Winners and Losers

There were two important elections in the past week. Both were very close.

On Saturday, the Conservative party of Canada chose Andrew Scheer to be its leader, eking out a narrow win over Maxime Bernier in the final ballot. Some media commentators characterized this as “surprising,” “an upset,” and “unprecedented.”

It was none of those. It was a replay of the 1976 convention that chose Joe Clark over Claude Wagner, who had led on all the previous ballots. To his credit, Bernier championed many worthwhile but controversial ideas. Scheer will be wise to include his voice in his inner circle, as well as that of Michael Chong, who is a strong and thoughtful advocate for making Parliament work better.

Bernier’s strong base in the first ballot grew only slowly thereafter. In the end the voters chose the more mainstream candidate. Scheer, more than any other candidate, conveyed an understanding of the need to have the party focus on its many areas of broad agreement – for example smaller government and lower taxes.

His acceptance speech emphasized that he does not intend to suppress party members who want to advocate other ideas, but will only proceed with those that have wide support. The party will not be dominated by its socially conservative wing, any more than it will be dominated by its larger libertarian wing.

Scheer’s message sounds a lot like what the Liberals said in the 2015 campaign: “We will give Canadians a stronger voice in the House of Commons by limiting the circumstances in which Liberal Members of Parliament will be required to vote with Cabinet.” Apparently, what they see a virtue for them is a vice for others.

As reported in the National Post, they immediately sent out messages to their members that misrepresent his position. Scheer’s insistence that universities allow free speech was characterized as “What kind of country do we live in when university funding is at the whim… of a social conservative?” Are the Liberals opposed to free speech?

Liberal MP Adam Vaughn opined that “We’re going back to the debates we thought we’d settled back in the ’80s.” Nobody who had read his platform or listened to his speech would draw that conclusion. The Conservatives made a strong and pragmatic choice.

Just three days later, Nova Scotians voted in record low numbers. It was well into the next morning before it could be confirmed that the Liberals had won a narrow majority, with seven fewer seats than they won in 2013.

By that time Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie had already declared that he would stay on as leader, thinking that the Liberals would be in a minority position. Since discovering that the Liberals had a majority he is rethinking his position.

Was he imagining that the PCs could team up with the NDP to defeat a Liberal government and then he could form a government with NDP support?

That is not as absurd as it might first appear. The Tory platform was clearly to the left of the Liberals. It is scary to imagine the further compromises that would have been necessary to attract support from the hard left NDP.

In fact, all three parties ran on highly populist platforms, with the conspicuous and important exception of the Liberal position on public sector wages.

It would have been bad for Nova Scotia to elect a minority government whether Liberal or Tory. Politicians already inclined to be timorous become even more fearful when faced with the constant prospect of defeat on a confidence motion.

We should be glad that there is a majority government. Unless something odd happens, the Liberals can look forward to four more years in power, and can use the first two of those years to make important choices for the long term good of the province.

They will have to up their game. There were many unforced errors during their first term. The cabinet has lost two important ministers. The next election is likely to focus squarely on the health and education files. If the Liberals do not demonstrate palpable improvement they will not get a third turn.


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