By Bruce Cameron
Handwringing over the federal election outcome began in earnest before the votes were fully counted on the West Coast.
Commentators from Central Canada reminded viewers of the serious regional divides exposed by the results, with the Bloc Quebecois gaining ground and the governing Liberals being shutting out across Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Yet in more than seven hours of live coverage, the most glaring omission was how little was said about B.C., which was a relative bright spot: multi-party federalism is alive and well in this province.
Conservatives “ran the table” in the Prairies, but in B.C., all four major national parties claimed victories.
The Conservatives increased their seat count to 17. The Liberals did enough to retain government, as this series predicted, capturing 11 ridings. Even the NDP, thought to be on the verge of a national collapse when the campaign began, captured 11 seats on the West Coast. And although the Greens again failed to break through as they were hoping, they won two seats on Vancouver Island.
Unlike Liberal cabinet ministers defeated elsewhere in Western Canada, several prominent Liberals won in B.C. Minister of Public Services Carla Qualtrough won in Delta; Fisheries and Oceans Minster Jonathan Wilkinson won in North Vancouver; and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan won in Vancouver South.
B.C. is likely to play a prominent role in the minority government, but some tensions will remain.
Independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould won her seat in Vancouver Granville, ensuring that the damaging SNC-Lavalin affair will not fade away quietly.
And one of the most sensitive dividing lines in Canada – whether to build or block oil pipelines to the coast – is well reflected in the final vote: Liberal Terry Beech, who broke ranks with the PM over the Trans Mountain pipeline, won his seat in Burnaby North–Seymour, while pipeline opponents for the Greens and NDP won in coastal communities.
According to recent polling data, just over half of British Columbians support building the Trans Mountain expansion, particularly those living in suburban and interior ridings represented by a mix of Liberals and Conservatives.
But on the coast, the electoral map is green and orange.
Keeping the Liberal minority government viable may be tricky because of the pipeline issue, but the real impediment keeping the Greens and NDP from defeating the minority is a lack of funds and energy to run another campaign so soon after this one.
If the Conservatives ever hope to win government again, they will need to re-evaluate their opposition to climate change actions to appeal to more urban voters.
A case in point is the Lower Mainland, where Liberal policies will have a decidedly B.C. focus, from investments in regional transit infrastructure, to implementing a carbon tax, and balancing resource extraction and reduction of emissions.
While B.C. is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise challenging electoral outcome, the scope of the challenges ahead should not be underestimated. The “sunny ways” Trudeau talked about back in 2015 have definitely become cloudier.
With such a mixed result nationally, it is not surprising that there will be a reckoning for all parties.
The Conservatives must re-consider some strategic decisions they made in the 2019 campaign. Their American-style attack ads fell short of the mark, and despite leader Andrew Scheer’s defiant tone on election night, questions about whether he can ever defeat Trudeau will grow louder in the months ahead, especially if Trudeau regains some of the momentum he lost this year.
The NDP and Greens also have some reckoning to do. Elizabeth May has led the Greens for 13 year now, and rumours of a leadership change before the next election are growing. Although Jagmeet Singh celebrated on Oct. 21 as if his party had won Official Opposition status, the much-anticipated “Singh surge” was more of a ripple, sufficient to retain some seats, but not enough to boost his leadership position.
And Trudeau will have the tallest order of all. Having retained power despite self-inflicted wounds, he will need to deftly manage the many regional tensions this outcome exposes. That includes rising separatist sentiment in Quebec and Alberta, disappointment among Indigenous communities over insufficient action, and a battle over simultaneously increasing energy exports while decreasing carbon emissions.
Perhaps the most enduring image was the unprecedented scene of all three major party leaders speaking over each other in their televised post-result speeches, rather than waiting for each to speak in turn, as is customary.
The speeches, bombarding the audience as in during a food fight in a cafeteria, signalled that our political leaders failed to absorb a critical message from voters: Canada needs less empty campaign rhetoric and more humility to overcome the challenges we face as a nation.
Bruce Cameron, Black Press Media’s polling analyst, is the founder of Return On Insight. Follow him on Twitter @roitweets