Editorial: Liberal win a return to a centrist political culture

Most Canadians are thrilled at the combined result of the Oct. 19 election.

There is collective relief that the inexorable right-wing shift under the Harper Conservative Party with its slash-and-burn approach to Canadian institutions and rejection of majority attitudes is over.

The victory of the Justin Trudeau Liberals marks the re-emergence of the centre and moderate left as representative of the mainstream of Canadian political culture, a cause for celebration.

Stephen Harper and his advisers were all about strategy. They calculated that the longest election in living memory would allow the dirt flowing from the Mike-Duffy trial to recede from active memory.

It actually worked to their disadvantage.

The focus on the leader in the most carefully controlled campaign in recent memory backfired.

Canadian voters mobilized to defeat him. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party showed that its new leader not only stood up well under pressure, but
presented a manageable set of ideas and policies.

Justin Trudeau cleverly nudged the party sufficiently to the left to appeal to many who voted in 2011 for the uplifting message that Jack (le bon Jack) Layton and the NDP offered, and made them the official opposition.

With 39.5 per cent of the popular vote, the Liberals won 184 seats. Their popular vote increased by a stunning 60 per cent over 2011, when memories of the ugly sponsorship scandal and the unfocused leadership of Michael Ignatieff led to a collapse of its traditional support.

The NDP, meanwhile, had nowhere to go but down. The less inspiring leadership of Thomas Mulcair and a watered down set of policies did not markedly set itself apart from the Liberals, promising to run deficits to stimulate the economy. The NDP dropped to 44 seats from 103 in 2011.

Despite its loss, the Conservative base actually held its own, with the party’s total down by only about one per cent.

The shift in support in ridings where races were close led to the Liberal landslide. The NDP has returned to its traditional place as the third party in Canadian politics, with 964,000 fewer votes, a 28 per cent drop from 2011.

In Mount Royal riding, the national trend meant a strong win for Côte St. Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather, retaining the seat for the Liberals and overcoming a hard-fought campaign from the town’s former mayor, Conservative Robert Libman.

The 65 per cent turnout at the polls, and a 3,000-plus drop in support for the NDP candidate Mario Rimbao, compared to Jeff Itcush in 2011, worked in Housefather’s favour. Libman played the Israel card, as did his predecessor, the disgraced Saulie Zajdel. The tactic appeared to work well with many Jewish voters.

Libman’s aggressive style, and that of some of his campaigners, combined with antipathy toward the Harper Conservatives, did not help his cause. The pull of a young Justin Trudeau in the riding once held by his father, Pierre, and the lure of some progressive policies more than carried the day.

In newly delineated Notre Dame de Grâce‑Westmount, the return to favour of the Justin-Trudeau Liberals boosted support for Marc Garneau, who worked hard in the face of a strong challenge from distant runner-up NDPer James Hughes.

Garneau won a solid majority, increasing his share of the vote by 19 per cent.  In newly delineated Ville-Marie-Le Sud-Ouest-Île-des Sœurs, formerly held by the NDP’s Tyrone Benskin, corporate lawyer Marc Miller won a majority, defeating human-rights lawyer Allison Turner, who also suffered from the partial collapse of NDP support.

Noteworthy in the new crop of Liberal MPs is Anju Dhillon, a lawyer and member of the Sikh community, in Dorval-Lachine-Lasalle, where she defeated the NDP incumbent, Isabel Morin in the reconfigured riding.

We’ll be watching to see how well the Liberal government follows up on its promised policies.

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