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NDP wins historic number of seats, creates conditions for Conservative Majority Government

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. So in Canada the federal election results are more or less predicted now as we speak. It looks like a massive conservative majority, in fact, after a lot of predictions that it might be a minority government. CBC’s predicting now a final of 167 Conservative seats. They needed 155 for a majority government. So this is a much bigger majority than anyone thought possible–at least, that’s the way the pundits called it. NDP had a historic breakthrough–over 100 seats. The Liberal Party have been demolished. They’re down to 34 seats. And the Bloc even more demolished, down to three seats. Now joining us from Toronto to give his views about all of this is Professor Leo Panitch, who teaches political economy, political science at York University in Toronto. Thanks for joining us, Leo.

LEO PANITCH: Hello, Paul.

JAY: Well, so you’re not looking too happy. So what do you think happened? What do you make of it?

PANITCH: Well, I’m not happy. I think this is a disastrous outcome. I think that all those young people who mobilized to get out the vote were motivated above all by stopping a Conservative majority government, were motivated by the sense that Canada, on ecological issues, beginning in Copenhagen and then again this year in Mexico, at the UN in terms of their slavish following of the American Empire around the world, in terms of their slavish following of the IMF lobby, were shaming them. And the outcome has been as one might have worried about–and I was worried about this–that the split between the Liberal and NDP, in Ontario in particular, where the NDP were taking away Liberal votes, would have the effect of the Conservatives not needing very many votes to increase, and even not needing any to increase at all, could take a number of seats that have previously been held by the Liberals. And that’s what’s happened. And what [incompr.] face now, tragically, is a very, very, very right-wing government that will feel that it can do whatever it wants. The fact that its percentage of the popular vote moved up partly because right-wing Liberals probably moved to vote for it in the last days means that they’ll feel more confident than ever. It’s a good thing that we now have a opposition that is a social democratic opposition. And in that caucus there will be a lot of people who think of themselves as socialists, and certainly would have been closer to the grassroots than most members of Parliament usually are. But one needs to bear in mind that the NDP is a conventional social democratic party, that it will now attempt to prove itself as a partner in a softer neoliberalism, probably. And, you know, today one heard that the NDP were calling Bay Street and telling them not to worry, and I imagine that’s the tack they’ll take as they try to occupy that space to the center. So I fear that in terms of educating and mobilizing Canadians, although they’ll speak out strongly against a lot of Tory policies, I fear that what I was hoping out of this result, which would be a radicalization of Canadian politics, will only take place marginally. So, yes, I’m terribly disappointed.

JAY: Now, if one analyzes why all this happened, it seems to me, at any rate, that the NDP is a very, very partisan party. I suppose all of them are, but the NDP’s fidelity is to winning more seats and advancing the interests of the party, I think. And there is a point in this election, one would have thought, when the NDP was up in the polls. It was fairly predictable, I think, that this could likely be the outcome. And there could have been some strategic voting, some negotiations between the NDP and the Liberals, even at this stage. But the vote splitting–and we’ll have to see the analysis afterwards, how many seats actually were won by the Conservatives as a result of vote-splitting. Certainly not all of them. But watching the results here–I had a TV next to me here looking at them, and quite a few of them, the NDP and the Liberals are at least running neck-and-neck if there hadn’t been the vote split. What do you make of that, the fact that the NDP and the Conservatives shared one objective in this election–destroy the Liberals?

PANITCH: Well, I think strategic voting is a very, very difficult thing, and certainly very late in a campaign it’s almost impossible. You know, you can try to do it where individuals try to strategically vote, but then, you know, it’s chaos. You don’t know what the outcome will be. So nothing short of proportional representation or a electoral alignment in advance of an election is going to work that way. Yes, you could have had an electoral alignment in advance of the election, but that would have been both parties admitting and having to work out [incompr.] very difficult, who is going to be sacrificed where there are viable Liberal or NDP candidates in a given riding. It’s not an easy thing to do, and I don’t think, you know, a last-minute decision on this was at all possible. You know, this does make the case for PR. A lot of people are [crosstalk]

JAY: PR meaning proportional representation.

