Election Results Change Canada’s Political Landscape

It only took thirty-five days to play out, but by the time that the final ballots were counted in last night's federal election the results may well represent the most significant changes in Canada's political landscape in more than a generation. Stephen Harper's Conservatives achieved majority status while Jack Layton's New Democrats emerged as Canada's new Official Opposition. Rounding out the major changes were the virtual collapse of the Federal Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois and the single seat success for the Green Party.

Although the results are now official what still remains uncertain is just how this new political configuration in the House of Commons will affect policies, programs and the fabric of the confederation that we call Canada. While Harper has achieved his much-sought-after majority government, his party has a serious regional gap: only six of the 75 seats in Quebec are Conservative MPs, a problem for a party that aspires to be a major national party. In Ontario, where the Conservatives went from 51 to 72 seats, much of the gain was the result of vote splitting between the Liberals and NDP rather than a solid endorsement by Ontario voters for the Harper Tories.

For the NDP, the major change in last night's vote was its spectacular rise in popular and voter support in Quebec. Mr. Layton's appeal to Quebecers has been a longstanding project, but the results of this election surprised even the most optimistic projections for how that support would take hold. The challenge for the NDP will be to build on those gains and show Quebec voters that their new found trust in the NDP is warranted.

For Canadians the one great uncertainty in the results from last night is the extent to which a Harper majority government will move Canada's economic, social and fiscal policies farther to the right. Mr. Harper has made no secret of his view that smaller government is better government. Unfortunately, the details of his smaller government agenda mean that social programs will get squeezed even more than they have been. Add in the fact that his steadfast conviction that tax cuts are the answer to everything and the prospect of greater fiscal restraints-the inevitable outcome of a federal treasury run dry by tax cut policies-looms ever larger on Canada's horizon.

The ability of Harper to move rapidly on any of these fronts may well be tempered by the reaction of provincial governments and the voting public to any significant shifts in federal policies. A new round of federal-provincial transfer discussions is scheduled to begin over the next two years and that should provide an early indication of where Mr. Harper is headed. As well, the current federal budget, that was tabled but not passed by the previous Parliament, still has to work its way through the new Parliament. That budget projected close to $11 billion in program cuts over the next three years and the new session will provide the first real opportunity to see how Harper plans to achieve those cuts.

For post-secondary education the prospect of continued fiscal restraint at the federal level could have serious implications at the provincial level. For that reason alone, we need to join forces with those in our communities who share our view that public services like post-secondary education are important and need to be protected from ill-considered fiscal restraints.

The political landscape may have changed, but our voices need to be just as clear, just as strong, to ensure that our institutions and our students are able to fully participate in Canada's future.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.