The Big Election is over and done… quickly disappearing in Canada’s rear-view mirror.
Conservatives won the day, which was written in the sand from the outset – but they made out like bandits and secured themselves four years of (what they hope to be) uninterrupted rule in which they can sell the country out to American interests and continue to ignore the real social issues like poverty and the environment.
What’s that? I was on their side during my last political blog?
Yes… I was – but that was in the face of a floundering Liberal leader who couldn’t have won a butt-kicking contest with his own two feet in field of one-legged contestants.
I also came to the conclusion that the NDP would pick up seats in the vacuum that the Liberals were leaving in their wake – but I wasn’t in any way ready for The Big Orange Machine that steamrolled Iggy’s Grits and made it all the way to a 100+ seat Opposition… though I was quite happily surprised since it turns our venerable parliament on it’s head.
As the news outlets have said over and over, the New Democratic Party has never been the official opposition in the history of Canada – always an ‘also ran’ behind the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Quebecois… playing the role of spoiler/king-maker during the times we’ve had minority governments by placing their votes on bills and motions up for grabs in return for concessions from the ruling party.
However, on May 3rd, Jack Layton and his Merry Orange Band of NDPers woke up after the election and realized they were now Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition – which had turned out to be a both a boon and a curse: while they had gone from fourth place to second and boosted their national profile considerably, they had also lost any and all sway they had over the levers of power.
You see… being the Official Opposition comes with a set number of powers, and the only one that really matters is that they get the right to be the first ones to put the Government Of Canada (in this case, the Conservatives) on the hot seat during Question Period after Prime Minister Harper and his cronies prattle on about any given issue of the day.
While that may seem like a nice thing on paper, the fact that it means very little in practice is something that the inexperienced NDP caucus failed to calculate in their campaign: that they’ve gone from a place where the Harper minority government would listen to them and occasionally put items from the NDP wish list into the budget – to a position where they can scream/shout/bolster themselves up and needle the Conservatives all day long… only to have Harper blithely ignore them on all issues due to the Conservative’s 160+ seat majority that doesn’t need cooperative votes to pass legislation.
At the end of the day on May 2nd, it was clear that vote splitting had given the Conservatives their longed-for majority.
In a large number of ridings across the 9,984,670 square kilometers of Canadian territory, NDP and Liberal candidates were neck and neck in the polls – which would be exciting if it was a 2-player horse race, but effectively canceled each other out… leaving the inside lane free and clear for the Conservatives to storm their way to a commanding 1st place.
The fact that Michael Ignatieff – then leader of the Liberal party that had surged to power in 1993 and held on until 2005 – had failed to win even in his own riding was a bitter, bitter pill… one that the Liberal party executive council is still choking on this very minute.
Yet, even in his concession speech, Ignatieff seemed to be certain that he’d continue to lead the Liberals after he had torpedoed the party – clearly maintaining his lack of connection with reality that had hounded him and his closest lieutenant from the time he was named party leader in August of 2009 – before coming out the next day and telling the press that he was resigning the leadership effective immediately.
Since the Liberals have been mostly silent in the 6 days since the election, I’m forced to presume that as soon as Ignatieff had come down from the podium at party campaign headquarters in the early hours of May 3rd, he was promptly taken to a room far from the press’ omnipresent eyes and ears before being flogged/kicked/beaten by the Liberal executive for killing “the natural ruling party” (a title foisted on the Liberals by opposing parties due to the arrogance that a string of back-to-back majorities had brought – and mostly assimilated by Liberal members over the years) and lacking the common decency to promptly fall on his sword during his concession.
Hell… even the leader of the Bloc Quebecois – a party determined to separate Quebec from Canada no matter what happened – had the sense to resign his post after securing only 4 seats out of 308, of which 75 are in Quebec.
As it is, only the Liberal party’s presumptive interim leader Bob Rae (himself once a provincial NDP member and 21st Premier Of Ontario before abandoning politics for a number of years in advance of joining the federal Liberals) has come out of seclusion to tell the party faithful that the party will rebuild and refocus in efforts to win the next election.
