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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Election 2011: A small high five and a lot of nausea

On May 2, 2011, Canada voted. I was nervous, I was hopeful, I was trying to be optimistic about the outcome, and I was not prepared for the results.

As the kids say, “I’m so so stoked right now” that the NDP is the official Opposition. Canada has never seen what the NDP can do when given both the power and responsibility to be the main (not fringe) voice of dissent and contrary opinion in Parliament. A party that has often largely been ignored in the past has been granted an opportunity to define itself.

I am stoked for Elizabeth May and the Green Party too. History will be made when Parliament resumes and the Green Party has a representative in the House of Commons for the first time. May will have her work on Parliament Hill cut out for her. It’s work she’s been chasing for years and I say good for her for finally getting a crack at it.

In a weird way, I am a little bit stoked that the Liberals took such a drubbing. As a person, Michael Ignatieff is intelligent and educated and I believe he truly does care for Canada. I didn’t mind the Liberals the last time they governed either (though I was a teenager then so I’m not sure that says much). But after three years of reading my Maclean’s cover to cover and following Canadian politics online, I still had no idea what the Liberal Party, under Iggy, really stood for. Unless Maclean’s simply sucks at their Canadian politics coverage (which I will never believe), it seems to me that the Liberal party did not have a cohesive and consistent message that was memorable or vital to Canadians. A few good ideas? Yes. But a few good ideas do not a political platform make. You can blame many things for the situation the Liberals now find themselves in–the Conservative’s ceaseless character assassination of Ignatieff, a split leftist vote between the NDP and Liberal candidates that paved the way for a Conservative win, voter apathy–but at the end of the day the party just seemed lost to me. Not at all the “natural governing party” the Liberals claimed to be. Obviously they need a few years to get their poop in a pile and now they’ve got it.

I am also giving myself a little high five because the candidate I voted for won and will be representing me and my riding in Ottawa. Congratulations to me.

Now for the nausea.

For the next four and a half years, Canada will be governed by a Conservative majority. Since I align my personal beliefs more towards the political left, the policies of this government will no doubt grate against my socialist sensibilities. Even with an NDP Opposition, a majority gives the Conservatives carte blanche to pass pretty much any bill they like and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But that’s democracy. Canada voted (well, 60% of us) and apparently the will of Canadians is a Conservative majority. Democracy means you don’t always get your way. Of course, democracy is more fun for me when I get my way, and people I disagree with don’t get theirs, but that’s not how it worked out this time. If I wanted my own way all the time I would need to become Queen of my own tiny isle, and I’m not prepared to do that right now. What really sticks in my craw about this election outcome is that the first government ever to be found in contempt of Parliament is rewarded with a majority. Clearly Canadians are not paying attention. Policy schmolicy. No matter where your beliefs fall on the political spectrum, you deserve a government that will not lie to Canada’s elected representatives.

Unless, of course, you vote for a party knowing full well they were found to be in contempt of Parliament and you just don’t care. Or, if you don’t vote at all. Then, I guess, you get the government you deserve.

I’m disappointed. Being an artist and a woman and a young single person (no middle class family benefits for me right now) who cares about social justice, I don’t think there’s anything in that blue bag for me. I love Canada and I love what it has traditionally stood for. I don’t want these things to disappear.

I am trying to be optimistic. Perhaps Harper’s Conservatives have merely been suffering from an inferiority complex and now that they have the majority they claimed they needed to govern effectively they will, in fact, govern effectively. I can only hope that now that the threat of a snap election is no longer looming they will consider the needs of all Canadians, even artsy fartsy bleeding hearts like me, and not just their traditional demographic.

Or perhaps things will get so incredibly terrible that by 2015 the 40% of eligible Canadian voters who didn’t vote this year will be prompted to finally get off their asses and participate in their country’s democracy. Or maybe I’ll move to my own tiny isle.

At any rate, Layton’s looking spunky these days, I’m sure Harper isn’t actually an evil robot, and hope springs eternal. We might be okay after all. We’ll see.

Conservatives & Liberals: Just stop it, both of you.

Like kittens? You'll love Harper's politics.

Today’s rant about being sick and tired of hearing about Canadian politics may come as a surprise to people who read my December 2 post, berating my generation for their lack of political participation and poor voter turn-out. I do still sincerely believe that citizens my age have a duty to be informed and involved. But democracy is a two-way street. Politicians who want our support need to give us something to vote for. Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian government, and Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the official opposition, are just not doing it for me right now.

I am tired of reading about whether or not Canadians will be subjected to a federal election this year (wasn’t that the question last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?). I am tired of the government being so arrogant (or perhaps so hopeful) as to make the claim, as they often seem to do, that “Canadians don’t want an election.”  I am tired of the opposition being so unimaginative and so impotent that the only weapon they seem to want to deploy is the threat of an election, only to withdraw that threat as soon as anyone starts to think they might really be serious.

