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Opinion stories

FUREY: Conservatives need not entirely despair the election results

The Conservatives won the popular vote, increased their seat count, brought Trudeau down to a minority and locked him out entirely of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

BY: ANTHONY FUREY

It’s natural for opposition parties in Canada to despair the results of Monday’s federal election. Really only the Bloc Quebecois can say they triumphed. 

The NDP saw themselves relegated to fourth party status. Jagmeet Singh had a surge in personal popularity during the campaign, but it never translated to votes. He came across as a likeable guy, but not necessarily one who could persuade Canadians to go with his quasi-socialist platform. 

The Greens gained a seat and should technically be able to celebrate for that reason, but because they were hyped as on the cusp of some sort of breakthrough – and even polled equal to the NDP at times – their final tally is, in fact, a disappointment. 

As for Maxime Bernier, his People’s Party of Canada experiment was largely a failure, at least if judged by popular vote. When they were polling at 2-3% support across the country, Bernier guessed that the party was under-polling. This is a logical thing to believe, given how populists typically do under-poll. But that proved not to be the case. In fact, the PPC received less than 2% and Bernier lost his own seat. 

That said, Bernier told me a few months ago that he likens this to a long-term project and noted that the Reform Party received zero seats its first time out but then went on to form opposition on their third election. Anything can happen over the next decade and so they may eventually be a force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, if only by a hair, is the showing of the Conservatives. Not a day went by that Conservative activists weren’t chomping at the bit over the last two years for a chance to go after Justin Trudeau and knock him out of the Prime Minister’s Office. Yet when the day finally came, they failed to deliver. 

“How many scandals does this guy need to chalk up before Canadians boot the guy out? How easier a target did Andrew Scheer need? Has there ever been an election more winnable?” one influential Conservative told me after the results, going on to argue that Scheer needs to be replaced as leader.

Maybe. But not so fast. 

Don’t forget, word on the street back in 2017 was that some prominent Conservative politicians took a pass at running for the leadership because they assumed Trudeau would be more than a one-term PM. They figured it would be difficult to unseat someone who’d just won such a commanding majority. Yes, Trudeau racked up way more scandals than anyone expected. But the original calculation that he wouldn’t be beat was not wrong. It’s a little hard for the same people who claimed Trudeau could not be beat to now turn around and attack Scheer for failing to do what they had said was impossible.

Anyway, the Conservatives did win the popular vote, increased their seat count, brought Trudeau down to a minority and locked him out entirely of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It wasn’t a slam dunk win but it wasn’t a total loss either.

As for the leadership question, Scheer will face a review vote regardless at this year’s annual convention. That is as it should be. There will be camps organizing to vote him down and others working to let him stay. He deserves to make his case to the party that, like Stephen Harper before him, he can win the second time out. And maybe he can. Battles usually only harden a person and better prepare them for the next time out.

It’s hard to imagine this minority term being a good one for Trudeau. If he was exposed as a hypocrite on multiple fronts back when he had a majority, and thus controlled many levers of Parliament, things will likely be even more difficult for him this time around when the notoriously stubborn leader has to learn to play well with others.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition isn’t the best job in the House, but it’s still an important and honourable one. The Conservatives, along with the Bloc and NDP, now have a job to do.

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