If you know what these colours mean, you probably share my surprise:
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Canadian politics, past and present, here’s a quick brush-up. (If parliamentary democracy or constitutional monarchy is new to you, Rick Mercer gives a great explanation.)
Liberal Party (Red Seats)
- Politics: More liberal than the American Democrats, but not by a huge amount.
- How they usually do: They’ve won elections so many times that they’re deemed “Canada’s natural government”. Whether it’s a majority or a minority, a Liberal government is the rule, rather than the exception.
- What happened on Monday: 34 Liberal MPs were elected – only 11% of the available seats. The leader of the party, Michael Ignatieff, wasn’t even elected in his riding – a rare (but not unprecedented) occurrence.
Conservative Party (Dark Blue Seats)
- Politics: Somewhere between American Republicans and Democrats. Canada’s most right-wing party that’s mainstream enough to win seats.
- How they usually do: When it’s not a Liberal government, it’s a Conservative one. The last time they had a majority, it was under Brian Mulroney – an event that eventually led to the party’s collapse and division. The two halves of the party rejoined for the 2004 election, under Stephen Harper, the leader of the more right-wing of the two. Since 2006, he has held seemingly never-ending minorities. Again, Rick Mercer hits the nail on the head.
- What happened on Monday: They got their first majority – 54% of the seats, but with only 40% of the popular vote.
Bloc Quebecois (Light Blue Seats)
- Politics: Diverse, as the party’s sole platform is the intent to make Quebec a sovereign nation. These days, it’s pretty liberal.
- How they usually do: Fifty-some seats in Quebec.
- What happened on Monday: Only four Bloc were elected – most seats were lost to the NDP. The leader, Gilles Duceppe, lost the election in his riding. Now they don’t even have enough seats for party status.
New Democrat Party (Orange Seats)
- Politics: The most liberal of the mainstream parties, they subscribe to social democracy. If Tea Partiers think Obama’s a socialist, I wonder what they’d say if the NDP swept the US Congress.
- How they usually do: Twenty seats or so, scattered throughout the country, but rarely any from Quebec.
- What happened on Monday: The NDP unexpectedly swept Quebec, and won 102 seats – for the first time, they’re the Official Opposition. Many of their MPs are brand new and never expected to get elected. Some are still university students. One spent her campaign in Las Vegas, but ended up winning the riding. Their growing popularity wasn’t limited to Quebec, but in many ridings – most notably some in Ontario – they split the vote with the Liberals, giving a lot of seats to the Conservatives.
Green Party (I’ll let you work out their colour of seats)
- Politics: Not quite as left-wing as the NDP. They focus on environmental issues, climate change mitigation, and the legalization of marijuana.
- How they usually do: Over the past few elections, they have held between 1 and 10% of the popular vote, but have never had an MP sit in Parliament. Once a Liberal MP switched to the Green Party, but Parliament was dissolved for an election before he got to sit in it as a member of the Greens.
- What happened on Monday: Elizabeth May, the party leader, won the election in her riding, defeating a Conservative cabinet minister. She is the first elected Green and will be the first to sit in the House of Commons.
If that isn’t enough to convince you of what a massive change this election was, look at the diagrams on this page. Start at the bottom for the most recent Parliaments.
It is arguable that, although the Conservatives only have 40% of the popular vote, Stephen Harper has 100% of the power in the federal government. They hold a majority not only in the House of Commons, but also in the Senate – their five years of minorities have ensured that only Conservatives get appointed to the upper house. It is common for party leaders to demand that their caucus vote the party line on important issues, so Harper can pass pretty much any bill he wants. Also, unless his own party turns against him, he doesn’t have to call an election for another five years. Despite a more left-wing opposition that will be stronger on issues such as climate change (Elizabeth May, in particular, is a fabulous debater), they can’t actually sway results away from what Harper wants. Additionally, the new NDP MPs will have to prove their worth quickly if they want to be taken seriously.
But this is nothing new. It’s nothing specific to Harper. This concentration of power happened before with all the Liberal majority governments, as well as the Conservative exceptions such as Mulroney. This is the way majority governments in Canada work. They will pass a great deal of legislation in their favour, much of which will be undone when the opposing party eventually takes over. I am just worried because, given the Conservatives’ stance on climate change mitigation, we will likely move backwards on an issue where we don’t have time to waste. These decisions, or lack thereof, cannot be undone or reversed.
Data from Elections Canada
More coverage from CBC News