Explaining the 2015 Canadian Election, Part 1: The Conservatives Versus The New Democrats

This election isn’t about winning, it’s about killing the New Democrats. They’re a social-left party in Canada that made historic gains in the last election and, according to polling data, had a legitimate chance at forming a minority government in this election—the first time they could have done so in history. This would establish them, in the eyes of voters, as a legitimate governing alternative to the Liberal and Conservative parties. This is the greatest threat the Canadian Conservative Party has ever faced. This is because the Cons are essentially a marriage of two factions: Social Conservatives and Fiscal Conservatives. The FisCons are generally the leadership faction of the larger party: they largely ignore the social policy of the SoCons and focus exclusively on fiscal policy. The SoCons, however, are a different beast. By and large, these people are motivated by a core ethical theology (be it religion and nationalism) and tend to focus exclusively on these beliefs when considering a candidate. The two factions only cooperate as a matter of brokerage: under a large umbrella, a united Conservative Party has the chance to form government, as they’ve done in the last election. 

The problem? These factions hate each other. They’ve always hated each other. They will always hate each other. 

The SoCons prop up the FisCons so they’ll be able to form government. The FisCons then proceed to enact no meaningful SoCon legislation (letting allowances on gay marriage and abortion and other hot-button social issues) and instead reinforce the status quo. This causes the SoCons to feel betrayed by the party. 

Now, the SoCons have no one else to actually vote for—the other parties are far left of the FisCons socially—and so, despite this betrayal, they still vote for the party. However, this is a decision of prudence: the social conservatives have no loyalty to the party.  

In the early nineties, a political party sprouted up to take advantage of this lack of loyalty. Called The Reform Party, their existence split the vote between the FisCons and the SoCons, ensuring ten years of Liberal majority governments. This ended in 2003 when the FisCons finally convinced the SoCons that the only way to topple the Liberals—the party that recently played a big part in legalizing gay marriage, shocking SoCons to their bones—was to form a single party, a big tent. This worked, and the Conservative Party has been in power since 2006. 

Now, it’s only the promise of a Conservative majority that keeps the SoCons in the tent—majority governments give the party the opportunity to pass socially conservative legislation, as it wouldn’t pass through the House of Commons in a minority setting. If the promise of majority governments is removed, then the party will descend into in-fighting and ultimately split. Remember, the SoCons hate the FisCons, as they are, in the eyes of the SoCons, colluding with the factions of society (Liberals, etc.) that are, in their eyes, forcing abortion and gay marriage down the throats of them and their children. 

So how do the New Democrats fit into this? The Canadian Liberal Party has traditionally had no real core policy of any kind. Rather, they pick up whichever issue is currently politically expedient and take the stance that will get them a plurality of the vote. If there’s something that’s important to you, the liberals were for it before they were against it, or, if you prefer, were against it before they were for it. Canadian voters are fine with this and expect this behaviour from the party. 

The issue is that the New Democrats are no longer a far left party: they’ve taken the liberal centrism to an extreme and are making a concerted effort to move from a fringe party to a big tent, like the Liberals and the Conservatives. Were this to occur, we’d see a political environment where the NDP are centre-left, Liberals as centre-centre, and the Conservatives as centre-right. This would make three established governing alternatives, each serving about a third of society, making it effectively impossible (barring extreme circumstances) for any of the parties to form a stable majority government.

Therefore, if the Cons can’t form a majority, then the party will splinter and descend into chaos-the SoCons versus the FisCons. We would likely again see the creation of a fourth party, just like happened in the early nineties-The ReReform Party. This split would make it extremely difficult for either Conservative party to form government. Likely, over time, this would necessitate a situation where the Liberals drift far enough to the right to be considered the new Centre-right party, with the NDP adopting the old Liberal tradition as Centre-left and the ReReform acting as the political fringe party, in the old NDP role (though with different values, obviously). 

And so, this is the threat the NDP poses: the Liberals will always survive (they’re whatever they have to be at a given time) but the Conservatives won’t. Nobody knows this better than Conservative leader Stephen Harper—he’s watched the conservatives die before, and he doesn’t want to do it again. 

So that’s what this election has always been about for him: notice the concerted Conservative attempts to poison the NDP in Quebec—in most cases this sort of behaviour has resulted in gains for the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois (a separatist party that operates only in Quebec). It’s about splintering support and forcing the NDP into a defensive position, and it’s worked. The NDP have dropped, depending on which polls you use, anywhere between nine and nineteen points throughout the campaign, and are now struggling to hold on to previously safe ridings. They’ll be lucky to keep a majority in Quebec and are, frankly, uncompetitive in the rest of the country. 

 And that’s the type of dynamic you’re going to see play out through the rest of the election: expect Harper to continue wedging NDP support through divisive social issues, expect the NDP to start appealing to Quebec separatists (likely with distinct society talk or special provincial privileges) in order to shore up Quebec ridings, expect the NDP to come out hard against the Trans Pacific Partnership in order to distract Western Canada from the favouritism they’re showing Quebec, and expect the NDP to finish as a distant third come voting day. The media will blame this collapse on the death of Jack Layton and the cult of personality he held over the Canadian body politic, but we know better: the conservatives feared death, so they went for the throat.

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