July 2, 2004
CANADIAN ELECTION: LIBERALS 'CHEAT THE HANGMAN'
** Voters punish the
Liberals for their "arrogance," giving them a "tentative"
** A "messy"
minority government "may not last long"; NDP could compel Martin to
** Despite loss, "the
Conservatives are back," giving Canada "a proper national
** Paradoxically, the Bloc
Québécois' success may give it less influence in Ottawa.
'Angry' voters punish Liberal 'hubris'-- Canadian papers concluded that Prime Minister
Martin and the Liberal party had endured "a near-death experience"
before emerging "badly bloodied" but on top in the general elections. The Liberals' "unexpectedly strong
showing" was "impressive and surprising" but also
"bittersweet." It followed a
campaign in which, as the leading Globe and Mail put it, the Liberals
"spent more time...trying to frighten Canadians about the Conservatives
than outlining a solid vision" of their own. In the end, "fear" of the Tories
seemed to outweigh "loathing" of the Liberals, whom voters wished to
"punish" for the "corruption, waste and arrogance" of their
years in office.
Country's politics 'unresolved'-- Now, "there is neither a majority
government nor an obvious coalition."
The prospect of a minority government "has injected an element of
instability" in the country, said the left-of-center Vancouver Sun. A Toronto outlet observed that Martin "faces
the daunting task" of making Parliament work while avoiding another early
election. A "marriage of
convenience" with the New Democratic Party (NDP) "may tempt the
Liberals to move left." But while
the NDP "will willingly endorse social legislation or support for the
Kyoto Protocol," the Liberals would face "hard negotiations
on...plans to spend more on the military."
For Tories, 'a hot and cold shower'-- Assessing the Conservative showing,
left-of-center analysts contended that "most Canadians have shown no
appetite for social conservatism if it means rekindling old firefights over
abortion and sexual orientation."
Voters instead opted for "a socially progressive" government. Right-of-center papers judged that the newly
merged Conservative party was "not quite ready for prime time" and
its "fiercely partisan" leader Stephen Harper seemingly
"frayed" by the end of the campaign.
The conservative National Post noted, however, that Harper
"defied the prognostications of many," giving Martin "the fight
of his political life." The Globe
and Mail agreed, adding it was "good news" that Canadians
"once again have a realistic choice between two national parties."
Bloc takes Québec: 'Quel surprise!'-- Though the Bloc Québécois enjoyed
"unquestionable" success, handing the Liberals "a particularly
resounding defeat" in Québec, the centrist La Presse and Le
Soleil termed it the "the worst case scenario" for the
party. Bloc strategists had hoped to
hold the balance of power in a Conservative-led minority government. Though it will still wield influence in
Ottawa, it "will not be the power broker it could have become." With much of the vote due to Quebecers'
desire to punish the Liberals, the Bloc's success is "in good part
indirect...and does not represent" solid support for the party.
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media
Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a
representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the
Internet. This report summarizes and
interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views
of the U.S. Government. This analysis
was based on 28 reports from Canada, Britain, Ireland and Australia, June
29-July 2, 2004. Editorial excerpts are
listed from the most recent date.
Bittersweet Bloc Victory"
Editorialist Alain Dubuc wrote in the centrist La Presse
and Le Soleil (6/30): "Even
if the electoral success is unquestionable, the political dynamics that took
shape before our very eyes on Monday night represent the worst case scenario
for the Bloc Québécois. Strategists
dreamt of a minority Conservative government, next to which the Bloc would hold
the balance of power. What we actually
have is a minority Liberal government able to form an alliance with the New
Democrats. Gilles Duceppe's party will
not be the power broker it could have become. It will not be a force to reckon
with for the Conservative government absent from Quebec [the Conservatives have
no MPs in Quebec] that would have allowed it to exert its influence. And, above all, this situation denies Bloc
leaders the answer they could have given Quebecers worried that too massive a
support of their party would isolate Quebec.
In reality, the province of Quebec, underrepresented among the Liberal
government, is now further removed from power.... This scenario, while it is disappointing for
the Bloc, will not deny it an important role in Ottawa. The configuration of the House of
Commons...will force the Martin government to form various individual alliances
where the Bloc will have its place....
