Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines and a successful politician in her own right, is supposed once to have said that “win or lose, we go shopping after the election.” In Canada, we do it differently.
Our politicians go shopping for votes with our money during the election, and the bill arrives right after the votes are counted.
This time round, the Conservative Party of Canada pledged $51 billion in new spending over five years, the Liberals promised another $78 billion and the NDP’s quixotic shopping spree exceeded $200 billion. Which leads me to the first entry in my inaugural (and likely never to be repeated) list of Canadian federal election winners and losers.
Loser: Anyone under 35. If you aren’t part of what Spectator editor Fraser Nelson has called the “assetocracy” — that is, if don’t already own a home or have a nest egg incubating warmly in an investment account — sorry, you’re out of luck. You will be paying to keep the boomers in the manner to which they have become accustomed for the rest of their lives, and long after, even as inflation and rising interest rates mean a similar quality of life will keep receding ever further out of reach for you.
Winner: Were there any winners? I mean, really? Sure, there were the 338 individual winners, but that happens in every election. In his victory speech, Trudeau said that he had heard the people and “You don’t want us talking about elections anymore.” That makes the 2021 election a pretty darn expensive focus group to learn something that a trip to any local coffee shop could have told him. We would all have been better served if the prime minister had just handed $20 to every member of the electorate and taken a five-week holiday. But while others have proclaimed this an election of losers, I am determined to dig deep and find a few winners among the electoral detritus.
Loser: Elizabeth May
Ottawa’s favourite kooky aunt won her seat, but brought down her party. The measure of a political leader is not just what they do in office, but how they manage a successful transition. May failed on both counts.
The Green Party’s share of the vote in her last election as leader was lower than in her first, and in the two elections in between, the party polled lower than it did under former leader Jim Harris in 2006. In this election, her successor Annamie Paul had to fight the opposition, her own party and May’s refusal to exit gracefully.
Unsurprisingly, Paul lost badly, although her party won two seats (as of the time of writing). Paul can be blamed for choosing to contest an unwinnable seat where she had already lost twice, but the rest of the Green decline is down to the person who has controlled it for more than a decade and is still the party’s most public face.
Winner: Andrew Scheer
Amid the general media glee over the end of Andrew Scheer’s leadership of the Conservative Party in 2019, it was easy to overlook the fact that he increased his party’s seat count from 95 to 121 and beat Justin Trudeau in the popular vote, knocking the Liberals back to a minority government. In this most recent election, O’Toole performed within the margin of error of Scheer’s campaign, also narrowly winning the popular vote.
Perhaps it is a stretch to label either leader a winner when both quite clearly lost, but at least some of the media’s grudging respect for O’Toole on election night in 2021 should be applied retrospectively to Scheer as well.
Loser: Democratic reform
The uncontained outbreak of democracy that saw the People’s Party of Canada surge to more than five per cent nationally — the usual threshold cited to qualify for seats in parliament under proportional representation — will mean that, on fainting couches from Kitsilano to Rosedale, many champions of electoral reform will be reconsidering their erstwhile enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the Liberals’ ability to form government yet again with only 32 per cent of the vote will further dampen their enthusiasm for change.
Winner: Chinese Communist Party
I won’t be so crude as to suggest that the Chinese Communist Party was working to help Justin Trudeau win re-election, but I’ll say this: they sure worked hard to make sure that O’Toole lost. Terry Glavin has documented how Chinese social-media platforms WeChat and Weixin were subjected to what appears to be an organized disinformation campaign by anonymous accounts targeting Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives, spreading baseless rumours that he would make Chinese nationals register as foreign agents and shut down the social media platforms. The state-run Global Times even warned of unspecified “counterstrikes” against Canada if O’Toole were to win. With Trudeau’s re-election, the China lobby will be popping corks from Beijing to Bay Street.
Loser: Jagmeet Singh
While election night commentators praised his campaign for increasing the NDP’s representation by two or three seats, the party’s share of the vote barely budged. The NDP’s seat count and its vote share are well behind the highs of 2011 under Jack Layton, but also well behind those of 2015 under Tom Mulcair and of 1988 under Ed Broadbent. Singh may be the most popular of the party leaders, but a much smaller number of Canadians consider him a serious candidate for prime minister. The NDP has shown it can win provincial elections in provinces as different as B.C., Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, but if they are serious about winning at the federal level, they need to ditch their goofy Rolex revolutionary and pick a leader in the moderate and unflashy mould of John Horgan or Gary Doer. Or, of course, the party can keep dancing its way from defeat to defeat, buoyed by moral superiority and unencumbered by the weight of expectations of anything better than fourth place.
Winner: The media
A second Liberal minority means, at least in the medium term, instability, uncertainty, shadow leadership races and leaky caucuses. It’s a dream scenario for content-hungry newspaper columnists, TV producers, and pundits: a surfeit of fodder for tongue-wagging panels and chin-stroking columns and the chance to do it all over again in a year or two, when the parties’ shopping bills will, no doubt, be even higher. Lucky them! Poor us.
And so, we end the 2021 election where we began it, but poorer, angrier and more divided. I fear this exercise has changed my mind. The cynics are right: tonight, we are all losers.
Howard Anglin was senior adviser of legal affairs and policy and deputy chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper. He is a postgraduate researcher in constitutional law at Oxford University.