INDEPTH: FEDERAL ELECTION 2004
Paul Martin - on probation
CBC News Online | June 28, 2004
Paul Martin watches results come in (CP photo)
In the beginning, it looked like 2000 all over again. Liberals,
strong in Atlantic Canada and hanging on – even adding
slightly to seats they held under former prime minister Jean
And as polls closed from Quebec to Alberta and the wave of
results poured in, it became clear that predictions of a very
close race were off the mark.
"Holy cow. This is stunning. The polls were wrong. This
University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young says
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper didn't deliver.
The Conservatives hoped for a breakthrough in Ontario. But
they fell well short of the 40-seat minimum they wanted. The
united right couldn't match the 38 per cent of the vote
that the Alliance and the Progressive Conservative party achieved
in Ontario in 2000.
"Coming in with the neighbourhood of 20 seats in Ontario
might have been a breakthrough had they not merged with the
[Progressive] Conservative party," Young told CBC News.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe flashes a victory sign following on June 28. (CP photo)
In Quebec, the Liberals were punished - but not as severely as the pundits had predicted. The Bloc made big gains, but did not sweep the province. The NDP fell short of its goal of holding the balance of power.
"All parties have a serious obligation to try to make things work," said former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, once more an MP after a 15-year break from politics.
"It's in the self-interest of all the parties right now to be seen to be working together," said Broadbent, who was the NDP caucus chair in the 1972-74 Trudeau minority government.
Conservative Peter MacKay said the government's survival depends on all of the parties. He said the level of co-operation depends on the issues and whether the Liberals follow through on their promises.
About the only thing the pollsters got right was the next
government would be a minority. But there was no doubt about
who would sit in the prime minister's office.
Donna Dasko, senior vice-president with Environics Research,
said it's clear that the messages coming from Paul Martin
in the final days of the campaign that the Conservatives
would radically change the country reached voters.
"It had to be an important factor as people went to
cast their ballots," Dasko said.
It was definitely a factor in Atlantic Canada, according
to Peter Boswell, a political scientist at Memorial University
in St. John's.
"Certainly the new Conservative party is much more right
wing than the old Progressive Conservative party was, and this has alienated some people
-- the so-called Red Tories," Boswell says.
Voters were worried that had the Conservatives won, Boswell
suggests, they would have moved to drop regional economic
development programs such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities
This will be the first minority government since former prime
minister Joe Clark tried to govern as though he had a majority,
25 years ago. That experiment lasted nine months.
Nancy Jamieson was an executive assistant to Clark at the
time. She says some minority governments may be productive,
but it's very difficult to make them work.
"I think people reflect on them with a sort of wistfulness
and nostalgia because they think back to the kind of social
progress that was made in the early '60s under a Pearson government.
But if it doesn't work well, if it's contentious, if it disturbs
the social order, if it's fractious with people fighting,
I'm not sure that Canadians are going to want that again."
Stephen Harper in Calgary (CP photo)
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper conceded that he was disappointed
with the party's showing. The University of Calgary's
Young says some elements of the party may also show their
disappointment with him.
"I don't think [Harper] will resign, but I think the
old Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance
were very different parties, with very different cultures
and very different policy stances," Young said. "They
put their differences aside because it looked like they would
make serious electoral gains. They haven't. Their percentage
of the popular vote has gone down. Once they get two years
to stew on things, old PCs are going to try to oust Harper,
try to blame it on him."
Yes, the Liberals did win a new mandate. But despite a campaign
that highlighted what many considered stark differences between
the Liberals and Conservatives, voter turnout was again a
problem, barely budging from the recently revised 64 per cent
who turned out in 2000.
"Real choice is not much of a predictor of [voter] turnout," Donald Green, a political science professor at Yale University who has done extensive research on voter turnout, told CBC News Online. "[It's good for] maybe a percentage-point or two. Not
something that would reverse a long-term slide, which is what Canada and other Western democracies currently confront."
Consultant Allan Gregg says it's not enough to invite
people every four years to mark an X on a ballot with a pencil.
"You've got to engage them in the political process.
People aren't feeling like they are a part and
it's particularly true of younger voters."
Liberal strategist Mike Robinson says the election unfolded
as it should have.
"In the end, the electorate got what it wanted. They
didn’t want to be held hostage by the Bloc. They wanted
a workable government."
In the end, the electorate got the ninth minority government
since Confederation. If history is any indication, Canadians
can expect to pass judgment on the government that emerges
from this election in about 17 months.