One three hundred million dollar election later and what did we learn? As I predicted at the very start, Stephen Harper came back with yet another minority government. Yes, he will once again have to face a dysfunctional Parliament and get engaged in more partisan bickering the voters are frankly getting sick and tired of ...
I worked for the elections again this year. I usually do when I am available to do that. My husband and I took a poll at my son's high school. All together, there were eight polls, each with their own Deputy Returning Officer and Poll Clerk, as well as other polling station staff, such as an Information Officer, two Registration Clerks and a Central Polling Supervisor. Working for the elections for the uninitiated is a very LONG day ... starting out relatively early, usually about 8 - 8:30 a.m., depending on your state of readiness.
I arrived and immediately set up my polling station and the part of the table where my Poll Clerk was going to work. It was already set up so that my ballots were in consecutive order, each ballot booklet numbered on the front and several of them initialed at the back. Some other DRO's, I hear, did not choose to do this ... oh well, voting started at 9:30 a.m. Greeting voters is a very interesting job. People are in a for a quick, relatively painless experience at the polls. The feds imposed heavier ID requirements, but people were okay with this ... I would rather see people out voting than being discouraged by bureaucratic barriers. Many new voters registered; these people are voting for the first time.
Some interesting things happen on polling day. One fellow was given his ballot. He went behind my voting screen and voted, then he proceeded towards the front door with it ... until he was stopped by other polling staff. I had him come back to put his ballot in the ballot box, explaining it would not do a lot of good for him at home. Another woman was in such a rush to vote, she moved behind the voting screen and forgot to take her ballot with her, which I was holding out waiting for her to return. I suppose she wondered what she had to do behind there, when she had no ballot to mark. People are interesting once they return their ballots, get the strip off the side torn off, then they deposit it into the box.
Some were clearly indicating who they were voting for. Others joked about whether they were going to throw the bums out, or put new ones in. Others had questions. A few had come to the wrong polling station or were unsure of where they were supposed to vote. I watched older voters, younger voters, disabled voters, frail voters as well as ethnic voters all come and go all day to their various polling stations to vote. It is always interesting trying to guess how these people are thinking, because we are not supposed to know how they voted until we count the aggregate samples in each of the polls.
One of the things the uninitiated discover is that we are not allowed to leave the building during the day until our polls are closed up for the day. We can go to the bathroom or accept deliveries of food or drink, but we cannot leave our polling stations for too long at any given time. I discovered the best time to get take-out delivered is before the dinner hour ... as between 5 - 7:30 p.m., there is usually non-stop voting. It is still busy after that but it does dwindle after that until it trickles to a dull roar about 9:00 p.m. Therefore, polling staff have to eat on the run, eat fast, portable foods and sneak medications or other fluids in during lulls in voting patterns.
At the end of the day, I add up the unused and used ballots by matching the ballot strips and subtracting the last ballot number used from the final ballot number issued from the unused stack and if they match up, then the ballot box is opened. Scrutineers from various political parties and candidates come throughout the day to collect information on who voted (so they can continue to bother those that didn't to go to vote). At the end of the day, many of them stick around and assist with the count. Even after knowing how each candidate fared in our eight polls, it is only part of the broader picture.
You know when you sit at home and watch the election returns, there are "elected and leading" figures under each party across the country ... some of them are only "leading" because not all the polls have been reported. There are things that can happen at a polling station that can slow things up. For example, an unnamed DRO who is probably reading this was unable to balance his Statement of Vote. He was still struggling after I assisted another group to close up and was ready to go myself. His Poll Clerk wanted to go home ... After working with the two workers, we learned there were some missing ballots that were soon recovered and we were able to re-enter the Statement of Vote. These are the situations you see on TV with "8 polls still needing to report", etc. The report is called in almost immediately and once delivered, the formal Statement of Vote that is signed is handed directly to the Returning Office, along with re-sealed ballot boxes (in the event of a recount).
Anyways, all across the country, we had over 160,000 polling stations and other staff working at both the Advance Polls and Voting Day Polls, as well as the candidates, their volunteer campaign teams, as well as paid advisors at the party level, and 308 returning offices to report ... and $300 million dollars later, after people get paid, printing bills are paid, halls are rented, etc. ... Stephen Harper is returned to Parliament with yet another minority!!! Harper argues it is a stronger mandate than he had last time. True, he had more seats, but he still secured approximately 38% of the vote ... less than 20% of the eligible voters voted for Harper this time around.
It is now time when the main political parties decide what to do. Every party lost this election, as far as I am concerned. The Conservatives failed to get their coveted majority. The Liberals failed to get more than 77 seats. The NDP, while they increased the number of seats, failed to increase them beyond the number they sought when they first set out and Jack Layton announced he was running for Prime Minister. The Green Party lost as it failed to get ANY seats despite the doubling in its popular support. Perhaps, the only party that can claim "victory" in any way is Bloc Quebecois, as this party single-handedly prevented a Conservative majority. Is this all that elections have become? Sadly, it is true.
