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After almost 13 years of Liberals in power, 2006 came along and it would appear that Canadian public was ready for a change.
Unlike every election since 1984, this was not called by a prime minister but through a vote of no-confidence, the first time this had happened since the days of Joe Clark in 1979.
The vote occurred on Nov. 28, 2005, when the three opposition parties joined together claiming that the Martin government was corrupt, joining together to bring the government down. This would produce a winter election, with the election date set for Feb. 13. The election campaign would be eight weeks long, making it the longest in 20 years in order to allow for time for Christmas and New Years.
Harper would say upon the fall of the government, quote:
“This is not just the end of a tired, directionless, scandal-plagued government. It is the start of a bright new future for this great country.”
Gilles Duceppe would also criticize the Liberal government, stating quote:
“This is an historic moment. Tonight we are judging the Liberal Party, a corrupt Liberal Party. They use our money to try to buy our own votes in Quebec. They did not learn anything from what they did with Adscam because they have done the same thing over the last two weeks with taxpayers money to try to buy votes all around.”
The sponsorship scandal was not going away and the Gomery Commission would weaken the support of the Liberals even further from what it was just a few years previous. On Nov. 1, 2005, the Gomery Report released its findings that stated there was a culture of entitlement within the Liberal government.
Martin could have delayed calling an election until 2009 legally but he stated he would dissolve parliament in April 2005, which would be within a month of the second Gomery Report coming out. Instead, the government fell months earlier on a vote of 171 to 133.
It was the hope of Martin and the Liberals that the party could recapture a majority government as the party had from 1993 to 2004 and at the start of the campaign, it did look like the Liberals might pull off a majority government.
The Conservatives would spend the first month of the campaign releasing a policy-per-day including reducing the GST and implementing a child care allowance.
The Liberals would not make any campaign announcements until after Christmas, which would result in the Conservatives dominating the election coverage during that month. They were further hurt by a tragic shooting in Toronto in December that allowed the Conservatives to push their crime prevention aspect of their platform.
On Dec. 27, 2005, the Liberal Party would be hit with bad news in the media when the RCMP announced it was investigating insider trading claims in the office of Finance Minister Ralph Goodale. In the end, the RCMP found no evidence of wrong doing or criminal activity, but the story dominated the newspapers for several weeks and significantly hurt the Liberal Party in the polls.
The NDP campaign would focus on not winning the election completely, but on holding a balance of power with the Conservatives or Liberals, whoever won the election with a minority government.
The Bloc Quebecois had surged ahead in the 2004 election and the hope was that the party could gain more power and even become the Official Opposition as it had been after the 1993 election.
In the Jan. 23, 2006 election, the Liberal government would lose for the first time since the days of Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper became the new prime minister of Canada. The Conservatives gained 26 seats to finish with 124, while the Liberals lost 30 seats, finishing with 103. The Bloc Quebecois would lose two seats to fall to 51, while the NDP did very well, gaining 11 seats to finish with 29 seats.
The Conservatives would win the majority of seats across the Canadian west, including all 28 seats in Alberta and 12 of 14 in Saskatchewan. The Liberals still won more seats in Ontario, winning 54, but the Conservatives would make huge inroads with 40 seats, while the NDP picked up 12. In Quebec, the Conservatives, for the first time since the days of Brian Mulroney, won several seats in Quebec, picking up 10. The Bloc would win 51, while the Liberals won 13. In the Maritimes, seats were mostly split evenly, except in Prince Edward Island where the Liberals won every seat.
Upon the election win, Harper would state, quote:
Martin, would state upon his loss as prime minister, quote:
“It has been a tough night.”
Martin would step down as leader soon after the election loss.
With this election win, the Conservatives had won the smallest minority government in Canadian history in terms of proportion of seats.
With such a small minority government, it was only a matter of time before another election would be triggered.
Minority governments tend not to last long, with an average of one year, five months and 22 days. With the 2006 to 2008 minority government, the 39th Parliament became Canada’s longest serving Conservative minority government.
On Feb. 15, 2007, it was reported that the Conservatives were preparing for another election after the budget was released in March. At the time, the Conservatives were polling well and the new Liberal leader Stephane Dion was not polling well.
No election would happen of course that year, but by Aug. 14, 2008, Harper would state that Parliament had become dysfunctional. He would state, quote:
“I’m going to have to make a judgement in the next little while as to whether or not this Parliament can function productively.”
The Conservatives would survive several no-confidence votes. The NDP and Bloc usually voted against the Conservatives, while the Liberals did or did not attend a vote.
Finally, on Sept. 7, 2008, Parliament was dissolved and an election was called.
This election would be the first in which social media would play a role. One Facebook group called “Anti-Harper Vote Swap Canada” gained press for its call of eligible voters in different electoral districts exchanging votes so that an opponent of the Conservative candidate would have a better chance of being elected. This practice is legal according to Elections Canada.
Strategic voting was widely used in this election. This method involves elections with two or more candidates in a riding, when a voter supports another candidate more strongly than their typical preference in order to prevent an undesired outcome.
In Newfoundland, popular premier Danny Williams launched the Anything But Conservative campaign as a way to get voters in the province to prevent the Conservatives from gaining seats in the province.
It is estimated that the use of strategic voting may have taken as much as 72 seats away from the Conservatives in the election.
As soon as the writ was dropped, party leaders began attacking the Conservatives, most notably Stephane Dion, the leader of the Liberals.
