To some a honeymoon means the excitement of something new and the knowledge a great and long-lasting relationship is just beginning. To the Prime Minister, it is something to be regretted and forgotten as soon as the formerly happy couple realizes what a horrible mistake they have made - at least when that honeymoon is with the NDP.
"As many provinces know well," Stephen Harper told a crowd of supporters during the Calgary Stampede, "no honeymoon passes as quickly and as completely as one with the NDP." According to the Prime Minister, Quebeckers will be seeking an annulment at the first opportunity and it will be his Conservative Party that will reap the benefits of the rebound.
But aside from one infamous example, there is very little to backup Mr. Harper's claim that provinces, let alone many, have a history of a rocky relationship with the NDP.
The most obvious regretted fling with the New Democrats took place in Ontario, when the party won 74 of the legislature's then 130 seats and formed a majority government under Bob Rae in 1990. Five years later, the party was relegated to third place again with 17 seats and the NDP has never been close to power since.
The only other possible candidate for a honeymoon gone-wrong is that of the first NDP government in British Columbia, elected in 1972 and turfed out of office in 1975. But the B.C. New Democrats formed government again in 1991, and managed to stay in power for 10 years. Though they were roughly treated in the 2001 election, the B.C. NDP has been very competitive in the last two elections and is currently tied with the B.C. Liberals in the polls.
In the two Prairie provinces, the New Democrats have formed governments multiple times and have won re-elections, while in Nova Scotia the NDP government of Darrell Dexter elected in 2009 is still ahead in the polls.
In Saskatchewan, the NDP's predecessor, the CCF, formed government for 20 years between 1944 and 1964, winning five elections under Tommy Douglas. The NDP returned to power in 1971 and held office until 1982, and more recently the governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert governed the province for 16 years between 1991 and 2007.
Manitoba, too, has had three stints of NDP government. The first was elected in 1969 and was in power until 1977, the second held sway for most of the 1980s, and the current NDP government was first elected back in 1999 under Gary Doer. His successor, Greg Selinger, is in a good position to win re-election this fall.
The Prime Minister was apparently in the midst of a little unfounded rhetoric, but it may be hope rather than history that is informing his predictions on the political future of Quebec.
Two political honeymoons at the federal level have already occurred in the province, assuming that we use the NDP's breakthrough in Quebec as a guide and define a honeymoon as being a case where a party at least triples its share of the vote and wins a plurality of seats in a given province.
The first occurred under the watch of Brian Mulroney, who took the Progressive Conservatives from the 13 per cent and one seat in 1980 to 50 per cent and 58 seats in 1984. In fact, there is some parallel between the Quebec breakthroughs of the PCs in 1984 and the NDP in 2011. Both involved rejections of the established parties (Liberals on the one hand, the Bloc Québécois on the other), and both involved reaching out to nationalists in the province.
But if the PC experience in Quebec is an example, the NDP should count on at least one more successful election in the province. The PCs expanded their dominance of Quebec in 1988 and were only brought down to earth with the formation of the Bloc.
The Bloc represents the other political honeymoon in the province, as it took 54 seats and 49 per cent of the vote in its first general election. Belief that support for the contradiction that was the Bloc (a sovereigntist party in Ottawa), particularly after the failed referendum of 1995, came to naught. The Bloc was the party of choice for Quebeckers for 18 years and in six consecutive elections.
Political honeymoons at the federal level can vary in length by a great deal, from the short three-year honeymoon Nova Scotians had with the NDP between 1997 and 2000, to the 23-year honeymoon Albertans maintained with Social Credit between 1935 and 1958. Electors in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba flirted with the Progressives for part of the 1920s, while the honeymoon British Columbians and Albertans started with Reform in 1993 has led to a marriage that will continue with the current Conservative Party until at least 2015.
Perhaps the Prime Minister was caught repeating a perception that does not fit the facts. Of course, everyone remembers the NDP government in Ontario. But the New Democrats have had long periods of stable government in at least two provinces, have won re-election in another, and are in a good position in a fourth. The history of political honeymoons is nothing to bank on for the Tories, and with Quebeckers having stuck with other upstarts for about a decade or two in the recent past, the honeymoon with the NDP in the province could very well outlast Stephen Harper's expectations.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com