With 54 seats and 48.8% of votes, the real strength of the Bloc will
come from clearly being able to claim to speak for Quebec. This party is the one that, by far,
represents the greatest number of Quebecers and the fact that numerous
federalists chose to support it adds to its legitimacy.... It is clear that [Gilles Duceppe's victory]
is largely due to the sponsorship scandal and to an anger that could hardly be
expressed in Quebec by anything but a Bloc vote. The Bloc's success is thus in good part
indirect, still fragile, and does not represent a cemented support of the
party.... What was clear was the desire
of a great many Quebecers on the night of the election to punish the
Liberals.... But we can ask ourselves a
question: did the Bloc use Quebecers by
channeling their anger? Or, on the
contrary, did Quebecers use the Bloc to send their message and reach their
"Keep On Sitting"
The centrist Winnipeg Free Press commented (6/30): "Prime Minister Paul Martin and the
opposition parties should aim to keep this Parliament going at least a year
before pitching Canada into a fresh election.
No public purpose now discernible is served by triggering an election
sooner than that. Mr. Martin and his
Liberal party have adequate authority to govern on the basis of this week's
election. Their authority has been
eroded by public disgust over the sponsorship program, and this was reflected
in loss of their parliamentary majority.
That, however, need not prevent them from meeting Parliament, presenting
a legislative program and beginning to carry out the elements of it that
Parliament can approve.... The
government needs time to complete its investigations of the sponsorship
scandal, publish the reports and prosecute any wrongdoers who are brought to
light. The Conservatives need time to
fill in gaps in their program and show the country what they amount to with
their newly elected Ontario and Manitoba members. Unless events force some crisis upon the
country, the parties should let these processes unfold for a year at least
before scheduling a re-match."
"Campaign Ignored The West"
President and CEO of The Canada West Foundation, Roger Gibbins
observed in the nationalist Ottawa Citizen (6/30): "What we have here is the makings of an
explosive situation. In the long
build-up to the federal election campaign, there was every reason to expect
that western Canadian concerns and aspirations would figure prominently in the
election. Paul Martin declared in the
fall that he would have failed as a leader if western discontent were not
satisfactorily addressed. The Liberals,
moreover, seemed poised to expand their precarious beachhead in the West on the
coattails of their popular new leader.
At the same time, the election of a Liberal federalist government in
Quebec had dashed more water on the apparently rapidly cooling coals of the
sovereignty movement. Commentators
assumed the Bloc was toast, and that the national political agenda could be
expanded at long last to include western discontent. That was then, and this is now. In the campaign that just ended, western
concerns and issues have played a negligible role. How, then, do we explain the West's
disappearing act?... In many respects
the Liberals and Conservatives stayed clear of an explicit western agenda for
the same reasons. Western issues would
be unwelcome baggage for parties determined to win Ontario. Therefore the more the campaign focused on
Ontario, the more the Conservatives were silent on the West.... Since there hasn't been any healthy campaign
debate about western concerns, imagine how the West feels about the
Conservatives sweeping the West but the Liberals, dependent on voters in the
East, clinging to power with support from the NDP. It could be explosive."
"Harper's Lessons From June 28..."
The conservative National Post commented (6/30): "This is...no time for moody public
reflection by [Conservative leader] Harper over his political future, or for
his western supporters to engage in bitter recriminations over the vagaries of
Canada's parliamentary system. This is
instead a time for the party to rededicate itself to the rehabilitation of
conservative politics in this country.
The fact is that Mr. Harper defied the prognostications of many people
in advance of the election call, and gave Paul Martin the fight of his
political life. It is a consequence of
the Conservative campaign that the Liberals face their current
predicament. While Mr. Martin is
absorbed with the question of how he can best play with the hand he's been
dealt, the Conservatives have an opportunity to absorb the lessons of their
defeat.... The fact is, Mr. Harper may
be leading the Conservatives into an election campaign before this year is
out. If they prepare themselves now for
the fight, the Conservatives can--and for the health of Canada's democracy and
economy, must--win the next election."
"... And Martin's"
The conservative National Post observed (6/30): "Two days after the federal election,
the dust has begun to settle. But in
some respects, the results are still just as obscure as they were on Monday night. Because of the way seats have been split,
there is neither a majority government nor an obvious coalition to be
formed.... With the exception of matters
of confidence, then, Mr. Martin should consider freeing his MPs to make their
own decisions on parliamentary votes.
And, following his lead, each of the other party leaders might do
likewise. If they are willing to take
this bold step, the result will be a rapid acceleration of democratic reform,
to the extent that Parliament is empowered beyond what even the most ambitious
party platforms promised during the campaign.
Critics will contend that so many free votes would make Parliament
dysfunctional. But under the circumstances,
it is a system of constant behind-the-scenes deal-making between the government
and either a socialist or a separatist party that poses the greater risk."
