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Op-ed Election 2011 G&M May20'11 (1)

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Election 2011: The Big Picture Picture

 by Preston Manning*

Globe and Mail – May 20, 2011 By now most Canadians are familiar with the immediate consequences of the 2011 federal election; a majority government for the Conservatives with 167 seats in the next parliament, Official Opposition status for the NDP with 103 seats (59 of them in Quebec), the collapse of the Liberals to third-party status with 34 seats; the near  obliteration of the Bloc Quebecois (reduced to four seats), and a foothold for the Elizabeth May and the Green Party with one seat. But these immediate results also represent changes in the political foundations and landscape of Canada with much larger and longer term consequences. Let me elaborate on three of them.

A Shift in the Geo-Political Centre of Canada

From the very beginnings of Canadian Confederation, the Laurentian Region, Quebec and Ontario together, has dominated Canadian federal politics. But on May 2, 2011, that political centre of gravity shifted westward, the new and dominant alliance becoming that of Ontario and the West together. Ontario and the West now control almost two-thirds of the seats in the House of  Commons, 145 of those held by the Conservatives and allowing them to form a majority government despite losing all but six of their seats in Quebec. This shift in the geo-political centre of gravity of the country lags, but now mirrors, the westward shift of the centre of gravity of the Canadian economy as the resource sector workhorses play an ever-increasing role in pulling the Canadian economic wagon. Lest we forget, however, Westerners especially should know what it is like to be “out” of the federal power block, and should make special efforts to ensure that Eastern alienation (in Quebec and parts of Atlantic Canada) does not become a  permanent and debilitating national affliction.

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81% of people surveyed wish they could read more. Scribd helps you do that. Learn more

The NDP Dilemma

Jack Layton and the NDP are to be thanked for obliterating the Bloc Quebecois (at least temporarily) and replacing separatist MPs in the House of Commons with what the rest of the country hopes are (and will remain) federalist MPs. But here is the great danger for the federal NDP. In the past, both of the two major  federal parties, the Liberals and the old Progressive Conservatives, bent over   backwards in various ways to accommodate Quebec demands. In doing so they increasingly alienated major segments of the electorate in the rest of the country. And then in the end, their Quebec supporters turned against them. It happened to Pierre Trudeau, it happened to Brian Mulroney, and it could happen to Jack Layton even more quickly and dramatically. What should be increasingly apparent is that if new and stronger bridges are to be  built between Quebec and the rest of Canada, they will have to be primarily constructed not by federal politicians on constitutional grounds but by privatesector decision makers and provincial leaders on the grounds of economic and inter-provincial relations. National unity will thus depend increasingly on such measures as increased Quebec-Ontario trade and increased cooperation between the energy sectors of Quebec and the West, and on greater inter-provincial cooperation as discussed recently in a Montreal Economic Institute report calling for a new Quebec–Alberta dialogue.

The Liberal Lesson

There is an important lesson for all political parties, including the governing Conservatives, in the collapse of the Liberal Party of Canada. Parties long in office use up their intellectual capital and depend largely on the expropriation of ideas from others, including the civil service, to replenish it. Parties long in office increasingly attract their human resources not on the basis of vision or principles  but on what they can offer in terms of positions, pay, pensions, and patronage. Parties long in office become accustomed to having all the communications tools and resources of a government to transmit their messages and to drown out those of their opponents.

Did you know?

81% of people surveyed wish they could read more. Scribd helps you do that. Learn more

The Manning Centre for Building Democracy identifies as “democratic infrastructure” institutions and programs for developing political intellectual capital, the knowledge and skills of political activists, and expanded political communications capacity. If the parties are unable to develop and maintain such infrastructure because of their preoccupation with fighting elections or governing, then it is the responsibility of the “movements” which surround and support them –  in our case the conservative movement – to do so. Failure to do so can lead to the eventual collapse of the party, even a governing party. Look and learn from the Liberal Party of Canada. *Preston Manning is the President and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building   Democracy ( www.manningcentre.ca ).

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