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Liberal Comeback Headed for History Books

Liberal Comeback Headed for History Books

Canada’s progressive majority got its act together on Monday and ushered Stephen Harper out with a vengeance.

In the process they brought their own resolution to the problem of vote splitting on the left of the Conservatives, steamrolling the NDP to hand Justin Trudeau the first Liberal majority victory in 15 years.

In the end, the election turned out to be more than about terminating the Conservative decade in power. It resulted in a Liberal comeback that is headed straight for the history books.

The red wave that the Liberals had hoped for at the tail end of the campaign swept Atlantic Canada and then carried on into Quebec.

The last Liberal leader to come out of Quebec with a majority of the province’s seats before this election was . . . Trudeau’s father in 1980.

Ontario decisively broke the back of the Conservative bid for a fourth consecutive mandate. In Canada’s largest province, the Liberals won more than twice as many seats as the Conservatives.

In the process, Ontario voters parted with their long-held tradition of putting their election eggs in different federal and provincial baskets.

Over the course of a bit more than a year, they have now installed or helped install Liberals at both Queen’s Park and in the House of Commons.

Harper is said to have stuck around for this campaign to get the satisfaction of beating Pierre Trudeau’s son in an election. Instead, his name will forever be joined with that of his Liberal nemesis in Canada’s electoral annals.

Almost 40 years apart, both tried and failed to secure a fourth consecutive mandate.

Unlike Trudeau who came back to power less than a year later, Harper will wear this defeat for all time.

Whether the Conservatives can agree on a successor without tearing the party apart is not a given.

Monday’s election finish was not the worst Conservative rout ever or even Harper’s poorest finish. He lost his first campaign to Paul Martin in 2004 with 99 seats.

But the party is less healthy than its seat count would suggest. Behind the facade of a second-place finish, there are cracks in the Conservative foundation along the familiar Tory versus Reform/Alliance fault line. It will be hard for a party that has taken no prisoners for a decade, including within its own ranks, to find a unifying figure to replace Harper.

As for the Bloc Québécois, even niqab politics could not yield the 12 seats it needed to once again enjoy official party status in Parliament. For the second consecutive federal election in a row, Quebec voters have turned their backs on the sovereigntist to cast their lot with a federalist party. The Bloc came out of the night with more seats but a smaller share of the popular vote than it had managed to keep four years ago. This is not the kind of momentum-inducing result Parti Québécois Leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau was hoping for.

Still, in the end, it was the NDP that suffered the most brutal night. Eighty days ago, the New Democrats has federal power in sight for the first time in their history. After the votes were counted, the party could be said to have been set back two decades. The party was shut out of Atlantic Canada; it was reduced to a distant also-ran in Quebec. It won fewer than 10 seats in Ontario. It is returning to a distant third place in the House of Commons, a lessened position to which Mulcair is no more suited than Harper would have been in the role of leader of the opposition to Trudeau.

Few Parliament Hill watchers will mourn the defeat of MPs such as Paul Calandra, Harper’s personal attack dog in question period, or that of tin-eared Conservative ministers such as Julian Fantino and Chris Alexander.

But a lot of new blood was also shed in the war between the NDP and the Liberals as promising candidates for one party defeated equally promising ones for another.

Think of the battle that pitted two articulate star female candidates in their own right, such as Chrystia Freeland against Jennifer Hollet in University-Rosedale or former astronaut Marc Garneau and the former head of the Old Brewery mission, James Hughes, in Montreal.

The NDP has just sacrificed its most talented slate of candidates ever to a self-destructive battle against the Liberals.

Chantal Hébert/Toronto Star/October, 2015