Hold on tight, it’s going to be a rough ride. Too bad, it could have been fun if Monday night had produced another minority government. Instead, the historic ascent of the NDP will be almost for naught in light of a Conservative majority.
Stephen Harper ignored the opposition parties much of the time while presiding over a minority government. You can expect zero cooperation now. We’ll have to count on the Canadian people to keep this government in check.
While the political landscape has changed dramatically and we won’t know what the fallout will be for ages, possibly years, we do know that changes are coming. The first order of business will be Harper putting into play some of his core ideologies. Watch for a continued shifting of the tax burden from corporations onto middle class Canadians, the scrapping of the gun registry, loosening of rules governing private health care, movement against the CBC and, in short order, a freeze on hiring and wages in the public service, suggests Prof. James Laxer, a political scientist at York University.
A longtime observer of the NDP – he was a founder in 1969 of the Waffle Group, Canada’s largest New Left political movement – Laxer notes that Monday’s election was a double-edged sword for progressives in this country: huge strides for social democracy countered by a Conservative win.
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Rather than the stability Harper droned on about, this could be the start of a more divisive political situation. The majority of Canadians support a fair, progressive system despite years of Conservative attempts to drag the population to the right.
“The values of Canadians have not shifted very much,” he says. Despite the best efforts of the Conservatives to make the agenda about taxes and corporate interests, we’re still concerned about health care, the environment and jobs and our quality of life.
Despite his priorities being out of sync with what the majority of us want, Harper will have to deliver on his right-wing promises to appease the core of the old Reform party.
“I think he’s going to move quickly on his agenda. When the new session begins, he’ll be telling his caucus, “this is it, we’re going to implement our agenda – our core constituency expects a lot from us,’” Laxer predicts.
Expect Harper to roll out the harshest of measures in the first three to six months of the new term before easing off at the two-year mark as he shifts into re-election mode.
The NDP will be very vocal in opposition to the Conservative moves, but Harper is unlikely to heed the criticism. For that reason, Laxer notes, Canadians concerned with the direction Harper wants to go will have to push back themselves. He sees a much more activist population, especially progressive groups and those who want to preserve the best of Canada.
“A great number of people are disappointed today. There will be mobilization.”
With the expected attack on Canadian culture and labour, as well as increases in the already dangerously high amount of foreign ownership, we’ll have to fight to prevent further erosion of the economy and Canadian sovereignty. The last Conservative majority in this country, under Brian Mulroney, led to economic upheaval – the largest deficits in our history, surpassed only by Harper’s government – and the worst erosion of middle-class standards of living.
In the Mulroney example, Laxer sees some advantage in letting Harper go ahead with his plans. After two majorities, the Conservatives dropped to just two seats across the country in the 1993 election.
“In four years, he will have been prime minister for nine years – I suspect people may well be looking around for an alternative by then.”
The trick for the NDP will be to be seen as a viable choice when Canadians tire of Harper and the Conservatives. That means putting on a strong showing during the next term of Parliament.
The NDP, with dozens of young, first-time and unseasoned MPs in the mix, has a steep learning curve. This is unfamiliar territory for the party.
For the Liberals, now is the time to regroup. There are many questions to be asked. What happened? Was the NDP surge a blip? Will there be a resurgence of the Liberals? A working arrangement between the two parties? A merger?
There’s no rush to answer these questions, however, says Laxer, noting a majority government means we’re not likely to see another election before the fall of 2015.
“We’ve got four years to figure some of that out. In the meantime … we’re going to be stuck with whatever Harper wants to do.”
But opponents of the Conservatives, both inside and outside the House, can take some heart: the majority of Canadians reject Harper’s message. That’s something to build on in the interim.
There will be calls for electoral reform – we have a majority government picked by fewer than 25 per cent of eligible voters – and much hand-wringing over whether we’re moving towards a polarized two-party system such as we see in the U.S.
On the latter point, Laxer thinks it more likely any shift would be more in the European vein, where you may have two larger parties and a bunch of others in the middle. And a much more activist population.
It’s far too early, however, to predict what will happen. It will probably take at least one more election to see if Monday’s results are more than an anomaly.