Of course, approximately 59.1% of eligible voters even bothered to cast a ballot. We don't have the demographics of the voting public yet, but I am hoping it has increased among the young and the low-income populations, both of whom tend to vote less. Nevertheless, this low turnout was subsequently bemoaned by all political leaders, wondering what can be done to increase the voter turnout. This has been a chronic problem, possibly due to our first past the post system which really does not turn out results that are truly reflective of voter opinion. Also, one wonders about the impact of all the finger pointing and negative campaign ads. To me, parties should be forthright and attempt to sell themselves directly to voters, as opposed to giving us lots of reasons why not to vote for the other guy.
I worry about how this Parliament is going to conduct itself. I have a certain respect for Stephen Harper, but not for his partisan meanderings or any of the partisan meanderings of the other parties as well. The other thing that bothers me is right after the election, one can almost predict with crystal clear accuracy of how fast and against whom the knives will come out. Stephane Dion is suddenly under attack. He apparently spent several days away from the media, possibly feeling hurt and under attack for not doing as well as he should have. I am not so sure it was entirely Stephane Dion's fault. I think it was the carbon tax or "Green Shaft" as it eventually became known that had turned off voters. As former Prime Minister Kim Campbell once said, elections are not the right time to discuss complicated issues.
People felt kind of safe with Steven Harper because he played it cool during much of the campaign and did not go to extreme steps in pushing new taxes or complicated policies that voters are not likely going to understand, or may even fear for that reason. Despite Harper's "cool" campaign with little new announcements other than a few small steps targeting industries that are in trouble, etc., he mentioned very little about what he might actually do regarding health care, jobs, environment and poverty alleviation - the big four, according to all major political opinion polling companies. It may well be that Harper would prefer to leave these things to the provinces and simply hand out money, but the more sinister among us are concerned that there is a creeping privatization of health care that needs to be retrenched by enforcing certain provisions of the Canada Health Act, as an example.
On the other hand, voters did not feel confident enough to give Harper or any political party the full reign of majority rule. In reviewing comments about minority versus majority, people associated a "majority government" with a dictatorship, regardless of who was at the helm. People are still too close to remember Liberal scandals, HRDC-gate, sponsorgate, etc. and many voters are also quick to point out that the Conservatives have gone through some scandals of their own. No party can be trusted at the helm of a majority, it seems. This campaign was a big ABC movement all over, although people were reluctant to toss Harper out on his ear.
As an interested voter and political observer, I often point to electoral reform as at least part of the solution. Reforms are in place in the majority of democratic countries of the world that more closely tie voter preferences to seat composition. Ontario attempted to have a referendum for its last election as to whether or not this province would change the way votes are counted, but it once again was rejected by the voters ... I don't think the voters were given a good education on the proposed reforms and the way they were explained to people almost scared them, sort of like the idea of a "Green shaft" scared many voters in this election. However, BC is hosting its second referendum on electoral reform at its next provincial vote, so all might not be lost.
As a cynic, I also wonder if Stephen Harper knew the stock market was about to tank like it did, or knew that Barack Hussein Obama was going to do so well in the U.S. (where voters seem to have a taste for change), before he set this vote. Unfortunately, his urgency to go to the polls backfired on him in a sense that he did not get the majority mandate that he wanted and Parliament will once again be returned to what he thought was a "dysfunctional state" before he called this election in September.
Several people are talking about the possibility of the Opposition Parties, the Liberals, NDP and Bloc uniting under some type of Coalition against Harper's government, perhaps to give rise to a vote of non-confidence and then lobby the Governor General to ask the leader with the next highest number of seats to form a coalition government. It happened in 1926 with the King Byng affair and again, in Ontario, in 1985 when the Liberals and NDP joined together to vote the then recently re-elected Conservative government under Frank Miller to form what was then an "historic Liberal-NDP accord" which kept the government stable for two years in response for passing mutually accepted legislation.
While the idea seems appetizing for some, it is unlikely especially because the Bloc would have to be part of this Coalition. While Bloc Quebecois is progressive in its political perspectives, it is also a separatist party that has somehow gained the right to run candidates in federal elections (and subsequently collect Canadian pay cheques and Canadian pensions after they serve two terms in office). Would two essentially federalist parties be able to work with a separatist party for long enough without this becoming an issue? For those that fear separatist flames, the whole idea of the Bloc holding the "balance of power" in any such coalition is scary.
However, one thing is true. In about eighteen months to two years, we will be talking once again about a federal election, as at some point either Stephen Harper decides Parliament is too dysfunctional, or perhaps Parliament itself decides that it is ... and sends voters back to the polls. One thing that is nice about that is that I can look forward to once again sitting behind the counter as a polling official for Elections Canada, as this is one type of job I do enjoy doing as it contributes to the operations of democracy in Canada.