June 4, 1997


Voters served nation's interest

by Nick Auf der Maur, Special to the Gazette

Jean Charest's Tories and the NDP came out of the Atlantic provinces starting blocks looking like Donovan Bailey.

Let's face it: everybody knew the Liberals were going to win the election, and the only suspense was about what would happen to the other parties.

OK, there might have been some question in our minds about whether the Liberals would get a majority. But otherwise, the results were more or less a foregone conclusion.

That is until Peter Mansbridge informed us on the CBC that the Conservatives and NDP were leading coming out of Atlantic Canada.

To be honest, my only real interest in these elections was to see Charest and the Tories take the wind out of the sails of both the Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois.

It's partially because I want what is best for Canada, my homeland. I feel the country's best interests would be served by having the Tories revived as the alternative to the Liberals in power.

It is also part of my tradition of being in favour of the underdog. (I confess, I had forgotten all about the NDP until their startling Maritime breakthrough, something that pleased me.)

Back in 1984, I agreed to run for the Progressive Conservatives only after the polls came out showing John Turner and the Liberals were going to win. Brian Mulroney was having trouble recruiting candidates, so after the election was called, I decided, for who knows what reason, to throw my hat in the ring.

The Tories called a meeting of all Quebec candidates in Sherbrooke for an orientation seminar, to teach the candidates how to answer questions and talk to the public.

Because most of the candidates were new Tory recruits, hardly anybody knew anybody else.

When I came back to Montreal, my pals, who were surprised that I was running for the Tories, asked me how the meeting went.

"What a disaster," I responded. "It's not Mulroney's fault, but few people of quality want to run for the Conservatives. It's a question of the federal Liberal history of hegemony in Quebec.

"The Tory candidates are a bunch of turkeys. It's so bad, about the only real interesting candidate I met was a 25-year-old kid who doesn't have a chance of getting elected."

That last reference was to Jean Charest.

I left the meeting soon after it started and headed to the hotel bar, followed by this kid who wanted to know about my previous election experience.

Needless to say, I was taken by Charest and have been a fan of his ever since.

So you can imagine how I felt when the first returns came in showing the Tories and NDP doing so well out east.

I should have gone to bed early.

I just wanted to see Charest beat the Bloc here in Quebec and torpedo Reform elsewhere. I hardly even cared about the Liberal result.

Mansbridge and the CBC started out looking like winners, too. But as the evening wore on, it became apparent the CBC coverage was appallingly bad.

At the beginning, they did not give a province-by-province breakdown of the Atlantic Canada results, leaving me befuddled about where the Tories and NDP had won.

They were so concerned about the big picture, they forgot to provide details, except for an early obsession with showing a series of Ontario results based on one out of 220 polls in several ridings, without ever having shown any complete East Coast result.

And then poor Hana Gartner tediously introduced her panel of experts, and before anybody could pontificate, Mansbridge cut away for some late-breaking result, and we never heard of the panel again for an hour. Thank God, maybe.

I got so annoyed at the CBC coverage I asked Ziggy behind the bar to change channels, but he had rigged a complicated system of plugging one of the TVs into the sound system, so it could not be done. At least that's what he claimed, as I glumly watched as Reform and Bloc victories piled up.

But yesterday's final results are not bad at all.

The Bloc vote went down. In the 1993 federal election, the Bloc garnered about the same percentage of votes - 49 - as the Yes side won in the last sovereignty referendum. Now they are down to about 38 per cent, thanks largely to Charest, whose coattails brought in four Quebec Tories.

Nationwide, the real national parties are back on track.

The Liberals won seats in nine of 10 provinces, plus the Northwest Territories. The Conservatives won seats in six provinces. The NDP won in five provinces, plus the Yukon.

That leaves the Reform as a regional party, with representatives only in the four Western provinces, and the Bloc as an irrelevant Quebec party.

Nationwide, the Tories came in second in the popular vote, so the Reform's status as official opposition is somewhat tainted.

The Liberals won a majority because, after more than 100 years, Ontario finally figured out how to vote like Quebecers two elections in a row - en bloc for one party. That's how to run the country.

In the past, Ontario was always fair-minded and Canadian, electing a bunch of Tories and Liberals and a handful of NDPers, like they didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

Now they play hardball, giving the Liberals the whole ball of wax - 101 out of 103 seats.

That leaves Manitoba as the example of fair-minded Canadians this time, distributing seats to the Liberals, NDP, Reform and Tories.

Quebec separatists can lie and put whatever false spin they want on the results. The fact is, in absolute numbers, the Reform vote went down as well as the Bloc vote.

Most Canadians voted for parties that have the best interests of the whole nation at heart. Canadians are, above all, a fair-minded people.

Montreal Gazette, http://www.montrealgazette.com