What is most surprising about Monday’s election results is that no one I know predicted that our political landscape would end up resembling the polarized American one more than ever before. At least on the surface.
And how sobering is it that Prime Minister Harper, looking in his acceptance speech like a guy who had just won a Powerball lottery, doesn’t have much more support among the electors than he had two elections ago?
First, the landscape, a Canadian one that is now predominantly Conservative blue with patches of NDP orange. It appears that the continued drop in Liberal popularity has left us with a more polarized population than any time in our history. The right-wing Conservatives, which sit further to the right than the Progressive Conservative party of days past, face their greatest opposition from the left-wing NDP. The NDP gained from the Quebec abandonment of the Bloc Québécois, which has similar social democratic values, and the move away from the more centrist Liberals. Interestingly, the Green Party, with a much more centre-right economic policy than the NDP or Bloc, lost about three per cent of its share of votes despite electing a member for the first time.
So has Canada suddenly taken a dramatic shift to the right? To listen to Harper, his party received resounding support from the Canadian people, when it fact it has become yet another the beneficiary of the first past the post electoral system. Forty per cent of the votes have translated, in 2011, to 167 seats and a comfortable majority. Proportionally, Conservatives would have earned 123 seats, with the NDP taking 95, the Liberals 58, the Bloc 18 and the Greens 12.
The 2011 election disparity between votes cast and seats won is nothing new, of course. Harper’s government just happens to be the most recent to reap the benefits. In each case, however, the loser is the Canadian people, who time and time again have seen majority governments formed by parties that didn’t win the majority of votes.
I don’t want to take too much wind out of the sails of NDP supporters, but all indications are that the party that now forms the official Opposition is about to become pretty much irrelevant. There is no reason to believe that Harper, always disdainful of parliamentary process (has everyone forgotten the contempt of Parliament findings?) and a guy who has a take no prisoners approach to politics, will suddenly transmogrify into a prime minister who governs in the knowledge that he has the support of only four out of 10 voters (and, in all likelihood, an even smaller percentage of all Canadians).
On Monday night, Harper sounded more passionate, dynamic and articulate than at any time in his political career. His sense of relief was palpable — no more worries about compromise and negotiation, just a four-year, absolutely legitimate, window to proceed with his passions, like eliminating the long gun registry, building more jails (with precious little interest in discussing a jammed-to-the-rafters court system that will only improve with more judges and court time, not more jails), purchasing jet fighters designed for war, not peace (without even going to tender), lowering corporate taxes (which are already significantly lower than those in the U.S.), making enemies of refugees who arrive by boat instead of with an airplane ticket and working toward a smaller government (after overseeing the largest, most expensive federal government in Canadian history).
While Harper is an economist, he hasn’t shown a lot of savvy on that front. Canadians not cursed with a selective memory will recall Harper’s insistence that he would not increase government spending in a response to the recession of only a few years ago, then did so only after being pressured by other G20 leaders. They will recall that the government’s ability to ride out the recession storm was hampered by a reduced GST and cuts to corporate and income taxes (based on the trickle down theory which has largely been discredited). And he continues to espouse the Republican notion that government can somehow continually cut taxes and continue to provide the services their citizens demand.
In the past five years, the Canadian reputation for working internationally to address environmental and human rights issues has taken a beating.
The next four years will not be fraught with controversies about coalition threats and deal-making to ensure the government continues to function. And I’m an optimist. I’m hoping that the progressives in the party I grew up with can provide some balance to the reformers who helped revitalize the conservative movement. It’s that balance, I firmly believe, that has made Canada such a wonderful country to live in.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.