Stephen Harper has to be relieved at tonight's election results. Although he didn't get a majority, he was able to substantially strengthen his position, with a high minority, and he will be able to govern with more confidence. It will now take three parties to defeat him instead of two.
The night was a debacle for the Liberals and for Stephane Dion personally. However, the last few days have been rough for the Liberals and fortunate for the Conservatives.
How did this happen? Several factors led to the results:
1. Stephane Dion's interview debacle on CTV Atlantic (ATV) took him off message [see my previous blog below] and shook the confidence of wavering voters, who always had lingering questions about his leadership capacity. Although it may have been unfair, the perception was so negative that his aides tried to stop the 'do-overs' from being shown. Rightly so. Any doubts about Mr. Dion's sensitivity to the 'unfairness' of that interview was underscored as he fended off questions from CTV reporter Roger Smith by saying, "the last network I would give an interview to would be CTV. " Ouch. [correction: Dion's exact words were "The last person I would speak to first is CTV."] Although mangled in syntax, it was accompanied by a push from Dion to the reporter and an angry tone. It was clear he was furious with the network for what he felt was bad treatment by the network on the controversial 'do-over' issue. See for yourself:
Mr. Dion is a decent man who deserved a better fate than this, but politics is a tough business and his Green Shift plan was a difficult sell at this time - or possibly at any time! He didn't have the personality and ease to connect with people. He exceeded expectations in this campaign - not just because they were so low before - but also because people could see his essential decency. They just don't see him as a leader.
2. The $25 billion infusion by the Government into the banks' mortgage portfolios - although late in the game - was seen by undecided voters to have been the right thing to do. This was reinforced by the record surge in the Toronto Stock Exchange as voters were going to the polls.
3. Mr. Dion could not seem to connect with Ontario voters, and his loss there was the Tories'and NDP's gain. The Conservatives were up 9, the Liberals down 13 and the NDP up 4.
4. The Green Party votes did not match the polling numbers and it seems like, in the final days, a number of their potential supporters took the hint from their Leader, Elizabeth May, and engaged in strategic voting.
5. The NDP did very well. They were able to target their votes in key ridings, resulting in an 8 seat gain - their best effort since the heyday of Ed Broadbent.
One of the key results of the election was that, due to the collapse of the Liberal vote, the combined Liberal-NDP seat count was not nearly enough to pose a possible coalition. So we could be at the polls again within the next two years, once the Liberals hold their leadership convention.
So congratulations to Stephen Harper and the Conservative team. They had a rocky journey but can definitely claim, that in the midst of unprecedented global economic turmoil and stock market meltdown that would normally impale any sitting government, they were able to pull off a strong performance. The Prime Minister had a statesmanlike victory speech, reaching out to the 2 independent MPs with an olive branch [why not? he's going to need them on some tight votes], and a high road message to all who threw everything at him.
That's one down and one to go - south of the border.
Preview of The Final Presidential Debate
Wednesday night is do-or-die night for John McCain. He needs to clearly and effectively set out his economic plan for Americans who are angry and frightened about what has happened. He needs to clearly contrast his approach to Barack Obama's, without being nasty. He has to look and sound Presidential.
He should drop his rumored plans to attack Obama's contacts with Bill Ayers. They are past it, and bringing it up will only backfire, as it will say more about McCain than about Obama. Talk about what people care about. Speak for them not just to them.
Looking forward to that one for sure!
Until next time....