In fact, a strong case can be made for Rae to become the Liberal’s official leader come the next leadership convention – mainly because he’s the only guy in the Liberal camp who’s had political party leadership experience, and because Rae’s pretty much the only Liberal seat holder who has any sort of public persona that people could get behind – a born politician who can command a crowd with his oratory skills and an actual personality that can engage the Canadian population at large… which is precisely where Ignatieff failed since he was about as lively as watching grass grow.
The only problem with Bob Rae is optics… specifically how he’s seen in the province of Ontario – which is generally the area of the country that makes or breaks the Liberal campaign.
Rae had the unfortunate luck of being premier of Ontario during the early 90’s recession – an event not of his or his party’s making that bankrupted the province and forced Rae to create the unpopular “Rae Days” for employees of various governmental institutions that equaled forced, unpaid furloughs every so often… which was an act that greatly angered the public service unions and eventually led to Rae and his party being booted from office in the next election in favor of the provincial Progressive Conservatives who were promising the moon (and delivered deep public service cuts instead).
An acquaintance of mine says Rae could never be prime minister because he bankrupted Ontario – which is simply not true… and is something the Rae leadership camp needs to get out ahead of in the coming weeks and months: turning a generalist public opinion in Ontario from something unfairly negative into the actual reality that Rae did the best he could given the circumstances.
Once that problem is resolved, I seriously think the Liberals have a strong chance of rebuilding with Rae at the helm… or even one of the other candidates that are being bandied about like former federal finance minister Ralph Goodale – though I have to say the man lacks subtlety when interacting with the public, but that could in the end be a strength when running against the likes of Stephen Harper who never seems to get excited about anything.
But, for now anyway, we as Canadians are saddled with a brand-spanking-new parliament that – for better or for worse – we chose for ourselves.
It’s really hard to determine where the Government Of Canada is going to go from here on out since we haven’t seen an unconstrained Conservative party in power since the early 1990’s… and even back then, it was an entirely different party under the leadership of Brian Mulroney – a kinder, gentler group of politicians that was still known as the Progressive Conservative Party Of Canada which – by it’s very name – seemed to imply an openness to outside ideas.
When Stephen Harper led the charge to reform the Conservatives (and in the process swallowing the Reform Party), he tossed out the “Progressive” name and moved the party from the right-of-center brand of politics to firm right wing entrenchment similar to their American Republican cousins – big on crime & punishment and friendly to big business interests through aggressive cuts to corporate taxes.
Since the Conservatives came to power in the 2006, they’ve always been kept in check due to their continual minority government status – having to rely on the Liberals, NDP, or Bloc Quebecois to achieve the number of votes necessary to pass legislation in the House Of Commons, which has kept the right wing agenda from dominating the Canadian landscape by continually adding more socially-minded items to budgets and other major governmental positions.
Now, heading into the middle of 2011, Harper & Co. have been given free rein to pass any legislation that tickles their fancy without any interference from other parties – a political blank cheque that will allow the Conservatives to implement laws, regulations, and spending cuts while swinging their arms akimbo if it suits them.
And while Prime Minister Harper came out fairly quickly after the election to say that he and his party weren’t going to change the way they did business from how they conducted themselves during minority government times, the average Canadian would have to be completely stupid/naïve to believe one word out of Harper’s mouth.
Harper has continually said his party has been chomping at the bit to implement the Conservative agenda since the 2006 campaign began… so how can we be expected to believe that, all of a sudden, Harper & Co. are going to learn the art of self constraint?
But… that’s how the war of politics is waged in a democratic system: the hopeful dependence on society’s short memory from election to election.
A democracy that we as Canadians just took part in… a democracy that we all voted for (well, at least more than 60% of eligible voters according to Elections Canada).
A democracy the Michael Ignatieff campaigned hard on – saying that it was time to fix democracy in Canada by voting Liberal and chasing the Conservatives from office that had been found to be in Contempt Of Parliament by the Speaker Of The House.
A democracy that turned on it’s supposed champions and made the Liberals a laughing stock.
Democracy is great, isn’t it?