CBC News Federal Election

Analysis & Commentary

Today's Papers

By Peter Kavanagh

June 29, 2004:
Final Edition

Peter Kavanagh
Peter Kavanagh  

In the News

The morning after and the parties and the papers are coming to grips with Canada's first federal minority government in almost a quarter century.

Some papers went with the straightforward and succinct – the Halifax Chronicle Herald: "Grit Minority," the Montreal Gazette: "Liberals Back In," the National Post: "Liberal Minority," the Calgary Herald: "Liberals Hang On," the Edmonton Journal: "Martin Minority," the Winnipeg Free Press: "Martin Wins Minority."

Others went with a more charged description – the Globe and Mail: "Ontario Rescues Martin," the Ottawa Sun: "It's a Red Alert," the Toronto Star: "We Got Your Message, Martin Says," the Ottawa Citizen: "Tory-Shy Ontario Gives PM a Break," the Edmonton Journal: "Election Leaves Alberta Outside Again."

For a newspaper/politics junkie, it's a day of riches. The major papers in the country are filled with election results, photos, analysis, commentary and editorial. The National Post has 24 pages worth, the Globe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen have 26, and the Montreal Gazette and other papers have created special sections of election coverage. The newspapers explore several themes.

The numbers take front page. Depending on when the papers went to press the results vary. The Globe and Mail puts the totals at Liberals 135, Conservatives 96, Bloc Qu�b�cois 54, and the NDP 22, while the Calgary Herald has the Liberals at 135, Conservatives 99, Bloc 54 and the NDP 19. (Many of the newspapers have websites where news is updated and the expectation is that the final numbers might only be settled in the days to come, depending on recounts.)

Behind the numbers are the overview and then regional breakdowns: "Liberals Dominate in Atlantic Canada" (Halifax Chronicle Herald), "Bloc Quebecois Cleans Up, Taking Half of Popular Vote" (Montreal Gazette), "Urban Ontario's Fickle Voters Leave Harper Out In The Cold" (Globe and Mail).

Behind the numbers is their importance for the parties.

The Liberal party forms the government and escapes what seemed in the early days of the campaign a possible defeat at the hands of Stephen Harper. "Voters Let Martin Off the Hook" (Ottawa Sun), "Relieved Liberals Cheer Results" (Globe and Mail), "Road Ahead Filled With Potholes" (The Edmonton Journal) outline a bittersweet victory for the Liberal party and for Paul Martin. Martin faces a divided Parliament and must choose a legislative course that allows the government to survive and that sets the ground for the inevitable next election..

The Conservatives are coming to grips with how what looked like momentum towards leading a minority – if not forming a majority – government ended up with the party some eight per cent of popular vote and 39 seats behind the Liberals. "Harper's Dream Collapses" (Montreal Gazette), "Fear Factor Sinks Tories" (Ottawa Sun), "Tories Admit Disappointment" (Globe and Mail), "Conservative Vote Collapses in Ontario" (National Post), "Harper Vows To Fight On" (Toronto Star), "Ontario Sea of Red Drowns Harper's Tories" (Calgary Herald) all speak to the sense that the Conservative party felt itself on the cusp of power and lost it at the last moment."I feel some disappointment tonight but you should feel none," Harper told his supporters last night, because they "deprived the Liberals of the majority that they thought they were entitled to."

The Bloc Qu�b�cois expected it might play the key role in the minority government that seemed to be promised by the pollsters. The party also expected to secure the majority of Quebec seats. "Bloc Vindicated At Polls" (Montreal Gazette), "Duceppe Gains Leverage in House" (National Post) point toward how the latter expectation was met while the seat configuration seems to suggest the NDP has a greater role in the House of Commons than the Bloc.

"NDP's Layton Ready to Play 'Central Role'" (Montreal Gazette), "Stage Set For Liberal, NDP Waltz" (Halifax Chronicle Herald), "NDP Poised to Hold The Balance of Power" (Globe and Mail), "Layton Has Power Balance" (Toronto Star), "Layton Secures His Central Role" (Ottawa Citizen) tell the story of a party that improved its popular vote, increased its seats and finds itself key to the survival of the Liberal party. Jack Layton is described as upbeat and ready to demand of the Liberals that they implement, above all, proportional representation into Canada's electoral system and live up to the commitments that Paul Martin made on the campaign trail.


One area of heavy analysis in today's papers is the role of polls and pollsters, and why everyone predicted this election wrong. "Of Long Noses and Red Faces" (Ottawa Sun) asks the question: did the voters lie when asked by pollsters or did pollsters just blow it?

Interpreting the results

The Montreal Gazette, "Desperate Liberals Won with Fear Tactics," offers the opinion that despite their editorial stance last Saturday that a Liberal minority was the best option, the paper is now wondering what the price might actually be. Describing the result as fear overcoming disgust, the Gazette notes the large number of NDP and Bloc MPs and wonders what direction the government will move in.

The Ottawa Sun in the editorial "What Next?" describes the results last night as evidence that "Democracy is a precious, if utterly complex, thing." The paper reviews what the results might tell us and observes that it could be several days yet before the lessons and implications are clear, but that in the meantime "a mere glimpse at the results of this campaign quickly reveals the starkest lesson of all for a new Liberal minority government in Ottawa: Canadians will no longer abide the kind of arrogance you rode in on."

