Turns out low voter turnout helps tell the tale of the 2008 federal. At 59%, the turnout yesterday was the lowest yet.

For all the arcane and complicated discussion about strategic voting, the record low turnout may explain more. Certainly the turnout offers important lessons for next time.

With megabucks in their party coffers and a focused message, the Conservatives were able to hold and grow their base in many parts of the country, particularly suburban and rural Ontario and B.C.

Meanwhile, Liberal support collapsed everywhere after an inept and confused effort by Dion and his campaign planners. Internal power struggles may explain why it seemed at the start of the campaign as if the election had come as a big surprise to Liberal headquarters. After supporting the Conservatives 43 times in votes of the last parliament, Dion lacked credibility from the get go in rallying anti-Conservative support. It remains a mystery why so many on the left still label the Liberals "progressive" despite strong Liberal support for the war in Afghanistan, big corporate tax cuts and the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

Social movements need to reflect seriously about the low turnout. Few issues fired the public imagination or encouraged voters to get to the polls. Critical issues like the war, global warming, homelessness and trade agreements need to somehow be recast so potential electors and politicians feel motivated and pay closer attention. Greater unity and cooperation among civil society organizations and less byzantine "insider baseball" about so-called "vote splitting" will help.

The campaign to protect arts funding was probably the most successful social movement effort of the campaign. Creativity and an ability to generate attention from the mainstream media were key to making culture a vote determining issue, particularly in Quebec.

Those of us in the rest of the country can be grateful for the strong showing in Quebec by the Bloc, which was key to preventing a Conservative majority.

After an energetic and focused campaign N.D.P. support grew, particularly in northern Ontario. Especially encouraging was the N.D.P. victory of environmental lawyer Linda Duncan in Edmonton Strathcona. Duncan will be a strong voice against tar sands expansion from Alberta’s capital city.

The Obama Democrats in the U.S. have made it a big priority this year to try to boost voter registration and turnout. After the hard lessons of the last many years, they understand how important it is to motivate supporters. We need to make turnout a similar priority here. If turnout keeps slipping in Canada, particularly amongst younger voters, only the Conservatives will benefit. As a start, the new stringent voter identification rules need to be eased. Dru Oja Jay of The Dominion is right on in describing how the requirements for picture i.d. disenfranchised many people yesterday.


Blair Redlin

Blair Redlin is a researcher with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, based in Burnaby. In addition to bargaining support for CUPE’s municipal sector in B.C., his research priorities include...