10.26.2010 07:46 AM

The last majority

Was Jean Chretien the last majority prime minister?

On Oct. 25, 1993, historians will recall, Chretien did what no one else had ever done before – he reduced the once-great Conservative Party of Canada to two seats. All that remained, 17 years ago, was Jean Charest in Quebec, and Elsie Wayne in New Brunswick. Every other Tory, including then-leader Kim Campbell, was wiped out.

The Conservatives’ fall was stunning. That was particularly the case for Campbell – who, just a few weeks earlier, had been the most popular prime minister in the history of polling.

The lessons of Oct. 25, 1993 are two-fold. One, the current “anti-incumbent” mood ain’t anything new. Every so often, the people get fed up with what they’ve got, and they opt for change in a big way.


  1. Lance says:

    On Oct. 25, 1993, historians will recall, Chretien did what no one else had ever done before – he reduced the once-great Conservative Party of Canada to two seats.

    Wrong – the Progressive Conservative party Of Canada did that to themselves, and the electorate made them pay accordingly. And deservedly so. Their subsequent fracturing that took place paved the way for Chretien more so than (but not all) the credit Chretien should garner for any subsequent electoral sucess.

    And as a slight aside, reliving ancient memories in an effort to lessen the sting of a current ass kicking doesn’t work. I know; I’ve tried.

    • Warren says:

      I was writing a column for a national audience, Boris123. Folks in Calgary and Edmonton aren’t as interested in Toronto municipal politics as you are.

  2. Paul R Martin says:

    Ah! The good old days! What have his Liberal successors done lately?

    • Shaun says:

      Ensure that the Conservatives don’t win a majority and not get the Liberals reduced to 2 seats. How many elections has Stevie run as leader and not won a majority?

      • Michael Reintjes says:

        …And how many has Steve run and increased his seat count?….you should hope that trend doesn’t continue..

        • Shaun says:

          If he is as good as the Reformatories think he is, he would have had a majority long ago. You don’t get many mulligans in political life: Stevie will pack it in before too long.

          • Paul R Martin says:

            Some Liberals sure talk a great game don’t they! Now if they could only perform well when it counts!

  3. Lance says:

    LOL Yeah whatever; that must explain why Justin Trudeau got involved in stumping for Mr. Smitherman. C’mon, Warren, the Liberals knew what was at stake here, which is why high profile federal Liberals like Mr. Trudeau and some others got involved in Mr. Smitherman’s campaign. So don’t try and spin away the ass kicking and try to salve it by a fond ancient memory. Getting one’s ass kicked sucks, but sometimes you just have to accept and acknowledge the time you spend behind the woodshed. After ’93, I was rubbing my arse for months. *Shrugging* It happens.

    • Warren says:

      I didn’t support Smitherman. Neither didn’t many many Liberals I know. Your analysis is dead wrong.

      • Lance says:

        Perhaps, perhaps. But many DID support Mr. Smitherman, Warren, aqain, because the party must have known what was at stake if a former prominent Liberal Ontario cabinet minister/mayoral candidate got the stuffing kicked out of him by someone like Rob Ford, in Fortress Liberal yet.

        I suppose in retrospect, if one were to coach a fighter and he gets faded out in the semi-final, you could say he and his coach didn’t get their asses handed to them in the final. But then, I’d rather have made it to the final in the first place and gotten smoked there than to have wasted away in the semi-final. So I suppose, in a way you DIDN’T get your ass kicked. But as a member of that particular fight club, don’t tell me you and your team are not smarting.

        I know it is part of “the game” not to admit that your farm team got schooled. But it is what it is – you did.

        • Brian says:

          That’s funny. As a Tory, my first reaction to Smitherman’s defeat was to see it as a loss for a long list of former Tory colleagues who foolishly supported Smitherman.

          I guess it all depends on your perspective.

  4. Lance says:

    But I have to say, Warren, it will be very interesting to see what Mr. Rossi will be doing in four years if Rob Ford botches this.

  5. Tceh says:

    According to Angus Reid Canadians are starting to show increasing distrust in Harper’s ability which IMO is a good thing. However the Opposition parties didn’t do that great either. One interesting thing I noticed was Canadians thought the Conservatives were more able to rein in national debt. Huh? This opinion has no basis in reality. Your buddy Chretien moved Canada onto the right track in reducing the deficit and eventually growing it into surpluses. Jim Flaherty has completely reversed the trend BEFORE the great recession started.


    From the Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

    Over the past decade it had slowly declined to $458-billion in 2008. Now this has all changed. Our federal debt grew by $5.8-billion in 2008-09, by $55.4-billion in 2009-10 and is expected to grow by $45.4-billion in 2010-11. Further, it’s expected to grow through at least 2014-15. In just three years all the debt repayment of the past eight years will be wiped out.

    Canada’s debt re-passed the $500-billion mark at 4:55:46 AM on December 2, 2009.