"Voters Deceived The Pollsters"
Columnist Richard Gwyn concluded in the liberal Toronto Star
(6/30): "In summary, this election
was far less about punishing the Liberals or about Martin's early campaign
miscalculations than it was about the re-emergence of what could be called
Pierre Trudeau's coalition. The
successful Liberal coalition that Trudeau assembled more than 30 years ago--city-dwellers,
women, immigrants, young people--is still around and, if anything, is more
dominant than it has been in a long time.
Only Quebecers have opted out--almost certainly temporarily. The new Conservatives will now be under
intense pressure to move towards the center, more or less where Joe Clark and
Robert Stanfield positioned them. The
Liberals have got a reprieve.
Incomparably more significant--the Liberals have to lose, and should
lose, some time or other--the liberal values and attitudes that Trudeau
personified have been reprieved, entirely possibly for a long, long time."
"Canadians Are Still Cool To The Right Of Center"
Columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote in the leading Globe and Mail
(6/30): "The Liberals did not win
their majority, the Conservatives did not take power, the NDP did not crack 20
seats and the Bloc Québécois did not quite sweep all the ridings it had
targeted. A perfect result, in other
words, for an angry electorate. A
result, too, for Liberal hubris.
Canadians get a minority government that they seemed to want, led by one
party they wished to punish with another party they did not fully trust as
Official Opposition. It was as if
Canadians huddled voting day morning, figured out whom to punish and reward,
and in what proportions, then headed to the polls. No party will therefore be fully satisfied,
although the Bloc Québécois will be happiest.
Nor will any party be completely deflated."
"The Next Step For The Conservatives"
The leading Globe and Mail commented (Internet version,
6/30): "For the federal
Conservatives, Monday night was a hot and cold shower for the spirits. Their seat total rose...but their share of
the national popular vote fell to 29.6 per cent from the combined 37.7 per cent
received by the former Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives in the
2000 election. Uniting the parties
stopped the vote-splitting, but many of the old supporters deserted them. It was a night of mixed emotions all
round. The Liberals, who a year ago were
confident of a majority, were ecstatic to receive a minority only because the
more recent fear had been of defeat. The
New Democrats doubled their share of the popular vote but knew that, if Canada
had moved to proportional representation, they would have received twice as
many seats as they did. And the
Conservatives, who for the past few weeks have counted on the minority victory
the polls dangled before them, had to make peace with remaining the Official Opposition. But only by that yardstick could the Tories'
showing be considered a failure. The
good news for the country is that the Conservatives are back, and that voters
once again have a realistic choice between two national parties in a federal
"This is true despite the vexing regional disparities that
meant the Conservatives won no seats in Quebec and the Liberals barely
registered in the Prairie Provinces. The
Conservatives were forced to fight a phantom in this campaign: the notion,
depending on who was spinning the story, that they had a secret agenda to
dismantle health care, restrict access to abortions or cozy up to the
Americans.... What now? For a start, the Conservatives have to hold
that policy convention and air their differences. It matters that one-fifth of the voters who
chose the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives last time out did not
choose the new party this time.... In
particular, the party should thrash out its position on the Supreme Court of
Canada, in light of Mr. Harper's disturbing characterization of the chief court
as an illegitimate usurper of Parliament's role as lawmaker. The party should also work on its financial
projections. It is entirely legitimate
to call for tax cuts and reinvestment in the military, but a party that prides
itself on fiscal conservatism should do a better job than it did during the
campaign of making sure its numbers add up.
As they prepare to strengthen their position in the next election, the
Conservatives have a valuable role to play here and now. The mathematics of a minority government may
tempt the Liberals to move left to court the NDP and the Bloc, and the
Conservative voice must be heard as a corrective. To that end, assuming all the talk of direct
democracy and new politics has been more than hot air, let us hope that the
level of conversation in the House of Commons will be far more civil than in
recent years...even when, as with the Liberals and Conservatives, they may
"The Seeds Of Victory"
The conservative Halifax Chronicle-Herald
commented (Internet version, 6/30):
"An earthquake shook the political landscape in Canada on Monday
night, leaving behind a Parliament fractured in a way that no pollster had
predicted. The Liberals, riding 11
straight years of majority rule, were badly bloodied...yet are widely seen as
the victors for staving off an even worse result.... Paul Martin's 'victory,' however, came at a
divisive price. When their early
campaign strategy emphasizing health care wasn't working, the Liberals turned
to desperate measures, attack ads aimed at the Conservatives and their leader,
Stephen Harper, who had been successfully picking up support by emphasizing the
Grits' sponsorship scandal. 'People had
to choose between anger and fear,' Jack Bensimon, who headed the Liberal
campaign advertising, candidly told the Globe and Mail. The strategy appears to have worked. A last-minute swing by a small slice of the
electorate--perhaps five per cent--away from the Conservatives and to the
Liberals helped to confound all polling predictions of a dead heat. Mr. Harper's newly merged party, meanwhile,
was not quite ready for prime time.
