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ANALYSIS: In a race with only losers, Trudeau's Liberals managed to lose the least

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"It’s not just that no one seemed capable of winning. It’s that they all looked at times like they were actively trying to lose" - Postmedia News

Richard Warnica: It’s not just that no one seemed capable of winning. It’s that they all looked at times like they were actively trying to lose

If you picture a basketball game where both sides, unbeknownst to the other, bet against themselves, you might have a good sense of how Canada’s federal election — which ended last night not in a whimper but in a 40-day sigh — played out. It’s not just that no one seemed capable of winning. It’s that they all looked at times like they were actively trying to lose. So, kudos all around. Because if that was the goal, they all managed it, or at least most of them did anyway. For the first time in living memory, at least five of six competitive parties lost Monday. The only real winners were the Bloc Quebecois. And even that win felt like a loss, for decency at the very least, managed as it was on the back of a promise to be overtly as opposed to tacitly racist.

So here then, is a catalogue of the losses, a compendium of all the attempted failures and accidental wins.

The Conservative Party

Andrew Scheer was always supposed to be a placeholder leader for the Conservative Party. And, boy, did he live up to that billing. Facing an exceedingly vulnerable Liberal party, its leader beset by scandal , its vote splintering four ways, Scheer still managed somehow, not to win. In fact, he didn’t even come close. The Conservatives won a plurality of the popular vote, yes, and the party picked up 23 seats. But it failed in every way to expand beyond its base. The party made marginal gains in the Maritimes, lost ground in Quebec and juiced its popular vote numbers by winning a series of massive blowouts in the Prairies. The Conservatives did pick up three seats in Ontario, but they were effectively shut out of the Toronto suburbs. No seats in Scarborough. No seats in Brampton. No hope for Andrew Scheer.

Scheer only won the party leadership in 2017 after every serious candidate, convinced the Liberals were unbeatable this year, decided not to run. Even then, he only managed his victory on the 13th ballot, by half a percentage point, after the original frontrunner, a screeching TV buffoon, dropped out, afraid he might actually win . On the campaign trail, he managed to appear somehow less qualified than Justin Trudeau and less charismatic than Stephen Harper. Beholden to the dairy industry , he gave off the air on TV  of a walking bag of milk.

Scheer has enough seats and enough support to make pushing him out at least something of a challenge. But you have to imagine there will be no shortage of Conservatives—Brad Wall? Rona Ambrose? Peter MacKay?—willing to try. Over the last 18 months, the Liberals pulled their goalie, then pulled their defence, then pulled the forwards too, and still Scheer couldn’t score.

The NDP

Goodbye Orange Crush. Goodbye fortress Toronto. Goodbye Jagmeet Singh?

First, the good. The NDP did better on election night than many expected at the start of the campaign. The party holds one path to the balance of power in Parliament and it should be able to use that leverage to extract something of value from the Liberals. Singh was also not the disaster on the campaign trail that many, including many New Democrats, predicted he would be. The more people saw of him, the more people seemed to like him. For all the focus on his otherness — his turban, the colour of his skin — he was by some measure the closest thing to an average guy running. Unlike any other party leader, Singh looks like, talks like and acts like a normal human being, even under the spotlight. That’s a big asset in politics and not something to be ignored.

All that said, yikes. Monday was a bad, bad night for the NDP. The party, that once had dreams of riding a Quebec wave into power, was cut down to a single seat in that province. Even more troubling was the party’s performance in the GTA. Under Singh, the NDP failed to win back any of the Toronto seats it lost in 2015 and failed to make any inroads into the 905. At this point, the party is clinging to a basket of rural seats in B.C. and Ontario and a few urban ridings held by lifers such as Peter Julien and Jenny Kwan. They could ditch Singh, sure. But what are they selling if they replace him? What message do they have that could resonate beyond the party’s shrinking base?

The People’s Party

Maxime Bernier couldn’t get a Ford elected in Etobicoke . He lost his own seat. He finished with well under 2% of the vote. Populism and nativism in Canada aren’t dead . But Bernier looks spent as a political force. He had his tantrum. He took his ball. He went home. Home told him they’d rather have someone else.

The Green Party

It went under the radar, but the Green party had perhaps the most shambolic, disastrous campaign of any party in a year defined by shambolic, disastrous campaigns. This was supposed to be the moment the party surpassed the NDP as Canada’s official progressive option. This was going to be their year. They even hired a professional war room , just like the big guys . And then they went out and really made that war room earn its cash.

Where to begin? There was the mass defection that wasn’t in New Brunswick, one that left the party mired in accusations of racism and serial exaggeration. There was Elizabeth May’s comedic attempt to convince reporters that star candidate Pierre Nantel, who wants Quebec to leave Canada as soon as possible, is not, in fact, a separatist. There was the Islamophobic candidate in Ontario the party fired, and the four in Quebec that it kept. And then there was the straw. I would say it was a literal straw that broke the camel’s back, but that would actually be giving the Greens too much credit. It was, in fact, a Photoshopped straw , in a doctored photo, meant to hide the fact that Elizabeth May was drinking from a disposable cup.

In the end, after dreaming of a breakthrough, the party finished with a little nub of extra support pushing through in New Brunswick, a single seat added to the two it already had, and even that was likely more a testament to the popularity of a local leader than to the strength of the national brand.

The Liberal Party

In one sense, the sense that matters most, the Liberal party won Monday. Justin Trudeau is still prime minister. The party holds a strong and exceedingly workable minority in parliament. It should be able to govern with relative comfort for at least the next two years .

But, boy, what a way to win. The Liberal party took less than a third of the popular vote. It has less popular support than any government in Canadian history. The party lost every seat it held in Alberta and Saskatchewan. It lost Ralph Goodale, perhaps Trudeau’s most important minister. It lost the popular vote to the Conservatives. It lost, somewhere between 2015 and now, any sense of what it was selling to the public. It lost, through blackface, SNC and the Aga Khan’s private island, any claim to moral superiority. It lost, through bullying and bungling and general hamfistedness, Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The Liberals return to Ottawa chastened and reduced. They sit with the knowledge that had they faced so much as a B-minus opponent, hell, even a strong C, they would have been wiped out. It’s a heck of a way to claim a mandate. It’s going to be an awful couple of years.

The Bloc Quebecois

The Bloc added 22 seats. They are now the third largest party in Parliament. They achieved those gains in large part by standing up for Quebec’s right to legally discriminate against religious minorities . What a disgrace.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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