Issue LII: Dispatch from Canada – Conservative Nation?

14 Jun

Last week, a page in the House of Commons lost her job for holding a sign during the Canadian equivalent of a State of the Union address.  Bridgette DePape’s red sign simply said, “Stop Harper.”

Harper being Stephen Harper, the recently re-elected Conservative Prime Minister of Canada.  Last month, the Conservative Party won a crushing victory in the federal election against the Liberal Party, the socialist New Democratic Party, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.  After years of a minority government in which no party had a majority in the House of Commons, Stephen Harper finally achieved his dream of a full Conservative majority in Parliament.  Unbridled from having to please three parties to the left of the Conservatives to win votes, he is free to achieve all he wants.

But what does the Conservative Party want?  The present-day Conservative Party formed out a merger of two right of center parties in 2003: the Progressive Conservative Party and the western Canadian Alliance.  This “unite the Right” movement decreased vote splitting among conservative voters.  Previously the Conservatives played the Washington Generals to the Liberal Party’s Harlem Globetrotters.  For pretty much the entire 20th century, the Liberal Party ruled Canada with only a few accidental Progressive Conservative victories.  In the 1993 election, for example, the Progressive Conservative majority lost all of its seats but two.

Stephen Harper represents Calgary, Alberta and originally came from the Canadian Alliance.  Alberta can be roughly compared to Texas: large, conservative, cowboy, and full of oil.  By elevating an Albertan to the highest office in the land, Canadians have brought some Texas-style politics to Ottawa.  The agenda is disturbingly Republican.

Increased military spending, more prisons, longer prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, further developing the tar sands of Alberta (possibly the world’s dirtiest form of oil), cuts to health and social spending, tax cuts for corporations, ending public financing of elections, and relaxing gun control laws are all part of the government’s program.  Military spending for jets has been criticized as being too costly with deliberate lowballing of costs to Parliament.  My friend here also complained that Statistics Canada would get a budget cut and they would throw out the long-form census and replace with a short one with minimal information about demography.  American conservatives floated such an idea in the United States, but not even Bush would go through with such a plan.

At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2010, climate change campaigners complained that Canada and not the United States fought the hardest against a climate change treaty.  Alberta’s pursuit of tar sands fossil fuel means that Canada will produce high levels of green house gases.  Harper won’t let his home province kill its golden goose.

Michael Ignatieff, the latest of many hapless Liberal leaders, got slammed by Harper’s American-style attack ads.  The academic, who spent much of his life in England and Massachusetts, got nailed as an out of touch intellectual professor “just visiting” Canada for his political career.  This Swift Boating of a John Kerry-like figure not only lost the Liberal Party the election, but Ignatieff failed to even win his seat in Parliament.  Dirty games in and outside of Parliament suggest an Americanization of Canadian politics.

But is the death of Liberal Canada overdone?  Anyone who looks at the numbers will tell you that the Conservative Party won less than 40% of all votes but got 54% of seats in Parliament.  First past the post electoral systems do not work well when you have multiple parties like Canada does now.  The combined vote of the New Democrats and Liberals came to 49.5% but only 44% of seats.  Many suggest a left of center merger between the Liberals and the New Democrats like the Conservatives did in 2003.  With a more effective opposition leader in New Democrat Jack Layton, Stephen Harper may get a tougher rival than with Michael Ignatieff.

Absolute power leads to overreach then failure.  Liberal Canada’s best hopes depend on Stephen Harper mistaking Canada for America.


Toronto StarLetter from the page who got fired

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