Without a formal party policy, the Conservatives, pressed on controversial
issues--fairly at times, other times not--appeared disjointed, opening
themselves up to charges of a hidden far-right-wing agenda. Mr. Harper's sometimes defiant denials did
not always help.... In the end, as a
number of commentators have put it, fear seemed to top loathing. The NDP, though they sharply increased their
share of the popular vote, must be disappointed it didn't translate into
victory in more ridings.... Blame, in
part, strategic voting to stop the Conservatives. That leaves any potential Liberal-NDP
coalition one seat shy of a working majority.
A deal with the separatist Bloc Québécois... appears out of the
question. It's going to be
"Welcome To The Four Solitudes"
The conservative St. John's Telegram observed (Internet
version, 6/30): "Looking at the
results in Newfoundland and Labrador, you might think Monday’s event was a
different election--the last election, to be precise, when the breakdown of
seats between the Liberals and the then-Progressive Conservatives was precisely
the same.... The same generally held
true for the rest of Atlantic Canada....
The Bloc Québécois, predictably, took a healthy share of seats in
Quebec, and the new Conservative party began to make inroads in parts of
Ontario that it was never able to penetrate when it ran as Reform. For the Liberals--as was also expected,
particularly in terms of the popular vote--the West was history. What do you take from it all? Perhaps that we’ve come a long and horrible
way from Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes, a novel that famously cast the
profound distinctions between French and English Canada. Perhaps we’re now closer to three or even
four solitudes--the East, the West, Ontario and Quebec. The problem, of course, is that there are huge
differences between those solitudes--between how each one views social policies,
how each regards the size and responsibility of federal governments, and the
duties of care such governments hold.
And, on top of all that, there are huge differences between the
solitudes’ respective political powers within our political system. And that will be something that will make
this country increasingly hard to govern, especially in a situation as fragile
and rarefied as a minority government....
There will always be someone or some region willing to pull the plug on
this new government, and that will make it difficult to bring forward new
initiatives and inventive solutions to the many problems facing this
country. Perhaps, as a country, we are
getting old, and critical arteries--and attitudes--are hardening. Perhaps, after years of irk and grudges, the
regions of this country are less and less willing to forgive, and unable to
forget. But that’s what it is to live in
fundamentally good times; you have the luxury of time to grouse and complain
about how hard-done-by you are."
"B.C. MPs Take Note:
Negotiation Is The New Reality In Ottawa"
The left-of-center Vancouver Sun
editorialized (Internet version, 6/30):
"British Columbians had a new experience election night. Not only
did our votes matter in the outcome of the federal election, the power balance
in the next Parliament remained at play well into the evening and was finally
decided by a small margin in two polling stations on northern Vancouver
Island.... The minority government has
injected an element of instability that may act as a drag on the economy of the
country as a whole. But it offers an
opportunity for B.C. to take advantage of the strong diversity of voices we
have selected to represent our interests in Ottawa.... The prime minister would be wise to reject
[returning Cabinet minister David] Anderson's strategic advice...to 'govern as
if we have a majority.' As Joe Clark
learned 25 years ago, that kind of arrogance leads quickly to a hard
fall.... The new reality in Canada is
government by negotiation and British Columbian MPs need to take advantage of
their influence while they can.
Meanwhile, in the weeks and months ahead, Conservative strategists and
supporters will pore over the results to try to fathom what went wrong in an
election that at one point appeared to be theirs for the taking. This much they should know already: the majority of British Columbians, like most
Canadians, have shown no appetite for social conservatism if it means
rekindling old firefights over abortion and sexual orientation. And all parties should reflect on the sad
fact that once again, voter turnout is down across the country, continuing a
trend that has run through the past four elections."
"The Liberal Victory Is A Provisional
The leading Globe and Mail opined (6/29): "On the face of it, Prime Minister Paul
Martin won an impressive and surprising victory in yesterday's election. The Liberals did much better than almost
anyone expected, falling short of a majority government but still coming out
the biggest party by a clear margin.
There will be much relief and rejoicing among Liberals today as they
look back on their scrape with death.
