Published in reduced form as a Letter to the Editor in the Globe and Mail on July 1.
“In this respect, today’s Liberals are confronting forces at work for many years, including during Mr. Chrétien’s three mandates, even while winning elections the party did not capture more than 39 per cent of the popular vote,” writes Globe political columnist Jeffrey Simpson. (“Are we witnessing the strange death of Liberal Canada?”, Globe and Mail, June 27, 2015, F-2)
While Jeffrey Simpson is undoubtedly correct in his claim that the Federal Liberal Party is not quite the national powerhouse it once was, his accompanying dire prognosis for the ‘natural governing party’ is perhaps, upon closer examination, not really as warranted as it might have appeared at initial glance.
Firstly, Mr. Simpson is inaccurate in his assertion that Jean Chrétien never won more than 39 per cent of the popular, nation-wide result. In 1993, in his first election as leader of the party, the Liberals obtained 41.24 per cent of the national vote, and in the 2000 electoral exercise, 40.85 per cent of the same. These are both higher than Prime Minister Harper’s 39.62 per cent in the 2011 election.
It was only in 1997 that Mr. Chrétien slipped below 40 per cent with a score of 38.46 in that year’s federal ballot.
It should also be pointed out that while Mr. Simpson is technically right in his statement that Quebec “has not voted a majority of seats for that party in 35 years”, the Federal Liberal Party came very close to doing so in the 2000 election when they actually won the province’s popular vote by more than four per cent over the Bloc Québécois, only to fall two seats short of the latter’s tally after a couple of mandatory judicial recounts. Granted, it was still a far cry from the remarkable 68.2 per cent that Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals took of the Quebec vote in February of 1980, along with 74 of 75 the province’s federal ridings.
Furthermore, the latest (June 29) threehundredeight.com website aggregate of all recent polls has the Liberal Party running nationally 8.5 percentage points ahead of their very poor showing under Michael Ignatieff’s leadership in the 2011 election. Since then, the Grits are up significantly in all regions of the country, including Quebec where they have moved from a dismal 14.2% in 2011 to their current 23.5% in the province, second to the NDP at 35.1, which is down from their 42.9 per cent in the ballot of four years earlier.
In fact, in Manitoba, the most recent EKOS poll has the Liberals running ahead of both the Conservatives (by four percentage points) and the NDP (by eleven points). In British Columbia, they have increased their support from 13.4 to their present 24.1 per cent.
Their poorest showing in this regard is Ontario where they have raised their backing over 2011 by only six per cent. This is certainly due, as Jeffrey Simpson has pointed out, to the collapse of Liberal support in certain industrial areas of the province. For instance, blue-collar Hamilton, which was at one time not that long ago under the prevailing influence of Sheila Copps and her very Liberal family, seems currently to be secure in the hands of the New Democratic Party.
Nevertheless, the Liberal Party under leader Justin Trudeau is even now, despite some recent setbacks, doing considerably better than it was in the past decade under both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
Although there are undoubtedly many around who feel a more natural political order would be better served if there were just left wing (NDP) and right wing (Conservatives) political parties in this country, the Liberal Party has proved to be a very resilient force throughout its own history, and that of Canada’s as well.
It would be best that we all, along with Jeffrey Simpson, not count it out just yet.