Election 2015: A time for (cautious) optimism

liberal

Gosh, it looks like the 90s, doesn’t it?

The longest election campaign in Canada’s recent history is finally over, and the results were decisive. So now what?

Now, I did not vote Liberal in Monday’s federal election (I have never voted for any party but the NDP in fact), but I must say that I woke up on Tuesday morning immensely relieved. Stephen Harper is no longer our prime minister.

I’m going to type that one more time with feeling: STEPHEN HARPER IS NO LONGER OUR PRIME MINISTER.

Yes, yes, I appreciate that Harper served the country as its leader for ten years, and that not ALL of his policies were bad, and that many people obviously felt they benefited during his time in office, but the man simply sickened me, and his government was poisoning the country with its dirty and divisive tactics, its dishonesty, its mockery of Parliamentary democracy, its willful sacrifice of evidence-based policies for ideological ones (like its attack on the research-supported and incredibly effective harm-reduction facility InSite), its willingness to kowtow to wealthy oil companies at the expense of our environment, its indifference to veterans, its racism and xenophobia, its intrusion on our liberties, and its sheer LAZINESS and AUDACITY in openly courting only the 30-odd percent of the vote needed to keep itself in power. Canada has lost much of what has made it a traditionally great nation, and some of it (the many decades-long research archives destroyed by the Conservative government, for example) can never be retrieved.

Some of course will sputter, “But…but…the ECONOMY!”, to which I reply, no economy is worth our souls, and ten years of Harper was destroying ours. Besides, the economy, in its current condition, seemed to be succeeding only in making the rich richer and the rest of us poorer so please excuse me if I don’t shed a tear because you can’t afford that new mink coat. Many have also tied their economic protests to the importance of the oil industry, so I’ll also say this: the Canadian oil industry has not been touched by anyone but Harper for the past ten years, and has been shedding jobs for months. Tar sands oil is incredibly expensive to extract, and if oil prices fall as low as they have been and companies can’t make a profit doing it, they’ll stop. Resource extraction tends to be volatile like that. Harper literally gave the Canadian oil industry everything they asked for, and they’re still pulling the plug on projects that, I know, employ a LOT of Canadians. And why? Because oil companies aren’t charities–they don’t give a crap about your jobs or families. If they aren’t making money they won’t keep employing people. That’s just business. I’m sure most of the people currently working in the oil industry are highly skilled hardworking people–they will be in demand in whatever industries eventually move in to take oil’s place (or, of course, oil prices could very well rebound though that doesn’t help the environment much). Things are going to be tough for a lot of people for a while, but no one is doomed.

There are more important things than money.

The Harper government was actively making my country a more ugly, unfriendly place, and I am glad to see it go. I was excited on Monday night, even though I was sad to see awesome NDP incumbents like Peter Stoffer, Megan Leslie, and Paul Dewar lose their seats. I am excited for a new kind of Canada, whatever that will be. I could not have lived with more of the same. This election had my heart in a vice, and now I can finally breathe again.

Alright– so Justin Trudeau is the new Prime Minister of Canada. I can’t say I never thought it would happen some day, though I am surprised to see it happen so soon. Sure, his lineage has helped him–who else can say they have been familiar with the job of Prime Minister since their birth?–and I think his status as a Canadian political “celebrity” certainly clinched him the Liberal leadership, but he also ran a smart campaign and surrounded himself with smart people, to whom he apparently actually listens. I know I’ve called Trudeau stupid before (actually, I think my exact words were, “He’s a dummy”), but I guess perhaps I’m the dummy this time and Justin Trudeau was being stupid like a fox. Being a good-looking white male and the son of a famous politician gets a person pretty far–but it doesn’t necessarily get them a majority government.

Obviously fear had a huge part to play. Though Trudeau did not tend to play the politics of fear, Harper’s increasingly disturbing tactics pretty much did that for him–the urgency of removing this man from the highest office in the land by whatever means necessary weighed heavily in progressive voters’ minds. Many people proclaimed themselves “ABC” voters (“Anyone But Conservatives”) and strategic voting initiatives like Leadnow’s “Vote Together” campaign promoted voting for whichever candidate could beat the Conservative in a given riding, regardless of who the candidate was or what party they represented. A lot of people saw these tactics as cynical, and they were. They were also pretty effective–Stephen Harper’s government is out, very out. Unfortunately, this kind of “ABC” voting also meant that more progressive parties like the Greens and the NDP lost many votes they otherwise may have had.

As I watched the CBC’s election coverage on Monday, I was surprised that no one on the expert panel mentioned Trudeau’s promise to reform our first-past-the-post electoral system as contributing to his win. Many voters wanted to vote with their hearts, but determined to “hold their noses” just this once so that they’d never have to again. Next time, they reasoned, we won’t have this stupid system that gives parliamentary majorities to parties with only 39% of the popular vote, and our votes for Green or NDP (or the Pirate Party or the Marxist-Leninist Party or whoever) won’t be “wasted”.  Electoral reform was a promise made to voters, a promise that resonated, and a promise that will hopefully be kept.

That said, I’m not exactly going to bet the farm on it. For one thing, people are often loathe to change or do away with systems that are advantageous for them the way first-past-the-post was advantageous for Trudeau on Monday. Secondly, even if the new Liberal government keeps its promise and this federal election truly was the last of its kind in Canada, Trudeau did NOT necessarily promise a new system based on proportional representation. He may prefer (and I believe does prefer) a kind of ranked balloting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If there is no clear winner based on first-choice preference, officials begin to count second choices. This system may still be rather “first-past-the-post-ish”, and it’s certainly one that would disproportionately benefit the Liberals (who, if they aren’t a voter’s first choice, will likely be the second choice listed for many liberal Tories and conservative NDPers and Greens).

Cynicism aside, I couldn’t help feeling optimistic as Trudeau took the stage for his victory speech. Canadians may have voted out of fear, but they still voted for change. They didn’t vote for xenophobia. They didn’t vote for isolationism. Trudeau, it’s true, will cut a very good-looking figure on the international stage, and if he can keep his promises without plunging the country into debt I will be proud to call him my Prime Minister. But I’m much more proud of my fellow Canadians, because although they didn’t all make my favourite choice, they made a choice for a better country than what we had become. And better is always something to be proud of.

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