Every party other than the Bloc Québécois has reason to feel like it lost something in Monday’s general election.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh gave an election-night speech that was so sunny you might have missed that his team had just been decimated, shedding nearly half its seats, and continuing its retreat from Official Opposition in 2011 to fourth party today.
Compared with 2015, Elizabeth May’s Greens tripled their seat count – from one to three. This marks yet another election where so much was expected and so little was delivered. The Greens’ share of the popular vote, after all these years of trying, is still below the level achieved way back in 2008.
And Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, although they held on to power, lost their majority. One million fewer Canadians voted for them compared with 2015. They have the most seats, but finished second to the Conservatives in the popular vote.
And between the suburbs of Vancouver and the outskirts of Winnipeg, a distance of more than 2,000 kilometres, there is no longer even one Liberal MP.
Yet, the party that should be feeling the greatest sense of loss is Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
They went into the election as one of only two teams with a chance of forming government, running against a Liberal Party that generated none of the enthusiasm of 2015.
Yes, the Tories slightly increased their share of the vote compared with the drubbing of four years ago. Yes, they added to their seat count. But those gains were meagre, especially considering how vulnerable the Liberals were.
In a time of opportunity, failure revealed the Conservative Party’s limitations. The party that ran this fall is one that a majority of Canadians will not vote for, and will not even consider voting for.
That is a rather problematic starting point, given that democracy is literally a popularity contest.
Once upon a time, there were lots of voters who were prepared to swing, from election to election, between the country’s two major parties.
Those two parties were the Liberals and the then-Progressive Conservatives and, although one leaned a bit more to the left and the other a bit more to the right, both aimed to find the middle, the electoral golden mean.
That is still mostly true for the Liberals. It is less so for the Conservatives.
The problem the Conservatives have is that a lot of voters in the centre no longer see them as a party they can swing to. They don’t see them as a desirable alternative.
For example, an Ekos poll conducted just before the election found that, while the Conservatives had the support of 32 per cent of decided voters, a mere 6 per cent of the rest of the population picked them as their second choice.
In contrast, more than one-third of NDP voters and a quarter of Green voters had the Liberals as their second choice. Just 7 per cent of Liberal voters, 6 per cent of Greens and 9 per cent of NDPers had the Conservatives as their second choice.
The Conservatives, in short, are now the party of their base, and their base alone.
On the plus side, that base is remarkably loyal; more than half of those in the Ekos poll who said they were voting Conservative said they would not even consider a second choice. But the brand identity that has been created in the minds of most other Canadians is that this is not the party for them.
That’s why the Liberal Party’s most-used argument for voting Liberal, rather than staying home or voting NDP or Green, was the threat that apathy or vote-splitting could elect the Tories. The Conservative Party’s very existence is the Liberal Party’s best get-out-the-vote strategy.
That, and Premier Doug Ford’s government in Ontario. Mr. Ford spent 40 days and 40 nights locked up in witness protection, in an undisclosed location with no internet connection and an unlisted phone number. It didn’t matter.
A lot of people are now calling for Mr. Scheer’s head, as if the party’s problem were one of personalities. But it goes deeper than that and the Liberals proved it. Their brand, not Mr. Trudeau, won the election. Their brand – and that of the Conservatives.
The Conservatives have two problems we can point to that they must think hard about and solve. One is their view on deficits. The other is demography. More on both of these, next week.