Election analysis: What Harper hath wrought

By Alan Hustak on June 10, 2011

The True North  is undeniably  stronger  for Conservative supporters  following the recent election but  is perhaps a  little less free for those who believe that liberalism and  social justice still matter.

The Harper government’s 15-seat majority  puts an end to  political uncertainty for the next four years. But the untimely  collapse of the Liberal party  leaves the country without  a voice for non-dogmatic policies, a less invasive government and a fidelity to executive federalism.

Both the Harper  Conservatives and the  new NDP opposition  appear to be little concerned about the possible  balkanization of Canada. In his attempt to slay the dreaded Liberal dragon, Harper  has to contend with  an even more potent force on the land.  It is not the New Democrats who are to be congratulated  for winning 103  seats  in the election, but Stephen Harper. The  reprehensible but effective conservative attack ads    undermined  Michael  Ignatieff’s  reputation by questioning  his patriotism, discrediting his commitment to Canada and portraying  him as an elitist dilettante.  It worked.   And what the Conservatives didn’t do to humiliate liberals, the party itself did.  

Liberals have always campaigned from the left and governed from the centre. This this time they campaigned from the centre giving no voice to their traditional defense of individualism and national unity.  Special thanks for the party’s destruction in Ontario is reserved for the back room strategist who allowed Jean Chretien back on the campaign trail in Toronto; it has to be the same bright light that thought resurrecting Jacques Parizeau from the dead would help the Bloc win seats in Quebec.

Few voters had the foggiest idea of what Liberals stand for.   Although it paid lip service to the ideals of the Just Society, its  leadership  was no longer able to articulate those principles that made the party great.  The "Just Society" was, in it's soul, about ending government by prohibition. Today's nanny-state Liberals wouldn't even understand that. They tried using the nostalgia of Trudeau withhout his substance of individual dignity and self-worth. It didn't cut  it.  

In the squeeze from both the hard core right and the left Liberals were crushed.  In a world of extremes, no one cares about the middle. The voters, specifically in Ontario where the majority was decided,  did what liberals themselves failed to do:  united the left into what for all intents and purposes is now a New Liberal-Democratic Party. These new  “ Layton liberals”  have  parked their  votes with  the NDP leaving the  old natural governing party  in search of a constituency. It won’t be easy. 

In the month since the election liberals remain in a state of absolute  denial.  These are the  facts: 80 per cent of Canadians voted against the Liberal party whether it was the Quebec protest vote replacing the Bloc with the NDP or the more significant new Ontario Liberal Democratic vote. There are now more Liberals in the Senate than there are in the House of ommons.  Harper will re-introduce a budget that will put an end to $4-million in vote subsidies to the Liberal party.   Raising money isn’t going to be easy. No one banks on a loser. In addition, redistribution before the next election will increase the number of seats in the house of commons to 338 adding  three dozen seats in Conservative areas of the country.

It doesn’t much matter  whether  the liberals change their constitution or whem they have a convention to pick a new leader.   Realistically the party has marginal influence, and can’t even think of  regaining power  for another several elections.

One out of every four liberal-minded  voters  who might have been counted upon to vote for  Ignatieff are now in the Layton camp.  In Quebec, one out of every four soft- nationalists defected from the Bloc Quebecois  to the NDP  after  Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois  reinforced her commitment to another referendum that no one wants.   Poised to elect  another  separatist  government, Quebecers once again have demonstrated a high level of political schizophrenia by  opting  to let the NDP safeguard their  federalist interests .  

In  his essay, Two Cheers for Democracy,  E.M. Forster famously wrote that the strength of parliamentary democracy is that it admits variety and permits criticism. But in Britain they don't use the triplemline whip. MPs can exercise their consciences.  Canadians have opted for a neo-conservative  government that stifles criticism  and  at the same time have narrowed the variety of politicial opinion by electing a strong, if in inexperienced,  opposition commmitted  to social justice but only through dogmatic state centralization and intervemtion.

Forster was right.   Democracy  doesn’t deserve three cheers. But as he reminds us,  the brighter shine the little lights, reassuring one another,  signalling: “Well, at all events, i'm still here."



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