Special Report

A Bad Night for Conservatives

A right-wing American Canuckophile laments.

By 6.29.04

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Election night can be brutal. All that organization and enthusiasm coalesces into one jittery evening. If the race is close, volunteers linger into the pre-dawn hours at campaign headquarters, hoping that some last minute outlying cluster of votes will swing the election their way. Even before the verdict is rendered, the second-guessing begins: What could we have done differently? What would have put us over the top? What if we hadn't made those missteps along the way? What if we'd been able to scrape together a few more campaign dollars? What if...? Like I said, brutal.

I know whereof I speak. I've been on the losing end of only two elections that I gave a toss about, but they were doozies. The first was Bill Clinton's election in 1992. I was only in middle school but I'd gotten so into the contest that I refused to go to school the next day. I imagine the note from my mother read "Jeremy...was not feeling well."

The second was in '96. Washington state congressman Randy Tate was one of the young conservative firebrands who helped take Congress in '94 and he had really refused to back down or temporize. His staff, including this intern, was unrepentantly right wing. We wanted to roll back government, cut taxes, and stop another runway from being installed at a local airport. Per usual, all the papers editorialized against us, but it was not a Republican year. Tate lost narrowly.

These losses finished off any visceral interest I had in electoral politics. But I sure wouldn't blame most of my Canadian friends for crying into their beers over the piss poor performance of the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada. At press time, Conservatives won between 90 and 100 ridings vs. about 160 seats for the center left Liberals and their likely coalition partner, the stridently left-wing NDP. Conservatives even did poorly in Alberta and B.C. The only party that really stung the Liberals was the French separatist Bloc Québécois, and, trust me on this, an alliance between the now very Western Conservatives and the pea soup eaters isn't going to happen.

Liberals will now form a minority government, but on the most favorable possible terms. They've weathered a series of scandals that would have sunk any other government and come up smelling like, well, wet rats, but rats that the people sent back into office. Last night, they managed to keep the Conservatives from making meaningful headway in Ontario, which, to my mind, made the recent merger of the Western, activist conservative Canadian Alliance and the used-to-be-sort-of-conservative-really-honest Progressive Conservatives into a wasted gesture.

The argument for the merger was that in many ridings in Ontario -- the country's most populous province -- the combined vote totals of the Tories and the Alliance would beat the Libs. Combine the two and you have a winner. Voices such as the Globe & Mail's Jeffrey Simpson rose to argue that this was poppycock. Ask PC voters who their second choice would be and they said they'd vote Liberal before they'd vote for those Western rednecks. (Don't take it from me; in his acceptance speech, PC cum Liberal MP Scott Brison snorted that "There's not a lot of room for Red Tories in a party with a lot of red necks.") These concerns were brushed aside in the rush to "unite the right," but Eastern prejudice appears to have won out.

For his part, I think Conservative leader Stephen Harper wanted to lose this one. He looked at the problem of forming a minority government either with the NDP or the BQ and thought better of it. The idea was to lose narrowly and watch the Liberals and the coalition partners tear each other to shreds. Not a bad strategy but the problem is that this wasn't a narrow loss. The Grits won this election through demagoguery and misdirection, but they won it fair and square.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.