Canada’s Political Realignment
There has been a dramatic and unpredicted realignment in the country’s political landscape. Finally, Canadians have elected a majority government and the threat of an election before Oct 19, 2015 has faded away. The Conservatives have succeeded in swaying the electorate to their side and now they will not have to please any party to pass the bills in the Parliament. Above all, the Conservatives, thanks to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have intruded into the immigrant bastions and won many ridings due to their support. Eight South Asian Canadians will be representing the electorate in the 41st Parliament. The Liberals have been thrashed beyond imagination and the orange surge has replaced the Liberals as official opposition in Ottawa.
Harper, who took office in 2006, has won two elections, but he had never held a majority of Parliament’s 308 seats, forcing him to rely on the opposition to pass legislation. The Conservatives have won 166 seats, followed by the NDP with 103, Liberals with 34 and the Bloc Québécois with four and the Green Party with one. A party needs to capture 155 seats to win a majority in the House of Commons. On a side note, another historic first in North America has been the win of Elizabeth May as the Green Party candidate.
Harper had deliberately avoided sweeping policy changes that could derail his government, but now has an opportunity to pass any legislation he wants with his new majority. While Harper’s hold on Parliament has been tenuous during his five-year tenure, he has managed to nudge an instinctively center-left country to the right. He has gradually lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation that would harm Alberta’s oil sands sector, promoted Arctic sovereignty, upped military spending and extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. He has also staunchly backed Israel’s right-wing government.
The re-elected Prime Minister expressed to the country that government affairs will begin instantly with a plan for creating jobs and growth without increasing taxes, immediate help for families and seniors, and eliminating the deficit while maintaining health-care transfers to provinces and territories. Despite his majority victory, Harper pledged to work with other parties and praised their efforts over the election’s five weeks.” We are intensely aware that we are and we must be the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us,” Harper emphasized.
The leftist, New Democratic Party became the main opposition party for the first time in Canadian history, tripling their support in a stunning setback for the Liberals, who have always been in power or leading the opposition. The Conservatives gained 22 seats, mostly in Ontario, while the Liberals suffered a 43-seat drop. However, the NDP, who nearly tripled their seat count, made a major advance in Quebec, mostly at the expense of the Bloc, gaining 68 seats. The loss of 45 Bloc seats in the province prompted party leader Gilles Duceppe to announce he would resign in the days following the election.
New Democrat leader, Jack Layton said Canadians voted to strengthen public health care, retirement security and help families make ends meet and he vowed his party would oppose the Conservative government, “With vigour if it were on the wrong path.”
Conservative’s success has not been overnight. When Stephen Harper won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance in 2002, the party had just 60 MPs, and six members of that band fled the party, choosing to sit with Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives because they could not get along with Stockwell Day.
Harper will now lead 167 MPs, a team he has built systematically, patiently building on electoral gains over a decade, all the while seeking to undermine his opponents and move the centre of public opinion to the right. He now has the right and responsibility to deliver on his promises and the freedom to do so without much regard for the institutions that have sought to keep him in check when he had a minority.
This election was accelerated because the opposition parties had brought Harper’s government down for contempt of Parliament when the Tories refused to open the books to opposition MPs.
Canadian voters knew that Harper seeks to control government information and fire people who do not bend to his will. However, people voted for him in spite of that because he convinced them that he is the best leader to manage the economy.
Harper can relax now that he does not risk a confidence vote every time a mini-scandal erupts. Therefore, he may allow the opposition, watchdogs, and journalists to play their roles in the system, but he can properly interpret his mandate from voters as acceptance of his more aggressive approach.
In his post-election news conference, he sought to put the public at ease, “One thing I’ve learned in this business is that surprises are generally not well received by the public.” It seems unlikely that Harper will now unpack a hidden agenda because he should be busy enough just delivering the items that he has an explicit mandate to deliver.
He has promised to pass his budget, scrap the long-gun registry, deliver a crime omnibus bill, and put a stake in taxpayer subsidies for the political parties. That is a serious ‘to do’ list, and that is just the easy stuff.
The hard part will be cutting the size of the federal government. Harper has promised to chop $4 billion in annual spending by cutting waste and shrinking the public service through attrition. That looks difficult.
When the cuts are done and we have returned to a surplus, just before the next election, Harper has promised to introduce income splitting, which will lower the taxes of families with children, leading to huge savings for high-income families.
Harper won this election by warning Canadians that the other parties want to raise taxes. He won his majority with a last-minute movement of Ontario voters afraid that the Jack Layton might ride the orange surge all the way to 24 Sussex.
The Tories now represent the rich parts of the country and the NDP represent the have-nots. Harper has a mandate to shrink government and cut taxes. The NDP has a mandate to look after the interests of people who benefit from government programs. Those are the battle lines. And yes, the government now knows that immigrant votes count and they will frame policies keeping the interests of this vote-bank in mind. All I can say is that there are interesting times for Canada in the years to come.