Politics
Chris Windeyer
Chris Windeyer

Federal Election 2015: The Liberal Reflex

A wave of voters who'd been idle for years helped turn the North red. Plus, Leona Aglukkaq wasn't that bad.

On EDGE | Political Opinion

It’s funny how these landslides don’t look like much at the beginning.

First, Newfoundland, which was always going to go solidly Liberal, did so. Then the Liberals ran the table in the Maritimes, something not entirely unheard of, but still surprising. By the time we began to get coherent numbers from the giant glut of ridings stretching from Quebec to Alberta (where polls all closed at the same time), the Grits had stormed back to life in central Canada. By the end of the night, they were doing insane things like winning seats in Calgary.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, sitting as they are with 184 seats and a majority government, look dominant now, as long as you ignore the pesky matter of the party’s share of the popular vote, which at just over 39 per cent, is a tepid plurality.

North of 60 was much like the east coast: the abrupt swing was hard enough to give you whiplash. Michael McLeod in the NWT and Larry Bagnell in Yukon jumped out to early leads and cruised. In Nunavut, where each of the main candidates had pockets of concentrated support, it was a close three-way race for much of the night until Hunter Tootoo pulled away

I can’t speak for other prognosticators, but I got the NWT and Nunavut way wrong. I figured Dennis Bevington, fairly well liked, would hang on and Leona Aglukkaq would benefit from vote splitting on the left and keep her seat in a close one.

Well, the vote split alright, straight to the Liberals. And with voter turnout way up across the North (indeed across the country), it seems like a large number of Liberal voters who sat out the last couple of elections came back to the polls with a vengeance. The return of a previously idle corps of Liberal voters returning to play seems to be a theme across the country.

Throw in softer, fed-up Conservatives staying home or voting Liberal, and NDP voters switching to the Liberals in a bid to throw Harper out of office (even though there was no need in the NWT for anti-Harper voters to vote strategically) and you have the making of the rout we saw last night. Floyd Roland got straight up destroyed.

The turnout mattered in Nunavut too. Both Liberal Hunter Tootoo and New Democrat Jack Anawak doubled their party’s totals from 2011. Leona Aglukkaq actually got more votes last night than seven years ago when she first won the seat. But 3,700 more Nunavummiut cast ballots last night, and almost all of them went to the Liberals and NDP.

Aglukkaq, by the way, is not nearly as bad a politician as her dreadful performance as environment minister would appear to indicate. She’s smart and tough (maybe a little too tough sometimes). But she was Stephen Harper’s environment minister. From that cabinet shuffle on, she was doomed.

Here in Yukon, I get the sense that few people were ever that crazy about Ryan Leef, who benefitted from an unusually strong Green candidate (popular former Whitehorse city councillor John Streicker got 19 percent) and some anger at Bagnell over the long gun registry to win in 2011. The difference this time? Turnout was up and the Greens, fielding a much less well-known candidate, saw their vote collapse. Leef’s vote total actually held pretty steady: he was only down about 600 from last time, but even if he’d held onto everything, it wouldn’t have mattered.

Much has already been written about how long this campaign was, and how much changed during the course of it. As Andrew Coyne noted a few days ago, all three parties each spent time in first, second and third place, which has never happened before.

There will be much rehashing of what went wrong in the Conservative and NDP campaigns in the coming days and weeks. Going full-blown racist was, to put it mildly, a huge mistake for the Conservatives. And the NDP was just, well, blah. Tom Mulcair did what most received wisdom suggested he do, and pulled the party closer to the centre.

That might have attracted voters briefly, but voting Liberal is, for a lot of Canadians, almost a reflex. After the Paul Martin government, people were ready to put the Liberals in jail for a while. But that was a long time ago.  

“Once it begins to turn like that, it’s hard to change the narrative,” Audrey McLaughlin, the former Yukon MP and federal NDP leader, told the Yukon News.

And again, at 39 per cent, it’s not as if the Liberal win is a landslide in the traditional political sense. But that’s the thing about landslides: they don’t have to be huge, just big enough to sweep your opponents away.