Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Liberal majority - what does it mean for Canada?

No doubt the new political landscape in Canada will be picked apart in excruciating detail over the ensuing days, but, for what it's worth, here are my own initial reactions BEFORE reading all those deliberations.
The Liberal Party of Canada under Justin Trudeau has won a resounding victory in the 2015 federal election, winning 184 (54%) of the 338 seats, with 39.5% of the popular vote. The increase, from just 34 seats and third place in the 2011 election, is the largest in Canadian history. The seemingly interminable Harper era has finally ground to a halt, as the Conservatives pick up just 99 seats (29%) from 32% of the vote. Stephen Harper is to stand down as leader of the Conservative party.
The first thing that jumps out right there is the distorting effect of Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system. The Liberals have pledged to reform the electoral system within 18 months of forming a government - as have the NDP and the Greens (in fact, all the major parties apart from the Conservatives) - although exactly what form this might take is not yet clear. Some kind of proportional representation system seems likely, so this may well be the last majority government Canada sees. Not such a bad thing, taken all in all.
Secondly, the lurch from Conservative majority to Liberal majority appears to be radical, but on reflection it may not be as profound as it looks, especially when one considers the popular vote percentages. It seems that there will always be a core Tory support of around 30% (essentially, people with money they don't want to share, people who want to make more money and don't mind how, and people with narrow-minded and unprogressive social views). Of the Conservatives' 10 years in power, only the last 4 have been as a majority party, and their share of the popular vote in the last three elections has remained around the 37-39% level before this latest fall. Even the Conservative majority victory in 2011 represented more of a protest vote in my opinion, a combination of a reaction against the corrupt Liberals of the day, their culture of entitlement and their weak and uninspiring leadership material, but also in good part a result of vote-splitting of the left-leaning progressive part of the electorate between the Liberals and the ascendant NDP under Jack Layton.
Thirdly, the witch is dead! Stephen Harper has been the worst thing to happen to Canada for many a decade. He has presided over a mean-spirited and rapacious period in Canadian politics, a period in which Canada has all but lost any moral authority it may have had in international relations, environmental reputation and social standing. Harper has been more polarizing and divisive than any politician in living memory, even more so than Pierre Elliott Trudeau, on a level that can perhaps only be compared to Margaret Thatcher's reign in Britain.
Fourthly, after their stellar rise in the 2011 election under the charismatic Jack Layton, the New Democratic Party has imploded in this election, winning just 44 seats (13%). Under the earnest but distinctly non-charismatic Thomas Mulcair, the traditionally left-wing NDP chose to lurch to the centre-right in the hope of winning centrist votes, but at the cost of its soul. The result was a mish-mash patchwork of policies, some progressive, some almost in Tory territory. In reaction this this, canny Liberal advisors took their party further to the left, into the vacuum left by the NDP, and look how that turned out for them! The NDP now remain in limbo, having alienated and confused their traditional base, and having lost most of the gains Jack Layton had made in Quebec (although, paradoxically, these were mainly lost over the niqab non-issue). Mulcair has not said he will resign as leader, although quite frankly who else do they have who could fill the gap?
And finally, hopefully this election will put paid to recent Tory claims that Canada has made a deep-rooted and inexorable turn to the political right, and that the underlying soul of the nation is blue. This never rang true to me. Canada in truth is a nation of fence-sitters, of fairness, tolerance, liberalism-with-a-small-l, and middle-of-the-road politics, and I mean this in the nicest possible way. I truly believe that we are not, as a nation, hawkish, reactionary and selfish (apart perhaps from that 30% core of died-in-the-wool Tories who have been behind Harper's recent success). Even the previous successful Conservative regimes of Mulroney and Diefenbaker were much more progressive than Harper's recent foray into radical neo-conservatism. This has been an aberration, which is now in the process of self-correcting.
If anything, the Liberals, as they have often claimed over the years, are the "natural ruling party" of Canada. They have certainly been the most successful Canadian political party over the last century or so, and their very centralism and wishy-washiness fits well with the Canadian character, for better or worse. Justin Trudeau, whatever you might think of him, is a good example of this earnest desire to do the right thing without upsetting too many people, which is at least a breath of fresh air after the cynicism and political opportunism of Stephen Harper.
I truly hope that Trudeau turns out better than I am expecting, and I do wish him well. Certainly Canada deserves better than Harperism, and now finally we have put that unfortunate little episode behind us. The future can only be brighter.

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