Following the 2008 federal election, the Conservatives remained in power with a minority government. The government would almost fall twice but Prime Minister Stephen Harper would prorogue Parliament in December in 2008 to end an attempted opposition coalition, and then in 2009 he would prorogue Parliament once more.
On March 9, 2011, Peter Milliken, the Speaker of the House of Commons, ruled that Minister Bev Oda and the cabinet itself could be found in contempt of parliament for refusing to meet opposition requests for details on proposed bills and their cost estimates. A committee found on March 21, 2011 that the government was in contempt of Parliament. This was the first time in Canadian history that the government was found in contempt of Parliament. On March 25, 2011, Michael Ignatieff, the new leader of the Liberal Party, proposed a motion of no confidence declaring that the government was in contempt of Parliament and the House of Commons voted on the motion that same day. The government would fall on a vote of 156 to 145. This would be Canada’s fourth election in seven years.
Harper would say of the situation, quote:
“Unfortunately, Mr. Ignatieff and his coalition partners in the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois made abundantly clear that they had already decided they wanted to force an election instead, Canada’s fourth election in seven years, an election Canadians had told them clearly that they do not want.”
Soon after the election began, the Conservatives were already polling well, sitting at 43 per cent among voters, while the Liberals were at 24 per cent and the NDP sat at 16 per cent.
The top issue for the election would once again be health care, with 18 per cent of respondents feeling that it was the most important issue, while the economy, taxes and jobs also rated highly.
The Conservatives would campaign on the slogan of Here for Canada, while the Liberals used Rise Up Canada and Change We Need From A Proven Team.
Harper, during the campaign, would promise to re-introduce internet surveillance legislation, scrap the long-gun registry, eliminate the deficit by 2014-15, cut corporate taxes and Senate reform without changing the constitution.
The Liberals would campaign on raising the corporate tax rate claiming it needed to be competitive, a learning passport for high school students seeking post-secondary education, and net neutrality. They would also pledge $500 million towards creating childcare spaces.
The NDP would have an expansive platform that promised to cap credit card rates, ban all forms of usage based billing by internet service providers, a doubling of the Canada Pension Plan benefits, a $4,500 job creation tax credit to all businesses per new hire, hiring 2,500 more police officers to patrol streets, and a $30 billion spending platform and a promise to balance the budget in four years.
On March 29, the consortium of broadcasters announced it would invite the leaders of the four recognized parties in the House of Commons for a debate, excluding the Green party. The debate would be held on April 13 in order to prevent any broadcast conflicts with the NHL playoffs scheduled for April 14.
Harper would challenge Ignatieff to a one-on-one debate on March 30, which was supported by Ignatieff but opposed by the other parties. Ignatieff would state, quote:
“anytime, any place”
The debate was subsequently cancelled.
Harper would state, quote:
Two days later on April 1, Rick Mercer suggested a one-on-one debate between Harper and Ignatieff, stating he would donate $50,000 to the charities of their choosing if they would participate. Ignatieff agreed by Harper did not respond to the challenge.
In the April 12 debate, Ignatieff would attack Harper on several fronts including democracy, secrecy and control of Parliament, while Harper would argue that his opponents, through bringing down the government, were political opportunists. After the debate, 42 per cent of viewers would state that Harper had won the debate, followed by 25 per cent who said Layton did. The debate attracted over four million viewers as well, a 26 per cent increase over the 2008 debate.
The big story of this election was the Orange Crush. On April 8, the NDP were polling at 13.2 per cent, but on April 16, the party had reached 25 per cent in the polls. The surge began in Quebec, with the NDP beginning to surpass the Bloc Quebecois, and then surging throughout Canada. With the NDP suddenly surging ahead, the attacks of all the other parties turned towards the party in an effort to stem its sudden surge in popularity.
There would be some criticism of Harper for running a bubble campaign. All photo-ops were pre-planned, there was no walking the street talking to regular Canadians and everything was planned down to the smallest detail. Media were also limited to five questions per day on the campaign trail, and news conferences were not held.
By April 9, polls still had the Conservatives with a commanding lead of 41 per cent, while the Liberals had dipped to 26 per cent and the NDP were still rising at 19 per cent.
Two weeks later on April 22, the Conservatives would be cruising to a majority government with 43 per cent, while the NDP sat at 24 per cent. The Liberals, in contrast, fell to 21 per cent. The estimate at that time was that the Conservatives would have 201 seats, the Liberals at 53 seats and the New Democratic Party at 48 seats.
There would of course be controversies, quite a few of them in fact. On the Liberal side of things, Quebec candidate Andre Forbes was discovered to have been a white supremacist activist who had made hate speech against Indigenous, LGBTQ and Muslims. He was immediately removed as a candidate.
By far the biggest scandal was the robocall scandal, which came out after the election was over. In early 2012, Elections Canada and the RCMP investigated claims that robocalls were used to dissuade voters from casting their ballot, telling them their poll stations had changed location. Elections Canada would find telephone election fraud complaints in 247 of Canada’s 308 ridings. In the end, it would be found that fraud had occurred in a Guelph riding, and voting irregularities were found in six other ridings. Michal Sona would, a Conservative communications officer, would be charged and convicted over the matter.