The Halifax Chronicle Herald looks at the behaviour of Atlantic Canadians – "Voting NDP, Electing Grits" – and the fact that Atlantic Canada ended up sending people to Ottawa who could play power roles in either a Liberal or Conservative minority. The final result of a Liberal minority leaves Nova Scotia in the position of having a "glut of cabinet material" in Ottawa. The paper concludes that "the tale seems to be that the protest vote went to the NDP – whether the protest was against Liberal corruption or the Conservative shift away from Red Tory policies – in just the right measure to elect a few more Liberals."

"The Liberal Victory is a Provisional One" is how the Globe and Mail chose to see last night's election result. Accepting that, on the face of it, Paul Martin pulled off the unexpected, the paper warned the Liberals not to see surviving as a victory. Instead: "Minority status means the Prime Minister must prove himself in the most difficult of circumstances. With luck, his government will last six months, a year, perhaps longer. And, when the next election comes, he will have given Canadians a better sense of whether his party deserves a stronger hand in governing the country."

"Canadians Chose a Stronger Nation" is the take of the Toronto Star on the election results. Describing the possible choice of Stephen Harper's Conservatives as one that would have been divisive and led to a weakening of the federal state, the paper observed, "Rather than moving far to the right, Canadians opted for a socially progressive alternative that will promote medicare, push for a new deal for cities, improve the environment and strive to be fiscally prudent." The Star goes on to observe that at the same time "the Liberals were sent a message by voters that they were "fed up with corruption, waste and arrogance."

"Mr. Martin, Proceed with Caution" is the message of the editorial board of the National Post. Arguing that the election result was partly the consequence of the Conservative party failing to exploit its momentum, the paper tells Martin and his party that this win was not so much a choice for the Liberals as a sense on the part of the electorate that they had no choice. Given the power and policies of the NDP and Bloc Qu�b�cois in the minority Parliament, the paper argues, "The test of the Prime Minister will be his ability to prevent Parliament from degenerating into an unprincipled exercise in horse trading."

"Minority Rules" is the Ottawa Citizen's view of the election, arguing that the Conservative party failed to convince the electorate that "extremism is not what a Conservative government would bring to Canada." In the paper's view this, as opposed to a desire for the Liberal platform, was the reason for the vote. "Mr. Martin may have won power, but he cannot yet say he has won Canadians' confidence."

" Hard Landing for The West" is the editorial take of the Calgary Herald. While expressing relief that the Bloc didn't find itself in the position of holding the balance of power the paper also notes that most of the items on the Conservative and Albertan agenda will be lost in a minority government propped up by the NDP.

While noting that some may see it as a failure that the Conservatives didn't get the power the early part of the campaign suggested they might, the paper disagrees. "The results vindicate those who demanded the right should unite, those – principally Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay – who checked their egos at the door of the conference centre where the deed was done, and Harper's leadership. The Conservative party, after all, is slightly more than six months old. More than half of its existence was a leadership race; Harper has led the party for all of three months and one week.

Just two months after winning, Harper took the 72 sitting MPs into an election campaign. The call to vote was not unexpected, but to have mastered the sheer logistics of bootstrapping a party with national reach, deciding its constitution, nominating its candidates, preparing signage, rounding up volunteers – in short, greasing all the moving parts – meant that a lot of people had to get their jobs right the first time.

It seems they did. The Conservatives now have 97 seats, and have made modest inroads into Ontario, with 24 seats." The Edmonton Journal's post-election editorial "Back To Ottawa on Probation" notes "Last night seemed like a Liberal victory, only because of gloomy, and obviously flawed pre-election polls. But give Martin credit; he played a cagey endgame that surprised the Harper team." And while listing the various issues that soured the populace on the Liberals and reviewing how it was that the Conservatives failed to overcome Liberal-inspired concerns, the paper observes, "They say near-death experiences are good for the soul. Well, for the good of this country, the past month's brush with electoral oblivion had better prove a transforming revelation for Paul Martin's Liberals."

The Vancouver Sun contemplates last night's election results and concludes "Now More Than Ever, The Interests of The Country Must Come First." Advising the Liberals and Paul Martin that they shouldn't see last night as an affirmation of the status quo but rather "an end of an era for them and the beginning of a period of transition for the country."

Concluding that the Liberals might see survival as depending on collaborating with the NDP's agenda, the paper suggests that the Liberals understand that there are "more things on which we as Canadians fundamentally agree than there are things that divide us. We want a country with a strong economy that fairly rewards enterprise and investment. We want a decent social safety net for those who need it. We want an education system that gives all Canadians a fair chance to succeed in life. We want a health care system that is available for everyone who needs it.

We want a clean environment, efficient transportation and a legal system that is fair, firm and protects the rights that generations of Canadians have fought to achieve.

We want to be safe in our homes and on the street. We want to live at peace with our neighbours at home and abroad. The mechanisms for achieving these goals are difficult. But Mr. Martin must mine the areas of agreement, rather than acceding to demands for quid pro quos from parties that do not reflect mainstream views."

This leads the paper to conclude, "That makes the most likely source of support on most issues the Conservative party. While it may appear counterintuitive to think of the Liberals and Conservatives cooperating, they are the parties that most reflect the majority of Canadians' preferences, as evidenced by their dominance of the popular vote."

Previous Today's Papers

Peter Kavanagh is a senior producer in CBC Radio Current Affairs, and is a journalist of 20 years standing with an obsessive love of the printed word.

If you'd like to get more information on one of the stories or newspapers that Peter mentions, here's a list of his daily reading material!

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