PANITCH: Proportional representation of some kind. And a lot of people are going to make the case now (I don’t know that it’ll happen, actually), for some sort of a merger or electoral alignment next time between the Liberals and the NDP. We’ll have to see. I mean, you know, the Liberals are going to hope that the NDP will hang itself in opposition, that something dramatic will happen in Quebec that will lead them to lose this sweep. I think that’s unlikely. You know, there’s been a trend going on here. The Liberals were the only of the three major parties who lost a substantial number of votes in the 2008 election. That didn’t translate into as many seats as it did this time, but there’s been a trend going on, and it has been fulfilled. You know, they’ve had two absolutely disastrous leaders. But I can’t see who they’re going to have now that is probably going to save them. So it is historic, I think. And I think we should be happy in Canada that we now have an alignment that is clearly a capitalist party that doesn’t pretend to be more than that and a social democratic party [incompr.] after all, has a history of beginning back in the 1930s as an explicitly socialist party. And it is a party, as all of these parties are, which has, still, links to the labor movement and has socialists in it. So, you know, I think that that’s a step forward. And it’s certainly wonderful to see those two rogues, Ignatieff and Bob Rae, you know, the most opportunist of people who came out of the 1960s, get their comeuppance. And the people in that sense on the left who won tonight are those who have not been nearly as complicit in moving towards power in the way that Ignatieff and Ray have.

JAY: Part of the analysis had been, at least up till last night, that this was a reengagement in Canadian politics, in a way, by the people of Quebec, and the polling turned out to be right. In fact, most of the NDP pickup seats are in Quebec. And now they have, if I understand it correctly, the majority of seats in Quebec. But this actually could have the reverse effect, in the sense Quebec could say to themselves, well, look, we vote for social democrats and the rest of the country doesn’t on the whole. In some ways, this could actually be fodder for another referendum.

PANITCH: I wonder. That’s an interesting interpretation that I hadn’t thought about. I’m not sure that people will think that way. You know, the NDP did pick up seats in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, they did pick up seats in Ontario, and they did very well in British Columbia. I haven’t seen the outcome in the Prairies. I think they picked up one or two in Manitoba. So, you know, I do think that the most optimistic polling, which was done by EKOS and shows the Tories and the NDP neck-and-neck and showed the NDP with 40 percent of the vote in Atlantic Canada, was too optimistic. And it’s interesting that it broke the way that, say, Nanos predicted, and even more than Nanos predicted. They were predicting a 6 percent lead for the Tories over the NDP, and in fact it turns out to have been something like 10 percent. So, you know, it’s possible Quebeckers will look at it that way, but I’m not sure. And it could well be that the NDP will be articulating against a PQ provincial government a policy that is more about social justice, at least to the left of the PQ government’s, you know, rather conventional governing, if they do displace the Liberals in the intervening period.

JAY: I mean, I can imagine if in Quebec politics now, that if this kind of wall of the separatist politics is kind of broken down in its narrow way, that nationalism kind of trumps social content or class content. Now, with this kind of wall broken, it may lead to a new kind of sovereigntist movement. If I was in Quebec right now, I would be saying to myself, do you know something? If I actually want a more left-wing government, I’m never going to see it if I’m part of Canada.

PANITCH: The political organization has suffered a massive defeat, and that’s going to have to be put back together again. The BQ and PQ organization has suffered a massive defeat tonight. It’s not going to be put together all that easily, all that quickly.

JAY: No, no. I’m suggesting some new political force comes into being in Quebec. I don’t think it’s PQ and BQ. It’s something that reflects this new mood.

PANITCH: [crosstalk] no, no, no. The only new political force in Quebec is Quebec solidaire, which in any case is sovereigntist in its own right. And they’re the victors in Quebec tonight. There’s going to be no new political force, I don’t think, as a result of the way that this vote split. I can’t see that at all. But, you know, who knows? One could be wrong. I certainly wasn’t expecting the kind of outcome we’ve seen tonight in favor of the NDP at the beginning of this campaign, although I certainly felt that Layton won the debate and that Ignatieff was a impossible politician. But I could be wrong. [incompr.] I think, you know, the thing that is most significant about tonight is the Tory majority. And I suppose if there’s anything positive, it’s that there are regions of the country which tended against that. And that will create a sense of lack of legitimacy when they try to do some radically right-wing things, which they will. And you can imagine that they’ll be in that sense movement in the streets, including in Quebec, which may be significant. You know, politics doesn’t only take place, thank heaven, on election day. And if the NDP and if the people they elected in the NDP in Quebec use their positions now in Parliament as a means of mobilizing people outside if they don’t become Parliamentarians in a narrow sense, constricted in their politics to Question Period, if they use their status in their communities to really enervate [sic] and energize people in a much more activist way into politics, then this will be a great outcome. That hasn’t been, traditionally, what social democratic parties have done, but one can hope that the type of people who got elected who never expected to get elected will tack in that direction. And they should be encouraged to tack in that direction.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Leo.

PANITCH: Good to talk to you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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