It went back at Dion though. With English as his second language, he had difficulty at one campaign stop answering a question by an English reporter, requiring Dion to ask three times for him to repeat the question. Harper would attack this, stating quote:
Dion, who did have hearing issues, would state that Harper had no class. He would state, quote:
“Maybe its because I have a hearing problem, maybe because English is my second language, but I did not understand the question.”
Gilles Duceppe would attack Harper over it, stating that many English-speaking politicians have little to no ability to speak French. Of course, Duceppe also attacked Dion over it, stating quote:
“The real question is that I think Dion understood the question. The real problem wasn’t the language, it was the substance. He had nothing to say.”
Layton would defend Dion over it, stating he had struggled with questions too. Jean Chretien and Paul Martin would support Dion over the matter as well.
Harper remained more popular than Dion in Canada, polling at 51 per cent compared to 42 per cent for Dion.
The main issue of the election would be the economy, which hurt the Liberals who put their main emphasis on the environment. A total of 31 per cent of Canadians put the economy as the main issue, compared to 15 per cent from just two years previous. The environment, by comparison, registered at nine per cent.
The NDP, which had previously campaigned as an alternative choice to the Liberals and Conservative without a plan to get elected, would shift gears this election and Jack Layton would state that he was campaigning for the position of prime minister.
This election was also notable in that the Green Party, due to an MP crossing the floor earlier in Parliament, had a seat in the House of Commons. This would help the party, under leader Elizabeth May, get more exposure and participate in the leaders’ debates. The Conservatives, Bloc and NDP all opposed including the Green Party in the debates, citing the fact that May stated the bet outcome for the election was a Liberal-led government. The Liberals and Greens also struck a deal in which the Liberals would not run a candidate in May’s riding, and no Green Party member would run in Dion’s riding. Harper and Layton stated they would not take part in the debate if May was in it, and Dion stated that if Harper was not in it, he would not be in the debate. The media consortium decided that the Green Party would be denied participation in the debate. This created a large amount of backlash against Harper and Layton and in the end, May would be allowed to participate in the debate.
The debates would change in this election, with leaders not giving opening or closing statements, and rather than standing at podiums, each leader would sit around a table.
In both debates, the leaders attacked Harper over his environmental record and the economy, while also comparing him to President George W. Bush. One notable part of the debate was when Harper stated that he erred in his support of Canadian participation in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He would state, quote:
“It was absolutely an error, its absolutely clear.”
There would be some accusations of plagiarism in speeches given. On Sept. 30, Bob Rae of the Liberal Party stated that on March 20, 2003, Harper had plagiarized a speech that called for troops to be deployed to Iraq, which was taken from a speech given by Australian Prime Minister given two days previous. One Conservative spokesman would state, quote:
In the end, Owen Lippert, who wrote the speech, would apologize and resign over the issue.
There were several controversies in this election as well. One Conservative candidate, Chris Reid, resigned over statements he made advocating for the legalization of concealed carriage of handguns. Another candidate, Lawrence Cannon, was forced to apologize after Indigenous protesters were told they were free to meet with Cannon if they, quote:
“behave and you’re sober and there’s no problems and if you don’t do a sit down and whatever.”
It wouldn’t just be the Conservatives who would be in hot water over statements by candidates. Simon Bedard, a Liberal candidate, was forced to resign after it was found in 1990 that he stated lethal force should have been used against Indigenous protesters during the Oka Crisis.
Andrew McKeever, an NDP candidate, was forced to resign as well after making comments on Facebook calling a war activist a fascist bitch.
Even the Green Party was in hot water when its candidate John Shavluk, was revealed to have made comments on his blog in which he called the World Trade Centre, quote:
“the shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters.”
In the Oct. 14, 2008 election, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would gain 16 seats to finish with 143, still 12 less than what was needed for a majority government. The Liberals would lose 18 seats to finish with 77, but still remain as the Official Opposition. The Bloc 49 seats, one more than in the previous election and the NDP picked up seven more seats to finish with 37. As for the Green Party, they would lose their only seat, and May would lose her bid for election into the House of Commons.
Once again, the Conservatives would win most of the seats in the west, including 22 in British Columbia, 27 of 28 in Alberta and 13 of 14 in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, the Conservatives won 51 seats, compared to the 38 won by the Liberals and 17 by the NDP. In Quebec, the Bloc once again dominated with 49 seats, compared to the 10 won by the Conservatives and 14 by the Liberals. While the Conservatives did well in the Maritimes, the anti-Conservative campaign in Newfoundland appeared to work with the Liberals taking six of seven seats, and the Conservatives getting none.
The election would see the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history, with only 58.8 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. Every party except the Green Party attracted less votes than in the 2006 election. One reason for this may have been new rules implemented in 2007 that required all voters to show one or two pieces of identification to confirm their address, or be vouched for by another voter who is able to show such identification. This would result in homeless, transient and student voters being unable to vote. At Dalhousie University for example, two-thirds of voters were turned away.
On Dec. 1, 2008, due to growing opposition dissatisfaction with the Conservatives, there was a danger of a no-confidence vote happening by Dec. 8. If the vote turned out to be successful, the Liberals pledged to govern as a coalition government with the NDP for 30 months, while the Bloc pledged to support it for 18 months. On Dec. 4, 2008, the Governor General granted the request of Harper to prorogue Parliament until Jan. 26, 2009, thereby preventing a change in the government.
While many expected another quick election, it would be another three years, until 2011, that Canada would once again go to the polls.
Information from Ottawa Citizen, Dynasties and Interludes, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Edmonton Journal, iPolitics, CBC