Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Twelve Since Forty-One

As of tomorrow, it has been one year since the forty-first Canadian federal election. That election saw a number of historic events for all of Canada’s major political parties. Three parties, Conservatives, NDP and Greens, were elevated to new highs and the two others, the Liberals and Bloc, have been brought to a new low.

The aftermath of the election was scrutinized, especially the NDP surge and Liberal decline as a one-time phenomenon. The death of Jack Layton and polling information from the rest of 2011 seemed to confirm this hypothesis. The NDP lost ground as the Bloc Quebecois advanced. A year after the election, what can we say about the parliament and Canadian politics?

First, the Conservative majority remains stable. Despite a number of deeply troubling scandals the Conservatives would continue to win majority or strong minority governments. Perhaps if a minority parliament were to return the NDP could form a coalition with the Liberals to keep power. The Liberals have no interest in cooperating and bringing in the first NDP government. Instead they probably would prefer to act as kingmakers in an unstable parliament. That is merely my read of the landscape. Stephen Harper’s supporters seem unfazed by the F-35, robocall or ministerial accountability. With the Liberals in disarray there is not reasonable alternative for centre-right Canadians.

Second, the NDP remain strong in Quebec, and are mounting a serious challenge to the Conservatives and Liberals elsewhere. With the election of Tom Mulcair (NDP – Outremont, QC) as NDP leader Quebec has a native son leading a federal party. In addition Mulcair’s centrist nature and experience in Quebec’s government has buoyed the NDP’s numbers nationally, bringing them to tie the Conservatives, or at least nip at their heels. Therefore the NDP are not a petty rival that will obstruct the Liberals from challenging the Conservatives for power, but they are increasingly building a base themselves to win government.

Third, the Liberals remain in deep trouble. It seems clear now that the NDP are drinking the Liberals’ milkshake. The NDP are the progressive alternative that Canadians are turning to in the face of the Conservative government. Brian Topp, NDP leadership challenger, summarized the Liberals’ problems quite succinctly in a recent article. As a centrist party with broad appeal the Liberals were able to hold government by snatching votes from New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives concerned about the Reform Party and Bloc Quebecois. As a blocker the Liberal Party was highly effective, but now, as power ebbs further and further away the Liberals have very little to offer Canadians not present in some other party. I don’t believe Canada will shift into a two-party system any time soon, however, Andrew Coyne puts the matter clearly to the Liberal faithful – do we need athird party, and if so, to what purpose? Coyne states that the Liberals can become a meaningful political voice again with bold policy solutions that go beyond the ideological Conservatives and New Democrats. I would love to see a greater focus on policy, but I have as much hope in that as I do the Liberal Party.

Fourth, Parliament and Canadian democracy are arguably in decline. Lawrence Martin, in a far more articulate manner than I am capable of, laid out the litany of black-eyes Canadian parliamentary democracy has received in the past year . Depressingly, Mr. Martin poses the question of whetheror not Canada still has earned the label democracy. Indeed, it does feel as though we are slipping further from the liberal democracy of nations we respect, and even our own country. Dan Gardner on CTV’s Question Period discussed the tone in Ottawa this past Sunday. He stated that pundits and journalists previously explained the partisanship and rancor in Ottawa over the past eight years or so as a product of minority government. The past year has erased that fallacy. What worries me the most is that Prime Minister Harper’s lasting legacy will be the relationships of the Prime Minister with Parliament, Cabinet and the caucus. The dramatic centralization and control, and the corresponding culture of secrecy is deeply frightening. I am concerned that in 2016 it might be Prime Minister Mulcair’s muzzling of bureaucrats and lack of ministerial accountability that will have me typing.

Hopefully when Canadians are summoned to cast their ballots to decide the forty-second House of Commons they do not forget the first year of the forty-first.

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