Conservatives Lose With A Minority

March 1st, 2015 | D. Stone 

harper minority

Stephen Harper's Conservatives are heading into one of the most important elections they've ever faced. Forget 2010 and the endless threats from the opposition to topple the Conservative minority. Harper wanted Jack Layton to help the Liberals pull the trigger on his government so he could finally win his long coveted majority. In 2011, Jack Layton did just that and his party soared to an historic win while the Conservatives won their majority. 2015 will be much different. This year, a Conservative minority would be the equivalent of a complete defeat. 

Organized labour is fuelling up and they'll do anything to eliminate Stephen Harper, even if it means abandoning the New Democrats. They will do what's necessary to reduce Harper's majority to a minority, or to help Justin Trudeau win a slim minority. The latter is the least likely, according to more recent polls and an analysis by polling expert, Eric Grenier, for the CBC. 

"And the road map to 170 for the Conservatives is relatively simple: holding on to the regions they won in appears the Conservatives could win a smaller share of seats in Ontario than they did in 2011 and still come out with a majority. The reason is Quebec....With their current levels of support, the Liberals have far less margin for error." – Eric Grenier

The tagline Canadian labour and the left will be using is: "We just need a Harper minority. What comes next is child's play". After Harper's government shrinks, the power shifts to the two left-wing parties. Several doors swing wide open for both Trudeau and a – possibly Mulcairless – NDP.

Following a Conservative majority, massive Liberal gains and catastrophic NDP losses, Thomas Mulcair would most likely resign. The NDP would probably begin pondering what it has been asked to ponder for a long time: merging the left. A debate about merging or forming a coalition with Trudeau's Liberals would become the hottest topic during the party's next leadership race. If the New Democrats are more serious about defeating Harper than gaining power, they'll accept their party's permanent return to the bottom and offer Justin Trudeau a coalition. 

The NDP's new leader, or caucus alone, might offer to form a governing coalition with the Liberals. In this case, the NDP caucus would agree to support Justin Trudeau as the new Prime Minister. The Liberal and NDP caucuses would then collectively form a governing majority, effectively ousting Stephen Harper.

All of this is completely legitimate in Canada's Westminster parliamentary system. During the 2011 election campaign, Stephen Harper warned of a possible Liberal-NDP coalition as the result of another Conservative minority. In Westminster politics, a Prime Minister can only govern as long as he has the confidence of a majority of elected MPs. If opposition leaders choose not to negotiate for leadership after a minority government loses confidence, the Governor General calls an election. That's what happened in 2011. 

Harper was right. Had the Conservatives won another minority, there would have been a Liberal-NDP coalition after 2011. Canadians knew that, so they gave Harper a majority. This time, scandals and voter apathy could change Harper's fortunes. What would make a Harper minority so frustrating is the fact that another majority is highly attainable and very possible. If the Conservatives shrink to a minority, it would be because so many Conservatives stayed home on election day. Harper's Conservatives can't afford even a small amount of apathy in 2015. 

Regardless of a Conservative defeat to minority status, an NDP-Liberal merger will happen. A coalition between the two lefts would only offer a temporary solution to a continued left-wing rout. The left in Canada is divided. At times during the 2011 election campaign, it was difficult to tell the liberals and socialists apart. Ignatieff's Liberals swung to the left to attract some of Jack Layton's ardent supporters. The plan backfired because Ignatieff's personality and leadership style were no match for Jack Layton. Since the Liberal and NDP platforms were nearly identical, Canadians chose Jack Layton instead. Now Jack Layton is gone and if Trudeau's Liberals successfully crush the NDP, a permanent merger would become more inevitable than ever. A final end to the Liberal-NDP rivalry is the only solution to taking the PMO away from Conservatives. 

The Liberals have tried repeatedly to eliminate the NDP throughout history but always failed. Just as the NDP has always tried to achieve opposition status but mostly failed. Current poll numbers put Mulcair's NDP back where they have always the bottom. This proves that Layton's leadership was a temporary jolt for the NDP and not something that could be sustained without him. Unless the Liberals win a minority or a majority in the next election, a merger between the lefts will happen. 

Both Liberal arrogance and NDP ambition could stop a merger, but that would only sustain a Conservative hegemony. It will be the next election that determines the actions of the fervent Harper haters. Those who are serious about ending the Conservative reign will put their partisanship aside in favour of destroying the Conservatives permanently. Such a merger would strengthen Conservatives by alienating more moderate, right-leaning Liberals and turning them over to the Conservative Party, but the new left would still have a slight advantage over Canada's right.

The new Liberal Democrats, as I've called them before, would win slight majorities in a new two-party Canadian system, but it wouldn't last forever. As new generations grow and emerge, the country's political leanings will change and evolve.

It's only a matter of time before Canada's political landscape changes dramatically. In order to keep Canada chugging forward and away from its Liberal, welfare-state history, the Conservatives will need to win a majority this time. Whether we like it or not, the two lefts will merge and win a majority in 2019. But until that happens, a strong Conservative majority has four more years to prevent a backslide and push Canada further forward in global politics. Four more years is enough to undo more Liberal era policies, rather than stall the progress that has already been made by handing the two lefts power to overthrow the Harper government.

Another Conservative majority will only help delay the inevitable, but that's far better than letting the progress end prematurely with a minority government and a left-wing coalition.