Despite a dramatic election campaign—the Toronto Sun dubbed it "the longest, nastiest, [and] ugliest … in memory"—that resulted in a significant power shift, there seems little prospect that Canada's new Conservative government will enact radical reforms. And for this, the press seems extremely grateful.
As all the papers note, voters, tired of what the Sun called "12 years of arrogant, corruption-tainted Liberal rule," punished the Grits but kept Stephen Harper's Conservative Party on a very short leash. The final results gave the Conservatives 124 seats, the Liberals 103, the separatist Bloc Québécois 51, and the leftist New Democratic Party 29; one independent—a former radio host universally described as "controversial"—also won a seat. Since 155 votes are required to enact legislation, the Conservatives will rule as a minority government, attempting to make common cause with other parties to advance their agenda. Montreal's Le Devoir said Canadians voted strategically and that the Conservative win represents "the best of both worlds. The electorate sent Paul Martin's Liberals to rediscover virtue in opposition, without granting their full confidence to Stephen Harper."
The Toronto Star, the only major Canadian paper to endorse the Liberals, concluded that voters "chose change," but "change of a very cautious nature." Without a majority, the Star said, Harper will "have no natural allies for many of his socially conservative policies. That alone should be a check on those in his caucus who would push a radical agenda." Since the NDP fell two seats short of holding the balance of power (with 31 seats, the NDP and the Conservatives would have controlled the magic number of 155 between them), the left-leaning party is also constrained.
The Liberals, known in Canada as the "natural party of government," will now have to reorganize themselves, or as the Vancouver Sun's Barbara Yaffe put it, "Liberals need a good hosing down, a top-to-bottom makeover and, after losing government, they'll probably get one." Now that defeated Liberal leader Paul Martin has given up his post, newly minted Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff, who "parachuted" into Toronto and survived a tough campaign with lots of "high-sticking" (he may have spent years at Harvard, but he still knows how to talk hockey), is being mooted as a possible successor.
Harper was praised for running a smart campaign and for finally uniting the right. The National Post declared, "[M]ake no mistake about it: His is an historic victory, [which] represents a triumph for the new Conservative party—a party that emerges from this election as a truly national movement."
Western papers were particularly loud with their huzzahs. Although the Conservatives now have parliamentary representatives in every province except Prince Edward Island, they dominate Western Canada. The Vancouver Sun noted that Harper will be the first non-Quebecer voted into the prime minister's mansion for more than 25 years (British Columbia's Kim Campbell was appointed to the post). With undisguised triumphalism, the Edmonton Sun's editorial recalled the years the West spent "in the political wilderness." Ah, but those days are over:
[L]ook at what we have now: a Conservative government … led by an Albertan … with a largely western-based caucus, that has managed to sell Ontario and even parts of Quebec on its vision of Canada. It's a party that will have westerners … front and centre in its new cabinet. It's a government that completely understands the West, which means we are on the periphery of power no more.
The Toronto Star wondered how the new government would deal with Ontario, where, for the first time since 1945, "the majority of the province's seats [went] to the losing side in a national election." Will Harper's party exact vengeance for all those years of Western alienation or seize the chance to expand its base in the most populous province? The op-ed concluded, "Toronto and Ontario will have to hope that Harper's desire for future breakthroughs in this province overwhelms the vindictive streak within his own party."
As to separatism, the issue that almost split Canada in two a little over a decade ago, the Montreal Gazette was encouraged that the Conservatives grabbed 10 seats in Quebec: "This is more than good news for the Conservative Party. It's good news for federalism. When there's only one federalist party in federal politics in Quebec, it's natural, perhaps inevitable, that the Bloc Quebecois, sterile and negative though it is, will spread like crabgrass, taking advantage of weak spots."
O Canada, terre de nos metaphores: