167 - 102 - 34 - 4 - 1. Four years of stability and yet, of massive change. Here's what I see:
For the Liberals, it's a real opportunity to renew their party. They should be reading every book they can on Stephen Harper, because his journey in reconstituting the right is exactly what the Liberals need to do. Beliefs, policies, leadership and positioning. A first step will be the resignation of Michael Ignatieff, followed by appointment of an interim leader. That person must commit to not being a candidate for permanent leadership of the party.
I expect that the issue of merging with the NDP, or remaining a separate mainstream party, will be dealt with rather quickly, with it being decided to continue the latter course. My reasoning for this is simple. Layton's NDP core is a thinly-disguised neo-communist party. More than half his caucus (58%) is now from Quebec, and either they will transform that party into one with more Francophone values, or will bolt when they see the Anglo-socialist values that the core NDP really possesses and wishes to retain. The Liberals can be the pan-Canadian, left-of-centre alternative to the NDP.
Having reached this conclusion, the next step will be for the Liberals to hold a policy convention, followed thereafter by a leadership convention. The Liberals will need to choose wisely this time: new blood, telegenic strategist and tactician, a true leader and manager, and a "long view" to regain prominence in the political landscape. If Bob Rae tries to hijack the party in the next few weeks or months, the party must turn its back on him. Rae is part of the problem now, not part of the solution.
The principal risk to the Liberals at this point is that, if they don't do it right this time, they are screwed, royally and totally.
Everyone in the NDP is elated that they are now the official opposition in Parliament, as well they should be. But the painful hangover from the Orange Surge starts tomorrow. Jack has 59 members from Quebec, 58% of his caucus. Their values, expectations and priorities are vastly different than his ROC caucus. Moreover, many of his Quebec contingent need to be shown on a map where their ridings are, and some even have to chose to complete their university courses, or become a MP full-time. All will require Parliament 101, NDP 101, Candidate 101, Expectations Management 101, and Reality 101 courses immediately.
And that's when the fun will start. For Jack, for the new MPs and for the party. If Jack doesn't set a track to change the constitution of the party (communist/socialist workers of the world, unite!), and lessen its reliance on unions, then it's going to get very ugly, very quickly. And, of course, Jack will have a difficult time making good on any of his platform promises, since there's a majority government.
So while the Liberals may be a source of pride to many Canadians if they choose the correct, long-haul path, Jack's "menage" is really where the antics will play out in the short term, as he uses his chair and whip to try to line up his snarling tigers. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy; it's one thing to do a holier-than-thou act and whine, it's another to be the official opposition. Welcome to the real world, Jack.
Risk-wise, there are three biggies facing Layton: his age and health, his Quebec contingent, and Thomas Mulcair. The latter two go hand in hand, and also result from the first. I expect Mulcair to continually bolster his positioning as heir-apparent to Jack, and his prime vehicle will be the large contingent of the caucus from Quebec. If Mulcair positions as the informal leader of that sub-caucus, then Jack will be in for a very rough ride, and change will be forced upon the party ... probably accompanied by push-back from the "old" wing of the party. It's not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Quebec wing bolts and forms a Bloc-like party with Mulcair as its leader and displacing the "old" NDP remnants as the official opposition! Yes, Jack's in for a fun time, all right!
I don't believe any serious Canadians deny that Harper is highly competent and the strongest political leader Canada has had for a generation. What has rankled his detractors has been his abrasive personality, a necessity given the minority governments he has led. Now, with a majority, I believe we are going to see a more likeable Harper, and maybe even some of his vaunted (but hidden) humour. The "real" Stephen Harper, so to say.
One of his strategic imperatives has to be to appeal to Quebecers, to bring them into the fold of the Conservative party. If Mulcair "behaves" within the NDP, this may be accomplishable. But if things don't go well for Jack vis-a-vis his Quebec contingent, then Harper's task will be quite difficult. I don't know if you noticed during the campaign, but Harper gave us his strategy to have Quebec sign on to the Constitution: work through Quebec's National Assembly to accomplish this. It's often forgotten that this act is a purely political imperative, not a legal one. The Supreme Court decided that a long time ago. It will be fascinating to see if Harper can pull it off with Charest. Marois will never give him the chance.
On more mundane/routine matters, we are going to see his budget presented, the Crime Bills packaged up, changes to election financing ($2/vote/yr), Changes to the Senate re: appointment process and term (8 years), the firming up of the Conservative majority in the Senate, appointment of 3 (possibly 4) Supreme Court justices over the next 4 years, retrenchment of the Afghanistan mission and repurposing of Canada's armed forces, changes to CRTC and copyright areas, and so on. I'd also expect to see Harper start twisting some arms to get greenhouse gases down, and start a program to decrease Canada's reliance on fossil fuels. No doubt Elizabeth May will try to take all the credit for this latter initiative.
We are going to live in interesting times, as the Chinese proverb goes. Each party will be redefining itself as time counts down the 4 year lifespan of this parliament. Personally, I'm really looking forward to watching all of it unfold. Hang on to your seat, it's going to be an exhilarating ride!
Postscript: I commend to you Silver's article on the Liberal party ... not the part "how they got here", but his thoughts about 4 options now facing the party.