Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Liberals come on at the end, but who really won?

The Liberals pulled off a minority win in yesterday's Canadian elections, taking 135 seats in the House of Commons to the Conservatives' 99. This was something of a surprise with the biggest upset coming in Ontario where the Liberals held on to 75 seats. This was far from the heady days of Chretien when they carried 100 or more in the province, but it showed that Ontario wasn't yet willing to go with the relatively new Conservatives.

The Liberals will now have to rely on the New Democrats for support in the House, though the the lastest results show that even with the support of all the New Democrats, who won 19 seats, the two parties combined will still be one seat short of the 155 mark for a majority. Combined with the fact that the Liberals will lose a voting member when one of their number is chosen as Speaker of the House, it is obvious that the Liberals aren't in a position to push through whatever they choose.

The most interesting question though is who really gained the most in this election. It would seem that Quebec sovereigntists did well simply because they've got a second wind from the strong showing of the Bloc (though perhaps not quite as strong as they had hoped).

But perhaps the big winner here is none other than Alberta premier, Ralph Klein. Klein, who threw off the federal Conservative campaign with his remarks about provincial changes to health care, couldn't have asked for a better scenario in which to run his own provincial election campaign later this year. Though one would think the Conservative Klein would be disappointed, he in fact has an ideal backdrop for taking on the federal government over health care.

On the one hand, Klein needs a Liberal government in Ottawa to use as his political whipping boy with the Alberta voters. Paul Martin, the Liberal from Montreal, is a perfect foil for Klein to demonize. And, if that sounds a bit like hardball, well, it's a game the federal Liberals play with equal vigor as they single out Alberta as the enemy of "Canadian values."

And on the other hand, the federal Conservatives won overwhelmingly in Alberta. In fact, at 61%, they won virtually the same percentage of the vote that Klein won in the 2001 provincial election. So, while Klein has his Liberal nemesis in place in Ottawa, his own voters went heavily for the Conservatives. Indeed, no other province saw such a lopsided victory for one party over the other. Alberta, even more than Quebec, rejected the Liberals in a huge way.

The door is now open for Klein to call an election, win with another substantial majority, and set about implementing his own made-in-Alberta agenda. The question on many minds will be what will this mean for Alberta's relationship with the rest of Canada? Will Alberta become a de facto independent nation or will it instead become the great Canadian laboratory, innovating while the rest of Canada sleeps safe in its government-funded craddle? I'll look at that tomorrow.

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