For a few comments on the Canadian Federal Election results that came in last night.
Like everyone else in the country this morning, I’m waking up to a very different government than I expected to have even a few weeks ago. There’s much to celebrate, and also much to fear; it’s a weird feeling, and the whole country’s going to have to take a little breather, I think, to get used to this very new look and feel in our Parliament.
For those who weren’t paying close attention, here’s what happened. For the last number of years, we’ve had a Conservative minority government, with 3 other parties making up the balance: the Liberals (Canada’s oldest political party, usually centre-left, and often called the “natural governing party”), the NDP (a European-style social democrat party that is a perennial 3rd, but is beloved for having brought universal healthcare to Canada), and the Bloc Quebecois (the Quebec seperatists that has held Quebec for 20 years, which has so many seats that the BQ has held the Official Opposition role before, but that can never form government because they only run candidates in Quebec).
The minority government means that to pass any legislation, at least one other party has to vote with the government, otherwise, the government doesn’t have enough seats. This often leads to co-operative governments, but in the last number of years, it’s led to a lot of posturing and squabbling. Very creepily, it’s also led to the Conservative party to ignore a lot of the rules and conventions of parliament.
In fact, the Conservatives were so deceptive and rude that we had this election because the rest of the parties ended up finding the Conservatives in contempt of parliament–the first time in history that rule has been invoked.
Despite the circumstances, though, pretty much everyone was predicting that we’d end up after the election with basically the same government that had just been dissolved. And until a couple of weeks ago (we have 6 week election campagins), that looked like a pretty safe bet.
But that’s not what we’re waking up to. Instead, the Conservative’s “give us a majority government or doom will come to us all” campaign seems to have worked, and they won a substantial majority last night. On the other hand, the NDP’s relentlessly positive campaign of practicality, working together, and platform policies of supportive and caring government also seems to have worked. The NDP more than doubled their record number of seats and have formed the Opposition! It’s hard to overstate what a transformation that is. The Green party also had an amazing, exciting breakthrough and their leader won the Green’s first seat ever! And the NDP’s gain came at the expense of the BQ, which is down to around 3 seats (haven’t checked the final numbers), and is basically eradicated as a party. The Liberals have been pummeled; some are wondering if they will ever return.
I have been accused of being a relentlessly positive person (mostly by my more pessimistic husband 🙂 ). And I am. But I don’t base my optimism on rose-colored glasses or willful ignorance of reality. The Conservatives now have almost unfettered power, and this is very scary to me. I am ideologically opposed to them in almost every way, including the fact that they are very ideologically driven, which I find scary in and of itself. I think it’s pretty clear that I will vehemently disagree with the direction the government takes for the next 4 years. I expect to be disgusted and sad and worried.
But. This is not the end of the world or of the country as we know it. Canada, along with every other democracy in the world, goes through political cycles of left and right and sometimes other, and Canadians have had Conservative governments many times in our history. Living in a democracy still means that the people have a lot of power. And it is our collective culture that determines who we are on the ground, not our government alone. Just because this government will do less than nothing about climate change adaptation or prevention, for instance, doesn’t mean that Canada does nothing. We are all going to continue to do the work that we feel is important, and continue to move issues forward that we feel need to be addressed.
And, the NDP and Greens (and the Liberals, too, though I don’t really care as much about what happens to them) now have 4 years to gain support, to work on their policies, and for the public to get more comfortable with them. Because sometimes the universe is just biding time. Would Obama (whatever you think of him) ever have been elected if George W hadn’t had 8 years to really show the country and the world what he was made of?
More than anything, I love it when the will of the people is strong and unpredictable. My favorite move in curling is when someone throws a rock that completely clears the ice and everyone gets to start again. I love it when all the rules change and we have to throw out all the ways we used to think and reconsider all our options. That’s what Canada looks like to me this morning–scary and hopeful all at the same time.