Last night’s federal election results were historic. The Liberal Party of Canada won a majority government from Canadians, rising from their distant third place position in the House of Commons. The “red wave” – beginning with its complete sweep of Atlantic Canada – spread quickly across the country as polls closed, capturing major gains for the party in Quebec, Ontario, and Northern Canada. These gains came at the expense of the governing Conservatives and the Official Opposition New Democrats.
With 39.5% of the vote, the Liberals won 184 seats – 14 more than needed to form a majority government. The Conservatives went down to defeat, capturing only 99 seats and losing many of its most prominent cabinet ministers. They will now sit as the Official Opposition, albeit without Stephen Harper at the helm. At the same time, the NDP vote collapsed, with the party returning only 44 seats to Ottawa. Thomas Mulcair will remain as that party’s leader, at least for now.
Significant change came to the territories last night. All three incumbent Members of Parliament lost their seats to challengers by wide margins. What were thought to be tight races in Yukon and Nunavut, turned out to be easy victories for the Liberals.
Perhaps most shocking was the defeat of NDP MP Dennis Bevington in the Northwest Territories, who had won his riding with a sizable portion of the vote in 2011. Like NDP MPs elsewhere in the country, strategic voting and the desire to see change in Ottawa may have driven support for the Liberals.
The Conservatives lost – along with the election – many of their most prominent members. These include Minister of Finance Joe Oliver, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander.
For Northerners, the most prominent losses were Minister of the Environment and Minister for the Arctic Council Leona Aglukkaq, as well as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt. Many Indigenous Northerners celebrated the defeat of Valcourt last night, and a change in government will certainly mark a new direction for Indigenous-Crown relations in the coming four years.
Liberal Party: 39.5% (184)
Conservative Party: 31.9% (99)
New Democratic Party: 19.7% (44)
Bloc Québécois: 4.7% (10)
Green Party: 3.4% (1)
A new government in Ottawa could mean big changes for Northern policy. The Liberals have promised to increase funding for Nutrition North, take immediate steps to address climate change, and to take seriously the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other measures include addressing the high cost of living in Northern Canada, as well as calling an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Liberals Sweep the Territories
Nunavut was thought to be one of the more competitive races in Northern Canada, with three prominent candidates representing the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP. All three major party leaders visited Iqaluit during the 11-week campaign, signaling the importance of the riding to all three parties.
On election day, long lines in Iqaluit foreshadowed a large increase in voter turnout. This morning, Elections Canada is reporting that voter turnout increased by 15.3% over the last election, a jump from 46.66% in 2011 to 61.96% yesterday.
Hunter Tootoo (Liberal): 47.2%
Jack Anawak (NDP): 26.5%
Leona Aglukkaq (Conservative): 24.8%
Scott MacCallum (Green): 1.5%
The stunning defeat of Aglukkaq last night is most likely the result of widespread dissatisfaction with the Harper Conservatives stemming from their failure to address the high cost of food and housing in the territory, as well as their focus on Arctic security over the environment.
The results in the Northwest Territories come as somewhat of a surprise to observers in other parts of Canada. While the incumbent NDP MP Dennis Bevington was not a prominent member of the party nationally, he had nonetheless held the riding since 2006, when he beat Liberal Ethel Blondin-Andrew.
From a historical perspective, these results should not be all that surprising. The Northwest Territories has been held by either the Liberals or the NDP since its creation in 1962, with only two periods of Conservative representation between 1963-1965 and 1979-1988. While a loss for the NDP, this result is within expectations for the riding.
The returns for former NWT premier Floyd Roland will be a disappointment for his party and supporters, especially in the Beaufort Delta, especially following the much touted 2014 devolution deal between the GNWT and the federal government.
Michael McLeod (Liberal): 48.3%
Dennis Bevington (NDP): 30.8%
Floyd Roland (Conservative): 18.0%
John Moore (Green): 2.8%
Voter turnout was also up in the riding, increasing about 9% from 2011.
Yukon was also expected to be a closer race than last night’s results would indicate. Incumbent Conservative MP Ryan Leef made national headlines earlier in the campaign for his vigilante stakeout to catch the culprit who was defacing his campaign signs. Yukon was also front and centre in the 2011 robocall scandal, leading to a federal lawsuit over potential breaches of the Elections Act. Leef narrowly won the riding in 2011 by 132 votes.
Last night, former Liberal MP Larry Bagnell returned with a stunning victory, capturing 53.6% of the vote. Ryan Leef was defeated with only 24% support from electors.
Larry Bagnell (Liberal): 53.6%
Ryan Leef (Conservative): 24.0%
Melissa Atkinson (NDP): 19.5%
Frank de Jong (Green): 2.9%
The NDP increased their vote share from 2011 to 19.5%, while the Greens declined sharply to 2.9%. In 2011, the Greens were at 18.91% and viewed as a demonstration of Green strength in Western Canada.
Voter turnout was up almost 8% from 2011, increasing to 76.03%
Northerners in a Liberal Cabinet?
In sweeping the North, Liberal supporters should expect to see Northern representation again in the federal cabinet. The most likely is Hunter Tootoo, an Inuk with executive experience in the Government of Nunavut, who would be an easy appointment for the Trudeau government. As a former MP, Larry Bagnell would also be a good choice for cabinet, although with such a large national Liberal caucus this is less likely. Potential portfolios for a Northern MP include Minister of the Environment, Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, as well as various parliamentary secretary positions.
Expect to see the announcement of a new Trudeau cabinet in the next two weeks.
Northern Public Affairs will continue its coverage of the 2015 federal election in the coming weeks.◉
Photo credit: Liberal Party of Canada.