Hello, Canada, and welcome to the second day of our Conservative majority government.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I watched the election results streaming on the CBC’s website Monday night with an obsessive fascination and have been scouring media coverage of the aftermath ever since. The variety of responses has been diverse as Canadians themselves, and I’m curious about why people voted the way they did — or didn’t vote, as the case may be — and what they feel about the results. From where I was sitting, it seemed as though Canadians were getting more informed about and more engaged with the political process. But only 61% of us turned out to vote on Monday, an increase of a mere 3% from 2008.
When the dust settled, the Conservatives formed a majority government, the NDP surged ahead to become the Official Opposition, the Greens’ Elizabeth May became the party’s first elected MP in Canada, the Bloc lost their hold on Quebec and their status as a federal party along with it, and the Liberals — Canada’s oldest federal party, founded at Confederation in 1867 — were reduced to a shadow of their former glories.
What does it all mean? At this point, it’s difficult to say with any certainty.
On the left, there has been speculation that the defeated Liberals may attempt a merger with the NDP, and the Globe and Mail have a great article looking at what prominent Liberals have to say about the suggestion. Andrew Steele, also of the Globe and Mail, talks about how the NDP’s rise in popularity combined with the Liberals’ fall affected the political landscape post–May 2. Will the NDP continue their shift towards the centre of the spectrum and take the place of the Liberals, possibly even resulting in a merger of the two parties? The possibility exists: our present Conservative Party of Canada was born in just such a blend, combining the hard-right Canadian Alliance with the decimated Progressive Conservatives.
I’ve heard others say that such a shift on the NDP’s part will ultimately be a loss, since it means abandoning some of the core socialist values which have always characterized it, and I don’t disagree. But I will say that I miss having a strong moderate-left party that had a chance of realizing the image of Canadians as peacekeepers, environmentalists, and advocates of human rights. If a movement of the NDP to the middle-ground — or a merger of the NDP and the Liberals — would restore a player like that to the Canadian political scene, I would support it.
So what about the right? I know that other left-wing and moderate Canadians are hoping that Prime Minister Harper will live up to the promises he made upon winning the election — namely that his government will remain moderate and not spring any radical surprises on Canadians. John Moore of the National Post points out that the Conservative government has yet to live up to its 2006 promises. Not all of those promises were terrifyingly radical — though as a married lesbian, I do remember that some of them were — and with a majority, there’s no excuse to avoid keeping some of the more sane of those promises. I know that I echo Moore’s call for some fiscal conservatism and the transparent government Harper originally promised.
I think the best case scenario — for us left-leaning Canadians concerned about how our country is going to look when Stephen Harper is done with it — is for the Conservative government to settle into a comfortably moderate position in an attempt to prove that they truly can have popular appeal for the historically politically-moderate Canadian public. What the Right Honourable Mr. Harper has said thus far seems to support that hope. Of course, the Conservatives’ behaviour in running the country during their past two minority governments doesn’t encourage us to believe that the next four or five years will offer much in terms of transparent governance, sound environmental or fiscal policy, or the curbing of corporate excesses, at the very least.
I expect that over the next four years our government is going to make many decisions that don’t fit my vision of Canada. But I’m also keenly aware that the Liberal party under Jean Chrétien made many decisions that didn’t fit with other Canadians’ vision of Canada, as did Brian Mulroney, as did Pierre Trudeau… all the way back, I’m sure, to Sir John A. Macdonald. My point, as I mentioned earlier, is that Canadians are diverse: there’s no way to please all of us.
So what I really want to say is this:
- A Conservative majority government — even this Conservative majority government — isn’t going to be the end of Canada as we know it. All of the Conservative MPs are Canadians as well, and most of them — hopefully all of them — are doing what they believe will benefit the country they love.
- The changes in position of the NDP, the Liberals, and the Bloc are all significant, both individually and as part of the pattern of Canadian politics. How and why they’re significant is as complicated as it is exciting, and there is no simple explanation that will encompass the whole of the story.
- There’s no reason why Canadian politics should be any less engaging with a government many of us won’t like. In fact, it should be more engaging, as having a government that you agree with tends to breed complacency.
The tapestry woven by the views of every Canadian makes Canada what it is. I hope that our new government will truly recognize that and demonstrate it in their actions as well as their words. And when it comes time for the next federal election, maybe we’ll have found a way to convince 39% of our fellow Canadians of it as well.