Grits Win Big

All the trend lines showing the Liberals gaining and the New Democrats slipping intensified as Canadians voted yesterday, producing a surprisingly big win and a majority of seats in the House of Commons. This ends Stephen Harper’s nine-year run as Prime Minister and makes 43-year old Justin Trudeau (son of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau) the new PM.

Liberals did even better than usual in their Atlantic Provinces stronghold; made a big comeback in Quebec against that province’s 2011 winners, the NDP; won seats from both the Tories and the NDP in Ontario; and had its best performance in British Columbia in many years. With close to 40% of the popular vote (Conservatives finished with 32% and the NDP–which early in the brisk election campaign actually led the polls—fell to just under 20%), the Grits took an estimated 184 of 330 seats.

One wrinkle in this campaign that center-left parties everywhere should note is that Liberals broke with the other two major parties in refusing to pledge a balanced budget, instead promising to run short-term deficits to finance needed infrastructure projects.

Another possible ripple-effect from the vote is to cast a pall on the appropriation of American-style cultural conservatism by Harper’s Tories. It’s fitting that Harper’s last political acts as PM were to demagogue Muslim apparel and campaign with Rob Ford.

And without question, the ejection of Harper is a boon to the Obama administration, especially on energy and environmental issues where Canada had become problematic in its resistance to climate change action and its advocacy of the Keystone XL pipeline.

And Trudeau has some important American links: among the consultants to the Liberal Party for this election were former Obama political staffers Stephanie Cutter, Jen O’Malley Dillon and Teddy Goff.

All in all, it was a good day for the center-left in Canada and elsewhere.

UPDATE: Yes, “Grits” is a colloquial term for Canadian Liberals. It dates back to a nineteenth century political faction that called itself the “Clear Grits,” apparently a prospecting or farming term. There’s an explanation here.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.