Nfld. & Labrador

'Canada is more divided today,' says political scientist on election results

While the election results in Newfoundland and Labrador didn't come as much of a surprise, the scattered colours across Canada point to a nationwide lack of unity, says political scientist Stephen Tomblin.

'Newfoundland and Labrador is gonna be in a real dogfight,' says Stephen Tomblin

Stephen Tomblin is a retired political science professor at Memorial University. (Paula Gale/CBC)

While the election results in Newfoundland and Labrador didn't come as much of a surprise, the scattered colours across Canada's ridings hightlight a lack of unity among its citizens, says political scientist Stephen Tomblin.

"Canada is more divided today than it was yesterday," Tomblin says.

The Liberals led by Justin Trudeau will form a minority government with 157 seats, while the Conservatives have 121 seats, including a swath of blue in central Canada and southern Ontario.

The Bloc Québécois had the next highest number of seats at 32, while the NDP took 24 seats — including reclaiming St. John's East with the return of Jack Harris.

It's all gonna be about accommodating Quebec and accommodating Alberta, and surviving.- Stephen Tomblin

"People are angry. They're frustrated.… The major parties aren't focusing on citizens, they're not focusing on public policy, they're not focusing upon the Earth, they're basically playing for their territorial friends and their communities," said Tomblin.

"And as a consequence of that, for example, Newfoundland and Labrador is gonna be in a real dogfight if they think they're gonna get extra favours from Ottawa to pay for some of their self-inflicted wounds."

Preliminary results from Elections Canada show a little more than 58 per cent turnout among registered voters in N.L. Those numbers do not include voters who registered on election day.

In 2015, turnout in N.L. was 61.1 per cent; in 2011, that number was 52.6 per cent.

Tomblin said things aren't going to get better any time soon for provinces like N.L., or Atlantic Canada in general, despite voting in a large number of Liberals.

"I think it's gonna get worse. I think it's going to be very difficult for Newfoundland and Labrador to have their concerns raised at the centre," he said.

"It's all gonna be about accommodating Quebec and accommodating Alberta, and surviving."

St. John's East NDP candidate Jack Harris was the only non-Liberal elected in N.L.'s seven ridings, beating out Liberal candidate Nick Whalen in the 43rd federal election. (Katie Breen/CBC)

'Form over function'

Tomblin said the idea of integration for issues in Atlantic Canada will likely come up again, with what he expects to be a hike in the number of "elite accommodation" among premiers in non-Liberal leading provinces.

"I think territoriality is gonna increase," he told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

Alberta and N.L. share a common economic reliance on the natural resources and energy sector, Tomblin said, but their votes went in totally different directions.

"It's going to be continued chaos and competition across those borders and boundaries" as a result, he said.

Alberta will want more money from Ottawa, he said, but it doesn't rely on that money the way N.L. does.

"Territoriality, form over function is gonna continue to play out," he said.

"The democratic deficit, the level of frustration of Canadians who are no longer united or are operating within a game where they may, even if they are united … don't have the venues in order to mobilize. In the days of Pierre Trudeau, Pierre Trudeau tried to create pan-Canadian venues, but all of that has gone away."

The Liberal minority government will be dealing with a more divided Canada than its previous term, says Tomblin. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The federal Liberals are going to have a serious challenge in getting things done, Tomblin said.

"I think it's gonna be horrific. There's gonna be all kinds of different message coming out," he said.

"Rather than asking questions like, 'What form of energy makes the most sense for Canada? For its citizens, for costs, for infrastructure, for the Earth?' those questions aren't coming up. Basically the questions will be what does Quebec want … so I think going forward the federal government is now even less powerful, has less capacity."

Time for a nap

At a St. John's coffee shop Tuesday morning, people seemed to be tired out from the election, but accepting — and hopeful — about a minority government.

"I am energized out, and so I feel like today is a great day for a nap," said Meghan Hollett, director of Happy City St. John's.

Hollett spent Monday carting lots of first-time voting new Canadians to polling stations in the area, and said the overall experience was positive — a good impression to make on any first-time voter.

Alice Ferguson-O'Brien hopes a minority government will mean more of the parties are willing to work together to get things done. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"It was really meaningful and really interesting to go with people for the very first time, and also try to make it a positive experience, because we know that if it's a positive experience they're likely to repeat that action," she said.

"They were saying how easy it was, and they were really happy and at the end they were like, 'This is really Canadian. This feels really Canadian.'"

Dierdre Vey, co-owner of Wool Trends, said she wasn't surprised at the results.

"It went in the direction I was expecting it to go, but not so big of a majority government, I guess," Vey said, adding that a number of customers came into her store Monday saying they weren't sure what they were going to do with their ballots.

Vey said as a business owner, there are certain priorities she wants to see with government, but added the Liberals seem generally aligned with her views.

But doesn't think they're going to get "much footing" with a minority government.

Meghan Hollett, left, and Dierdre Vey say the election results weren't a huge surprise. (Noah Laybolt/CBC)

"I'm not sure if much movement is gonna happen. I think we might be a little bit standstill on some of the issues that are important for me," Vey said.

Grade 11 Holy Heart of Mary student Alice Ferguson-O'Brien, who helped organized the huge St. John's Fridays for Future climate march, said while she isn't old enough to vote, she was avidly watching the results, and was pleased overall with a minority result.

"I think it's really exciting. I think it can definitely go two ways because a minority government on one hand is often slower at getting bills passed and we're definitely in a time-sensitive crisis right now with the climate," she said.

"But on the other hand, it definitely gives more of a balance of power, which I think it's really clear is what Canadians want and need … more of the parties working together."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show


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