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The 2008 federal election is finally over. As the dust settles, there have emerged some wins, some losses, and some “victories” that, on closer inspection, aren’t all that triumphant.

The clearest winner to emerge from this election is the NDP. This has been the strongest campaign in the party’s history, resulting in an increased percentage of the popular vote, new inroads in Québec, Newfoundland, Alberta, and a clean sweep of most of Northern Ontario. NDP seat numbers are their highest in 20 years – edging closer to Ed Broadbent’s historic party record of 43 seats in 1988. The NDP finished with 8 new seats over all, climbing from 29 seats in 2006, to 30 at dissolution, to 37 by the end of election night.

The Bloc Quebecois held its ground, entering the race with 48 seats and leaving with 50. Leader Gilles Duceppe unified Quebeckers against the Conservatives over their $45 million cuts to arts and culture, and their harsh proposals for sentencing young offenders. In the end, the Bloc reinvigorated its base, and played an integral role in denying the Conservatives their coveted majority.

Last night’s unequivocal loser was the Liberal Party, finishing with their worst showing in over 20 years at a loss of almost 20 seats.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are proclaiming victory. After all, they did pick up 16 new seats, thereby strengthening their minority government. But the Conservatives had higher expectations for this election. To this end, they have fallen considerably short.

The Conservatives blew their chance at the majority government they so eagerly craved. Their odds went from palpable to elusive when a series of gaffes – most significantly, cuts to arts and culture - exposed their right wing agenda. This caused many Canadians to recoil, and seriously damaged Harper’s folksy image those sweater vests worked so hard to achieve.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party - the Conservatives’ main opposition – has been at its most fractured during the last two elections. Yet even with the Liberals at their most vulnerable, the best the Conservatives could pull off was a minority both times. In fact, the Conservatives have barely penetrated Canada’s major cities, and have obtained zero seats in Toronto or Montreal.

So what do these election results mean for CUPE members? Harper has said that he plans to govern as though he has a majority. This means he’ll continue to push his partisan and ideological agenda through parliament. Harper will use economic woes to justify a smaller government and reduced public services. CUPE members must be ready to push back against cuts to public spending and jobs.

Harper will keep tight control over information – as he has already done with his secret trade deals, limited communication with the media, and vague, tardy political platforms. CUPE members must keep pressuring the government to engage in public discourse about issues that affect our jobs, families and communities.

The best news to come out of this election is that Canadians do not want the Conservatives to have a free hand to govern our country. Voters have demonstrated strong support for the NDP, who are now charged with being the true opposition in the House of Commons.

“We are committed to working with the NDP to ensure that issues affecting working families are addressed in this parliament,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.

CUPE thanks everyone who worked hard to campaign and show support for the NDP.  At half a million members strong, we’re ready to keep up the fight.