At a Conservative rally in London, Ontario, an RCMP officer asked two attendees to leave the event for supposed ties to the Liberal Party. One of the students stated that she had a picture of her and Michael Ignatieff on her Facebook profile. Ignatieff and Layton both criticized Harper over the matter. At another rally in Guelph, an environmental student was told her name had been flagged and so she was not allowed into the event. She was told it was likely because of her affiliation with some environmental groups.
A Green Party candidate, Alan Saldanha, resigned over a sexual assault comment he made on Facebook.
A Liberal campaign volunteer was caught on camera taking Green Party pamphlets out of mailboxes and throwing them in the garbage, while replacing them with Liberal campaign materials.
On April 29, 2011, only days before the election, a retired police officer stated that he had found Layton naked in a massage parlous when police, looking for underage prostitutes raided the establishment. No charges were laid and Layton said there was no wrongdoing as he had simply went for a massage at a community clinic and did not return after police advised him not to. Gilles Duceppe dismissed the claim as well, while Ignatieff and Harper would not comment on the report. Many people criticized the story as a blatant smear campaign against Layton due to the surging popularity of the NDP. A poll done after the story came out found that the public opinion of Layton had gone from 80 per cent to 97 per cent, beating both Harper and Ignatieff. The polling company believed that this improvement was due to sympathy for Layton, feeling he was being unfairly maligned.
Olivia Chow, wife of Layton, would state, quote:
The same day that story broke, the Conservatives sat at 38 per cent, while the NDP had 33 per cent and the Liberals had collapsed to 18 per cent.
With Twitter becoming a more important platform, Elections Canada announced that it would apply a law from the 1930s to prevent election results from Atlantic Canada from being posted on Twitter before polls closed in the rest of the country. The fine for breaking was upwards of $25,000.
In the May 2, 2011 election, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives would increase their seat count by 23, finishing with 166, earning a majority government. This would be the first majority government for a Conservative Party since the 1988 to 1993 majority government of Brian Mulroney.
Harper would say upon his majority win, quote:
“Because Canadian chose hope, we can now begin to come together again. For our part, we are intensely aware that we are, and we must be, the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us.”
One interesting part of this election win was that Harper became the first prime minister to be elected while wearing glasses full-time. Other prime ministers such as Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Lester B. Pearson and John Diefenbaker did wear glasses, but only to read.
The NDP finished with its most seats in the history of the party when it surged ahead with a 67 seat gain that earned the party 103 seats in the House of Commons, making it the Official Opposition. This was the first time a non-Liberal or Conservative party was not the Official Opposition since the Bloc Quebecois in 1993. The NDP would have representatives in eight provinces, and even though it elected no one in Saskatchewan, still had one-third of the vote there.
Layton would state upon his party’s result, quote:
“For the first time in our history, Canadians have asked us to serve as the official opposition. We’re going to work very hard. Each and every day to earn the trust the Canadians have placed in us. I want to say placed in us. I want to say that I’ve always favoured proposition over opposition.”
The Liberals would suffer a total collapse, losing 43 seats to finish with 34, the lowest total the party has ever had in its history going back to 1867. Ignatieff would announce he would resign as leader following the election after losing his own seat. His replacement would be a new man, with major name recognition, Justin Trudeau.
Upon his resignation, Ignatieff would state, quote:
“The life that I like the best is teaching. It’s the end of my life as a politician.”
The Bloc Quebecois had its worst election after it lost 43 seats, finishing with only four. Gilles Duceppe would lose his seat as well as the NDP surged ahead in Quebec in the Orange Wave. The loss also resulted in the Bloc losing its official party status. Duceppe would resign as leader soon after the election, but he would return as leader just prior to the 2015 election.
The Greens would win their first seat in an election when Elizabeth May won in her BC riding. May would say, quote:
As usual, the Conservatives dominated in Alberta winning 27 of 28 seats, and 13 of 14 in Saskatchewan. The party also picked up 11 of 14 seats in Manitoba. In Ontario, the Conservatives picked up 73 seats to the 22 won by the New Democratic Party, while the Liberals won only 11. In Quebec, the NDP came out of nowhere to win 59 seats, while the Conservatives would only win five, and the Bloc Quebecois won four. The seat total for the NDP in Quebec was surprising as the party had only ever elected two candidates there. Through the Maritimes, the votes were split between the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP.
The election would see seven incumbents for the Conservatives lose, while 82 incumbents, mostly Liberals and Bloc Quebecois, lose their re-election bid.
Only a few months after leading the NDP to its greatest triumph, Jack Layton would take a leave of absence after being diagnosed with cancer. On Aug. 22, 2011, he would die and was given a state funeral.
Information from Macleans, Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Dynasties and Interludes, Ottawa Citizen, CBC