What an election we’ve just witnessed.
For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who must shortly relinquish this title to Justin Trudeau, what an irony for the Conservative leader who had clearly set out to marginalize (if not eliminate) the federal Liberal party from anything more than a rump of a national political entity.
Granted, 20 additional seats have been added to the House of Commons to recognize urban growth but, still, the Liberals captured the government with more seats than the Conservatives had at the dissolution of Parliament and the election call.
This is an irony of Shakespearean proportions and it will be discussed for many years in coffee shops and in university political science classes alike.
Once Mr. Harper had succeeded in the amalgamation of the old Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the relatively new Reform-Alliance party into the Conservative Party, he took the Liberal Party head on, won successive minority governments, dodged an effort to defeat his Tories by a proposed coalition of opposition parties and then, finally in 2011, Mr. Harper was able to preside over a majority government, with the Liberals abolished to ‘third party’ status.
Mr. Harper has said, and the phrase became the title of one of the many biographies written about his political life, “The longer I’m prime minister…” a clear indication that the longer he served in this capacity, the more he and his party would endeavour to change the country and Canadians’ political philosophy.
Indeed, a good deal of this has been accomplished: the abandonment of the long-form census on the grounds that its questions were too intrusive and Canadians didn’t want to answer them; the adoption, largely as it was originally proposed, of the Fair Elections Act that, in many citizens’ minds made it more, not less, difficult to vote in federal elections, at least for marginalized Canadians; public disagreements with the president of the United States, including the statement on the matter of the north-south oil pipeline that “We won’t take no for an answer!” and directed to President Obama; the conditions of Bill C-51 that makes it much easier for the government to strip “new Canadians” of this attained citizenship on suspicion of terrorist activities.
These are only a few examples of changes the Conservative Party in government has made and many citizens have and will continue to applaud them.
But these changes, and others similar to them, all enacted in a relatively short period, do represent substantial changes in the way Canadians do business. That was what Mr. Harper meant when he said, “The longer I’m prime minister…”
Canadians have reinvigorated the Liberal Party of Canada, in the process giving the prime minister’s job to a 43-year-old man who happens to be the son of a former prime minister who was able to hold on to the position for 16 years.
Will the Liberals, when a cabinet is chosen and the Governor General reads the Speech from the Throne when Parliament is recalled and the government outlines its plans for the future, seek to repudiate some of these changes?
It is not too difficult for most of us to look back at the Liberal eras Prime Ministers of Chretien and Martin and prior to that the eight years before their terms when another Conservative, a Progressive Conservative, served as Prime Minister: Brian Mulroney.
Canadians, we have to think after Monday’s election results, have looked back at the last nine years and have decided that perhaps Canada didn’t need as much fixing as Mr. Harper and the Reform-Alliance MPs (who made up most of the Conservative caucus) thought was necessary.
Usually, new governments come about mostly as a consequence of unpopular governments being defeated.
In what we have just witnessed and against the backdrop of wedge politics, negative versus positive advertising strategies and the clear changes to the national identity associated with the “The longer I’m prime minister…” strategy, it is difficult not to think that this has been a classic case of a government being deposed by the electorate for, in this case, pushing Canadians just too far out of their ordinary comfort zone and making a majority of them feel uncomfortable in their own country with the changes already made and with others proposed.
The Conservative-appointed Senators (Daffy, Wallin, Brazeau) held up to scrutiny for false declarations have been nothing more than a sideshow.
The Conservative government of Mr. Harper had not at all been riven with scandal. It has not been sent packing because it tricked Canadians or mishandled finances.
Rather, it has been banished in favour of a Liberal party that promised “change” because, at the end of the day, people became very uncomfortable with the level of small ‘c’ conservatism this party represented and became fearful that more would be visited on them.
The Liberal party should not, however, ever again think of itself as Canada’s “natural governing party.” Those days are gone and hopefully Mr. Trudeau will be wise and prudent enough to surround himself with thinkers and strategists who also hold this view.
This is clearly a time to review and revisit the way we elect people; the way in which the next census is conducted; this country’s military commitment in the Middle East; what we will bring to the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris next month (and who will bring it; a new prime minister at this event would impress both Canadians and the international community alike with our nation’s sincerity); how our country will address the disparity in living conditions between ordinary Canadians and the citizens of remote First Nation communities among many other topics.
Canadians are in the mood, it is clear, for indications of positive changes.