  6. Riley says:

    Well it won’t be long before voters turn on Ford, too because our political/media system is incapable of letting voters really express themselves (people who get elected never get the support of a majority of voters) but reporters write as though they did. We need some form of preferential voting or run-off elections. Then at least most folks could live with the results. Most governments in Canada are phony governments. It’s rare for a party or candidate to get over 50% of the vote yet they usually get all the power. This makes them illegitimate, in my view. Ford almost got a majority vote but he didn’t did he? Ford won because of his campaign not because of reality (brushes with the law, boorish behaviour, documented ignorance on many files). But reality bites as they say. The question is what will happen to politics after Folks get a taste of ford policy. I left Toronto in 1999 because of Mel and Mike. I got tired of the garbage. Overcrowded transit. Armies of homeless. Ugliness of yonge street. Miller fixed all that (garbage strike notwithstanding). Toronto’s budget is balanced even with relatively low taxes compared to the GTA.) just remember strong coffee and raw eggs don’t really cure hangovers.

    • Namesake says:

      so how would a proportional rep. system work for a mayoral election, exactly? Ford would only get to show up on, what, 51% of the days? (wasn’t he already doing that?).

  7. hitfan says:

    The Conservatives were reduced to 2 seats because half of conservative voters largely defected to the Reform party. No splitting on the right would have reduced the number of seats that the Liberals won in ’93 considerably.

    A united right and a viable bloc means that we will be seeing minority governments for some time to come.

    2004 is the model for future Liberal victories in the foreseeable future.

    • Tyler says:

      Is it really? The funny thing about 2004 is that the Conservative did not do particularly well if you compare their vote to what the PC’s and Reform had been accumulating between them or what the PC’s used to get before Reform. Just looking at Ontario, you get this:

      1949 – 37.4%
      1953 – 40.3%
      1957 – 48.1%
      1958 – 56.4%
      1962 – 39.2%
      1963 – 35.0%
      1965 – 34.0%
      1968 – 32.0%
      1972 – 39.1%
      1974 – 35.1%
      1979 – 41.8%
      1980 – 35.5%
      1984 – 47.6%
      1988 – 38.2%
      1993 (PC+Ref.) – 37.7%
      1997 – (PC+Ref.) – 37.9%
      2000 – (PC+CA) – 38.0%
      2004 – 31.5%
      2006 – 35.1%
      2008 – 39.2%

      In short, you have to go back to Trudeaumania to find an election in which the Tories did as poorly in Ontario as they did in 2004 and all that could be scraped out of that by Martin was a minority. Everyone can come up with their own explanations as to why this might be but one obvious guess is that there was a real fear of the Conservatives at that time in terms of whether they were a right wing party that would engage in all sorts of socially conservative policy. The Liberals played it up. They have, in my view, run similar campaigns in 2006 and 2008 and gotten nowhere.

      I’ve looked at the other provinces west of Ontario and you can see similar things there, with a real dip in the vote in 2004, towards real lows. If – and I have no way of knowing for sure – that was a figure below the Tories’ natural level of support, it might not be reasonable to think that 2004 is a blueprint for the Liberals. They might be running up against some structural problems for the foreseeable future.

      • hitfan says:

        The newly united Conservative party had a poor election in 2004 even though they were running against 11 years of Liberal incumbency, and as you pointed out, they garnered less votes compared to the 2000 CA+PC vote. Of course, a lot of PC voters probably defected or stayed home after the merger (and started to slowly come back home in ’06 and ’08).

        So with a poor Conservative showing in ’04, the best that the Liberals could muster is a minority government.

        Which is why I find it amusing that pundits keep harping on Harper’s inability to form a majority government. As long as the Bloc keeps winning 40+ seats in Quebec, it will be mathematically impossible for either of the top 2 parties to form a majority. This situation will exist until the Bloc collapses.

  8. V. Malaise says:

    It must be a sign of my middle-age that I’m feeling nostalgic for the 90’s and the reign of the Right Honourable Jean Chretien.

    When Mr. Chretien was PM I encountered him twice at the Stampede wearing battered jeans and boots. I introduced myself and chatted. Next year he remembered my first name and we chatted again.

    I doubt very much our current PM is capable of that.

  9. anthrosciguy says:

    It was a two pronged attack that reduced the PCs down to 2. Partly it was Chretien — if he didn’t make himself look like a good choice the PCs would’ve gotten more seats. Partly it was Mulroney — people were sick of him and his party. But part was Mulroney’s choice of Cambell and Cambell herself (remember the Bell’s Palsy attack ad? and when she essentially called voters stupid?). The pundits the night of the election were saying that it would be a debacle for the PCs and that it was even possible they could get as few as 55 seats. 55 seats. I think getting it down to 55 seats was the combo of Mulroney and Chretien; taking that 55 down to the end result — the unbelievable 2 seats, was Cambell and her election crew.

  10. V. Malaise says:

    How politically dumb was Kim Campbell? Dumber than a sack of hammers.

    She thought she was made crown princess. Most other Tories, especially Jean Charist, were smart enough to see the freight train coming and get off the tracks. I seem to recall a certain Tory PM offering him the party’s cash to finance his campaign even. Myron Baloney was so loathed it infected the voters’ perceptions of the whole PC party.

    I still have a grudging admiration for Trudeau. I recall him speaking at the MacEwan Hall ballroom in Calgary. The campus idiot stood up and announced he was the campus anarchist arsehole and why doesn’t the government do this and that blah….blah.

    Trudeau waited until he had wound down and said, “Remember the first precept of the Anarchist; ask nothing of the state.” That shut him up.

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