But hang on just a minute. Though
they may have cheated the hangman, this is hardly a famous victory for the
Liberals. The party was thrashed by the
Bloc Québécois in Quebec, a traditional bastion that it should have won
convincingly under a native son, the fluently bilingual Mr. Martin. It lost seats in Ontario, though far fewer
than predicted. And of course it did
poorly in the West.... What
happened? While the sponsorship scandal
and the arrogance of the Chrétien years had much to do with that shortfall, and
while the unexpected uniting of the conservative parties made this a real race,
Mr. Martin can blame himself for much of his trouble. His first six months as prime minister were
shockingly bad; he lacked focus, he lacked vision, he lacked coherence. The Speech from the Throne promised
everything to everyone, and Mr. Martin amplified the problem the next day by
ranking everything as his highest priority.
The Liberals spent more time during the campaign trying to frighten
Canadians about the Conservatives than outlining a solid vision of where they
planned to take this country....
Minority status means the prime minister must prove himself in the most
difficult of circumstances. This is not
a bad thing; if he slumbered with a majority, a minority may jolt him
awake. With luck, his government will
last six months, a year, perhaps longer.
And, when the next election comes, he will have given Canadians a better
sense of whether his party deserves a stronger hand in governing the
"Canadians Chose A Stronger Nation"
The liberal Toronto Star editorialized (6/29): "Canadians demanded change yesterday,
but they rejected the change championed by Stephen Harper and his new
Conservative party that would have weakened the federal government, reopened
old social battles and charted a risky fiscal course. That's the message from Prime Minister Paul
Martin's unexpectedly strong showing last night, which had the Liberals winning
seats in every region of the country.
Rather than moving far to the right, Canadians opted for a socially
progressive alternative that will promote medicare, push for a new deal for
cities, improve the environment and strive to be fiscally prudent. At the same time, though, voters across
Canada also sent a strong signal to Martin and the Liberals that they are fed
up with the corruption, waste and arrogance that has marked their government
toward the end of their 11 years in power.
For Martin, it was a bittersweet victory. He failed to win a majority, but he averted
an election disaster that had been predicted by many pollsters and pundits
right up to election day. As leader of a
minority government, Martin now faces the daunting task of making the next
Parliament work and avoiding another early election. Canadians will expect the New Democrats to
work with him.... Now, Martin must
quickly get down to work and deliver the strong, socially progressive government
"Mr. Martin, Proceed With Caution"
The conservative National Post commented (6/29): "It is the Liberals who have emerged as
victors--of sorts. They lost some
members of their Cabinet, they were bloodied, they were reduced to minority status,
yet they still emerged as the government.
Nevertheless, it is a tentative mandate, one which Paul Martin must
exercise with caution.... From most
Canadians' points of view, Mr. Martin will succeed as a minority prime minister
if he is able to achieve modest policy goals, while resisting the opportunity
to be dragged to destructive extremes by either the NDP or the Bloc. Jack Layton has made it clear that he will be
pushing his 'proportional representation referendum within a year' idea as a
non-negotiable price for NDP cooperation with the new government. The prime minister must reject this demand
for a rushed vote on a pernicious electoral reform. Needless to say, the same rule must be
applied to the demands of the separatist Bloc.
The test of the prime minister will be his ability to prevent Parliament
from degenerating into an unprincipled exercise in horse trading. But standing in the face of NDP and Bloc
pressure and keeping spending under control will not be Mr. Martin's only
challenges. He also has to make good on
his promise to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal.... Canadians did not wake up to a new prime
minister today. But they did wake up to
a brand new federal political landscape that offers all the parties
unprecedented opportunities for principled change. The politicians must carry with them to Ottawa
the message that their duty to Canadians is to serve the national interest
before their own political fortune."
"Difficult Days Ahead"
Michel Gammon wrote in centrist La Presse (Internet
version, 6/29): “What a surprise. The Bloc Québécois won the elections in
Québec.... In a few days, the people of
Québec will wake up and realize that they just elected a party based on weak
protest. To have elected the Green Party
would have been more effective in promoting the interests of Québec.... The time has come to stop electing dreamers
who contribute little to our future and to elect a more constructive party who
can help us create a better Canada for all.”
The liberal Le Devoir editorialized
(6/29, Internet version): “A remarkable
victory yesterday for the Bloc Québécois, which swept Québec. But it was a particularly resounding defeat
for the Liberal Party, which the Québécois rejected massively.... [It is] a new statement of failure for the
party which, once again, has failed to overcome the Québec barrier.”
The nationalist Ottawa Citizen editorialized (6/29): "The 'unbreakable' Liberal majority has
been broken, and individual MPs may actually be somebodies again on Parliament
Hill, but this may come at a cost that Canada will one day regret. The Liberals stand the best chance of forming
the next government, if Prime Minister Paul Martin can reach an arrangement
with the New Democrats and sustain it by keeping his own MPs happy. This will not be easy.... The result could well be more Liberal
mismanagement combined with big-spending NDP ideology. A huge government child-care program,
enhanced subsidies for businesses and industries that make little economic
sense, and a commitment to the most inefficient parts of public medicare seem
inevitable.... The Liberals' campaign
will be remembered for its relentless negativity and vote-buying. Mr. Martin may have won power, but he cannot
yet say he has won Canadians' confidence."
The conservative tabloid Ottawa Sun maintained (6/29): "Democracy is a precious, if utterly
complex, thing. With the volatility of
Canadian voters tempering wary pundits' predictions until Ontario polls closed
last night, it remained difficult at press time to state anything of absolute
certainty about the minority government that greets us this morning beyond the
fact it is Liberal. So we're easily
drawn to the obvious: after years of
cynical, often irresponsible rule, the federal Liberals proved themselves
clearly vincible at the polls for the first time in a decade. And the outcome is a marriage of convenience
with Jack Layton and the NDP that will end tax cuts, while pandering to every
special interest that can muster a lobby....
Six months ago, a virtually uncontested Paul Martin assumed a role he
had openly coveted for years.
Immediately, he and those around him began to exude that regrettable
sense of entitlement for which Liberal governments in this country have long
been renowned. Just a few months ago,
Martin appeared destined for an easy majority.
Today, Canada's confidence in his leadership is significantly
diminished. It will no doubt take
several days--and perhaps even longer--for the finer implications of last
night's vote to emerge. But a mere
glimpse at the results of this campaign quickly reveals the starkest lesson of
all for a new Liberal minority government in Ottawa: Canadians will no longer abide the kind of
arrogance you rode in on. Finally, a
humbled power on Parliament Hill. And
some measure of accountability to keep it that way for a while."
"Voters Clip Grit Wings"
The centrist Winnipeg Free Press commented (6/29): "Canadians yesterday clipped the wings
of Prime Minister Paul Martin, keeping him in office with narrowed
support. He has won the right to carry
on with his prudent fiscal policy.... In
the Parliament of minorities that Canadians elected, the New Democrats may try
to use their leverage to impose their ideas on the Liberals. But they remain a fringe movement--an
enlarged fringe because Jack Layton proved to be an energetic and engaging
campaigner but they still enjoy the support of only about 15 per cent of the
country. They are in no position to
fight another election again soon. Mr.
Martin should listen to their ideas as he would to any Canadians but he should
not let them push him off the responsible system of surplus budgeting and debt
reduction that Canadians have endorsed."
"Too Many Voters Couldn't Bear Harper"
Columnist Thomas Walkom commented in the liberal Toronto Star
(6/29): "In the end, too many
Canadians--particularly too many Ontarians--couldn't bear the idea of Stephen
Harper as prime minister. That's the
only significance of the Liberals' narrow win.
The fact that they took more seats than any other party is not a
tribute--either to them or to their leader, Paul Martin. Indeed, one of the storylines of this
campaign has been the remarkable destruction of the Paul Martin myth. Martin came to the prime minister's office
six months ago like the hero of a classic Greek tragedy. Successful, popular, powerful, he seemed
blessed. Yet he was terribly
flawed. Now his political fate rests with
two men he appears to detest. Irony
doesn't adequately describe the situation where Martin--the millionaire former
shipping magnate--is forced to depend on either the New Democrats' perennially
jovial Jack Layton, or the man the prime minister views as a sinister
separatist, Bloc Québécois chieftain Gilles Duceppe.... So what happens now? For reasons best known to themselves, the
powers that be have given Martin another chance. Not many of us get that. Perhaps he will take the opportunity to focus
his mind. Curiously, a minority
government gives him a chance to act boldly.
The country may have little confidence in him; his government's position
may be tenuous. But history demonstrates
that the very perils of minority government often result in dramatic
reforms.... This time, Martin's minority
government will depend on Layton's reinvigorated NDP and Duceppe's Bloc
Québécois. This provides some
opportunity. It also provides much
peril. The Bloc will be keen to have
Martin devolve more taxing authority to the provinces; it will not be keen on a
strong federal role in, for instance, medicare.
As for the NDP, who can tell?
With 21 members likely elected, New Democrats will be aggressive, feisty
and demanding. During the campaign,
Layton blathered on about proportional representation. If he keeps on that dead end, we can expect
to see a lot of opportunities wasted."