I am tired of Stephen Harper’s sweaters and musical stylings. I am tired of Michael Ignatieff’s plaid shirts and cross-country burger flipping. Why are they doing this? Why aren’t they running the country? What the heck is going on?

That's actually pretty good. Quebec City, July 2010 Photo: Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

My January 17, 2011 Maclean’s came today, and with it a tidy little opinion piece by columnist Paul Wells entitled “How Stephen Harper Will Survive 2011.” Even before I read the article there was little doubt in my mind that Stephen Harper will survive 2011 just fine, though whether he’ll do anything with the power he’s still managing to cling to, anything that serves Canada more than it serves his party, is another matter. According to Wells, Harper is in a position of “relative strength” and “has a good shot at avoiding an election and, if he cannot avoid it, a good shot at winning it.” Let’s get this straight: Harper doesn’t want to win an election, he wants to avoid one, but if avoiding doesn’t work, it’s okay, he’ll win it. Harper also seems to be a fan of saying that the opposition is a fan of an election. Which seems silly, because if there was an election, Harper would win it, right?

I’m confused.

Speaking of confusion, I am not exactly receiving a boat-load of clarity from the opposition either. Iggy’s bus tour and the fact that he’s a really smart guy (albeit a bit of a cold fish in front of the camera) notwithstanding, I don’t know much about what Michael Ignatieff wants to do for my country. He likes to complain about the Conservatives, that’s for sure, but any bozo can complain. I’m complaining right now. Ignatieff’s job is to be more effective than that, and the Liberals’ only claim to fame at the moment is that they do not agree with the government. Except when they do, of course.

Just for fun, here’s a little snippet of Twitter conversation I caught on January 7, 2011 between Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne (also of Maclean’s Magazine):

InklessPW Paul Wells

“Planes and prisons” vs “families” and other good stuff: the Liberal ballot question as framed by Brison today and Goodale 2 weeks ago

acoyne acoyne

Interesting, since Libs also for planes & prisons RT @InklessPW “Planes & prisons” vs “families” & other good stuff: Liberal ballot question

acoyne acoyne
ie They’re still going to buy the planes, and they voted for the crime bills that necessitate more prisons RT @InklessPW

.

Again I’m confused. Both parties want some new planes? Both parties are on board with laws that would necessitate more prisons?  I’ll take Coyne’s word on this one, even if it is just a Twitter conversation, even if Twitter isn’t always a good “source”, since he’s a much more knowledgeable person than I.  I know 140-character limits tend to over-simplify issues a bit but it’s the very idea that bothers me. Planes and prisons for both Conservatives and Liberals? Talk about arriving at the party in the same dress and now having to figure out who “wears it better.”

This one's for my scrapbook.

If both the government and its closest rival agree on planes and prisons, and stimulus spending, and all the other big and small issues that the two parties have made gutless compromises on since 2008 (some necessary, some not), all that’s left for each side to do is accessorize that same old dress and try to convince us that the other gal looks trashy.

Which means that instead of being asked to consider which party better represents my values and beliefs regarding war, justice, education, and the economy (not to mention health care and the environment), I am being asked, by BOTH sides, to care about who is more cuddly, who likes “ordinary Canadians” more and terrorists less. To care about whether Iggy is “just visiting” or whether he’s here to stay, to care about whether Harper has something sinister up his sleeve or whether he’s doing what he truly believes is best for Canada. In short, I’m being asked to care about “politics”.

I don’t mean, “caring about politics” in terms of being informed, and of voting for the MP you think will best address your concerns. The “politics” I’m being asked to care about is mostly spin, hype, polls (whose conclusions my beliefs are never on the winning side of), a coalition of “Socialists” and “Separatists” that never really happened (and likely never will), and an election that isn’t happening yet, but that we don’t know for sure isn’t going to happen. This is the kind of crap that always seems to float to the top of the murky federal politics pool. I suppose I could stick my head in there and try to see if I can find any useful information but it’s not an appealing prospect.

Clap if you believe he can win an election. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press

This constant stream of exaggeration, hyperbole, and trivial detail seems to come from both sides. And it belittles me as a citizen. It makes me feel as though my part of the political process is about being led to the ballot box by half-truths and handshakes. It makes me feel as though nobody in Parliament thinks we’re smart enough to think about the actual issues that affect our lives and to vote that way. The fact that I haven’t seen either side touch health care with a ten-foot pole recently even though, at some point, we’re really going to have to, is not inspiring. It seems that while both sides certainly believe they have the right to govern, they don’t really have the guts to, and, to add insult to injury, they don’t think we’ll notice.

For goodness sakes, enough already. Conservatives, Liberals, just stop it. That new, nasty, media-sexy, but actually totally irrelevant barb you’re ready to let fly at the other party? That photo of you cuddling a cute kitten/baby/constituent you’re waiting to release? Just don’t. I don’t care. Go to your rooms. Think about what you’ve done. Think about what you’re going to do. I don’t want to hear a single word from either of you until you have something constructive to say.