Canada’s No-Decision Election

PM Harper voted, but many Canadians didn't.
PM Harper voted, but many Canadians didn't. (photo: AFP)

For the third consecutive time, a Canadian federal election has failed to produce a clear-cut winner.

While the incumbent Conservative Party did add a few seats to its holding in the Canadian parliament, it fell well short of the number required to form a majority government.

So what went wrong for the Conservatives, in terms of dashing the high hopes they held of winning a parliamentary majority when Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Canadian election last month?

Many analysts are pointing to the global economic crisis and campaign stumbles as the primary reasons.

But voter turnout figures indicate that another factor might have been key: Harper’s alienation of his party’s political base of religious and socially conservative voters.

Based on overall turnout in the federal election — which fell to an all-time low of under 60% — some of those voters appear to have opted not to vote at all, potentially costing the Conservatives the support required to gain undisputed control of Parliament.

Harper has shunted aside both abortion and the definition of marriage as political issues since becoming prime minister, fearing that his party might lose votes from the left side of the political spectrum if it allows the Conservatives’ pro-life and pro-family supporters free rein to raise those issues in Parliament and on the campaign trail.

And only two weeks ago, he declared publicly that “I simply have no intention of ever making the abortion question a focus of my political career.”

Following that announcement, Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, called for Harper’s removal as Conservative leader.

Was this alienation of “so-con” voters decisive in denying the Conservatives a majority? No one knows for sure, as there’s no hard data available to quantify the “dog-that-didn’t-bark” phenomenon of stay-at-home voters.

But one thing is clear: The Conservative Party’s base of morally motivated Canadian voters is going to become even more restive in future elections, if Harper continues to squelch political debate on life and family issues.

—Tom McFeely