"Done In By Ontario, The Most Fickle Province"
Calgary columnist Don Martin observed in the conservative National
Post (6/29): "For Martin...this
is just a reprieve from a death sentence.
He will be held captive by a New Democrat agenda, although to be fair
it's doubtful Layton will be able to extort too much because he'd be loath to
force a quick election after a modest victory of their own. Still, a governing party which usually
campaigns from the left and governs from the right will now have to govern from
the left as well. The Liberals will have
to govern from the left as well. If
Canada shifts to bigger government, higher taxes and flirtations with deficit
financing, to find the culprit look to Ontario.
The country's biggest province was fooled again."
"Muddled Results Show How Stable Canadians Are"
Columnist Diane Francis reflected in the
conservative National Post (6/29):
"Economically, this election will make very little, if any
difference. The Liberal/New Democrat
minority situation would be the worst-case scenario, but such a match would
likely last two years or less depending upon when the Liberals thought they
could go back to the polls again and win a majority.... The only dramatic shift was in Quebec, where
the giant protest vote parked with the Bloc Québécois may once again encourage
loose talk about separation. "
"A Second Chance For Martin"
Columnist Susan Riley held in the nationalist Ottawa Citizen
(6/29): "It was a near-death
experience for Prime Minister Paul Martin and it should change everything. It better. No more Liberal arrogance, no more
fast-and-loose with the public purse, no more--please, please--of Martin's
empty promises and inflated rhetoric.
Just keep it simple, try to live up to at least a few of your promises
and remember you have been granted a reprieve, not carte blanche.... Managing this Parliament will require
compromise and a conciliatory nature.
This may be why voters, in their wisdom, chose Martin over Harper. Harper's ideas aside, there was something
about his personality--a hostility and resentment--that, in the end, he could
not entirely hide. Fiercely partisan,
not given to broad consultation, and, at the end of this campaign at least,
seeming frayed and disgusted with the prospect of anything but a Conservative
majority, he was ill-suited to conflict management.... Not a bad Parliament, after all. The challenge now will be making more western
Canadians feel the same way."
"This Campaign Was A Contest Between Fear And Loathing"
Columnist Jeffrey Simpson pointed out in the leading Globe and
Mail (6/29): "Canadians kicked
and wounded, but ultimately did not defeat the mighty Liberal Party yesterday,
reducing its majority government to a minority.
The result was bittersweet for all parties, but especially for Liberal
Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was handed a large lead in public opinion and a
majority in Parliament, but whose performance in government and in the election
campaign was sufficiently uncertain to produce only a minority government.... The Liberal-NDP combination means big new
spending for health care, cities and the environment, but hard negotiations on
Liberal plans to spend more on the military, including participation with the
U.S. program of missile defense.... But
as soon as results poured in from Quebec, reality struck the Liberals, who six
months ago had believed they would crush the Bloc Québécois. The Liberals lost massively in francophone
Quebec, their seats outside Montreal falling one after one, starting with Gaspé
in the east of the province. The
Liberals had been damaged by the sponsorship scandal, and had added to that
disaster with a poor campaign led by a former separatist, Jean Lapierre, whom
Mr. Martin had foolishly tapped to lead the party's efforts. The Liberals did slightly better than had
been expected in Quebec--but the Bloc will now use its prominence to criticize
"Foreign Capitals Will Doubt A Minority Government Can
Deliver The Goods"
Columnist Jonathan Manthorpe commented in the left-of-center Vancouver
Sun (6/29): "Canadians anxious
about reasserting or redefining the country's stance in the world are going to
have to wait. Minority governments are
consumed by domestic issues and jockeying for position in the next
election. International identity and the
pursuit of national interests abroad tend to be low on the list of
priorities. And the view from abroad of
Canada with a Liberal minority government will be of a country whose politics
are, if not unstable, at least unresolved.
In foreign capitals, there will be a nagging suspicion that, for a
while, Canada might not mean what it says or be able to deliver on whatever
positions it takes. That mood of caution
toward Canada's international stance will be heightened by the recognition,
frequently noted in foreign media reports, that the broad spectrum of foreign
policy issues played little part in the campaign debate.... The Liberal platform is committed to a broad
foreign policy review with a high degree of public input. How willing or able
Paul Martin will be to pursue this objective will be part of the daily drama of
minority government.... If the Liberals
turn towards the New Democrats, it might affect foreign policy, but domestic
issues will probably predominate....
Defense was one of the few foreign policy issues that achieved any
altitude during the campaign. Martin was
quick to recraft himself as a Pearsonian peacekeeper and Harper as a slavishly
pro-Washington warmonger, calculating that would win votes. Yet before the election was called, Martin
showed far more hawkish tendencies than his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, who had
little time for the military and was happy to bleed it to the bone marrow to
overcome the budget deficit....
