move into his new office.
Prime Minister Harper called this election when he did because he knew that rough months were ahead. I can't say that I blame him for that. It is a trick used by Canadian politicians from all parties for a long time, but he was the one who introduced the fixed election date legislation under the guise that it was supposed to stabilize things. The least he could have done was engineer his own defeat on a confidence motion and at least show some respect for one of his own laws! (but I'm getting off track).
The Cadman affair, Schreibergate, and the Election Spending scandal are all issues that could blow up in the Prime Minister's face this fall. If anything is uncovered that could render it impossible for the House to have confidence in the government, then they should be removed from office. Unfortunately, it appears that the Liberal caucus will be too divided and unprepared to fight an election. My hat is off to the PM for some shrewd political movement, but if Dion is willing to tough it out and fight, the Conservatives could be in for a nasty surprise.
I've heard a lot of talk about what a catastrophe these elections were for the Liberals. As I said before, there is no escaping the fact that we came out the losers in this election, but it was no catastrophe. As Rocky Balboa would say "it's not how hard you hit that counts, but how hard you can get hit and still keep getting up". We should consider ourselves lucky that we did not get the same treatment Kim Campbell received in 1993, when she went into an election with a majority government and favourable polls, only to have her party blown clear out of existence. That is a catastrophe. We should not throw in the towel and sacrifice a good leader because of one loss. This is not the time to be fighting amongst ourselves. Canadians have elected Stéphane Dion to be their leader of the Official Opposition, a vital and important role in Canadian democracy. Our party owes it to Canadians to fulfill this role to the best of our ability, rather than to spend our time squabbling amongst ourselves.