Canadians need to decide what role they want the military to play so it
can be properly kitted out for the tasks.
That decision must be part of the broader determination of the
objectives of Canadian foreign policy.
For that, Canadians will have to wait."
BRITAIN: "Fear Versus
The independent Financial Times editorialized (Internet
version, 6/30): "Paul Martin and
his ruling Liberal party have hung on to power in Canada's general election,
but lost their parliamentary majority.
They will now have to try to govern in co-operation with the left-wing
New Democrats in the face of a much strengthened Conservative party. This messy situation may not last long; 18
months is the average life of a minority government in Canada. However, Canadian voters have at least given
the country a proper national opposition for the first time in more than a
decade, though without--for the moment--jettisoning the Liberals' distinctive
mix of fiscal discipline and welfare generosity.... The election might have been even closer, if
Mr. Martin had not effectively stoked fears that the Conservatives would weaken
the state health system to which many or most Canadians attach iconic
importance. Stephen Harper, the
Conservative leader, had in a sense laid himself open to such scaremongering by
professing--quite sensibly--to be agnostic about the private sector
contributing to health provision, provided that the overall system stayed
state-funded and directed. So, in the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Martin
was able to use the fear of a right-wing Conservative bogeyman to counter the
quite widespread anger against his incumbent Liberals for their complacency and
corruption.... The [Conservatives]
failed to make a real breakthrough in Ontario, the largest of Canada's 10
provinces. But with 99 seats against 135
for the Liberals, they ended with a very respectable score. For the past decade, Canada has lacked an
effective opposition of the kind that might have kept the country's Liberals
more honest. The so-called sponsorship
scandals involving the Liberals pouring money into Quebec to counter separatism
produced an ironic result, merely boosting the Bloc Québécois at the expense of
Quebec's Liberal party. If Mr. Martin
frequently looked drawn during the election, he will now find leading a
minority government doubly tiring. He
will have to pay court to left-wing allies on social legislation and
environmental and foreign policy, without abandoning his proud record of fiscal
discipline. In these circumstances, he
might come to welcome a fresh, and perhaps more decisive, match with Mr.
The center-left Irish Times commented (7/2): “The Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Paul
Martin...having succeeded Mr. Jean Chrétien just six months ago [and calling] a
general election 15 months earlier than he had to, fought it in a shambolic
fashion and ended up surrendering a comfortable majority in parliament for the
perils of minority government. Mr.
Martin's Liberal party suffered at the polls from a widespread feeling that it
had grown arrogant after 11 years in power....
The Liberals' post-mortem should first determine whose hare-brained idea
it was to start attacking the allies of Mr. Chrétien and throw the party into
disunity. The main reason the Liberals
clung on to power was voter skepticism of the Conservative opposition.... To stay in power [Martin] must rely, for the
most part, on the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP will willingly endorse social
legislation or support for the Kyoto Protocol, but it would not go along, for
example, with defense issues involving the United States missile shield. To get that through Mr. Martin will have to
seek the support of the Conservatives. A
minority government which has to look to both left and right will have its work
cut out if it is to survive. The Bloc
Québécois should be happiest with the results.
They trounced the Liberals in Quebec, winning not just the vast majority
of the French-speaking ridings but doing so with huge majorities. The bloc did not emphasize separatism this
time around and it paid dividends. It
had hoped to enter government in partnership with the Conservatives. The last Canadian minority government lasted
just seven months. It may not be long
before the Conservatives and the bloc get another chance.”
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
Home In Canada"
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald mused (7/2): "Mr. Martin will lead Canada's first
minority government in 25 years, and he will no doubt hope it survives longer
than the previous one, led by Joe Clark, which lasted just six months.... Holding onto government with the support of
the New Democratic Party may see some liberal policies such as gay marriage and
decriminalizing marijuana put on the agenda, as Mr. Martin works to honor
promises such as boosting health spending.
But beyond that, what lessons does his partial victory hold for
Australia? Over the past decade or so,
Canada has become much more introspective than the United States, which it
smugly and occasionally criticizes in a manner masking secret admiration. A more liberal Canada will be in contrast to
America's conservative tack under President George Bush. Over the past few years, these neighbors have
quietly gone their own ways on key foreign policy. Canada deployed forces to Afghanistan to work
with NATO on the war against terrorism, but held back from the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq. The consequent chilly
relations with Washington have been patched up--a useful lesson to Australians
concerned that criticizing the U.S. could undermine our own close relations