BY Jim Harding
What will Canada look like October 20th? Will we face more years of Harper’s negative and divisive politics? Will we have a Liberal government that sometimes agrees with Harper’s policies, though not his fear-mongering? Will we have some sort of coalition with the NDP and start moving towards needed daycare, homecare and pharmacare? Will a new government face the challenges of climate change head on?
The three-way split has likely shifted to a 2-party battle for a minority government. But we should never be deluded by national polls; it’s what happens riding by riding that matters. A majority government is unlikely without a massive anti-Harper shift to the Liberals. This would be ironic and tragic for the NDP; Opposition Leader Mulcair, not Trudeau, has been the main thorn in Harper’s side.
Will strategic voting matter? There are many ridings where the Conservatives would for sure lose if opposition parties voted strategically. (Half would go Liberal and half NDP). One is my riding, Regina-Qu’Appelle. However, if people vote locally based on national polls they could help re-elect Conservatives. If the Liberal vote here rises greatly from the 6% in 2011, the split vote will favour Conservatives. This is true elsewhere, such as B.C., where NDP support is strong.
Harper hoped the 78-day campaign would give him financial-strategic advantage. This may backfire. We have rehashed Duffy and the Senate scandal, debated recession and fiscal politics, highlighted the needs of young families and seniors, been reminded of Bill C-51, been overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and then confronted with the still secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP). While we don’t have a long collective memory, impressions have piled up. Most importantly, youth and strategic voting has mounted.
If voter participation goes up dramatically from only 61% in 2011, it’s pretty safe to say Harper’s mean-spirited rule will be over. Sixty-seven percent (67%) want a change of government, while only 26% want Harper to remain. His support may be shrinking to this minority base. If people come out in larger numbers, as seems to be the case with advance polling which is up over 30%, Canadians could finally get their way.
Harper’s strategy has always been to consolidate his base and seed disunity among the rest of us. If this creates disillusionment, and voter participation drops, Harper gains within the first-past-the post system. If participatory democracy gets a boost, we may be dancing in the streets.
Harper is counting on his narrative on “the economy” to maintain power. After dropping in the polls he changed his slogan to “protect the economy”. Negotiating the TPP just before the vote was part of this strategy.
But it hasn’t been smooth. The economy remains fragile. And Harper lost some credibility when he announced $4.3 billion compensation for dairy and $1 billion for the automotive industry. This was an admission that jobs were at risk. And where were these unbudgeted billions to come from without more taxes or cuts?
And, it’s not how many “free trade” agreements Harper negotiates, but whether there is actual trade across a diverse economy that widely benefits Canadians. Harper has steadily moved Canada to a resource trading economy; these commodities are extremely volatile. While Harper is promoting the TPP our trade deficit is at an all-time high of $2.5 billion.
And trade is not the full answer. The federal parties should be talking about such things as food security? Self-sufficiency is vital to achieve sustainability; we don’t want to become even more dependent on precarious corporate-import foods.
Harper tried to position himself as the grand protector of Canadian values. He used the niqab as a wedge issue, repeatedly framing this as new Canadians having to do things a certain way to “join the Canadian family”. This caught opposition parties off guard and touched a strong nerve. But people were then reminded that this involved court rulings and was about minority rights. Then Harper escalated, saying he would consider banning the niqab in federal jobs and services. It came out that there was no one in the federal civil service working with a niqab. This escalation was probably too much, especially combined with Harper’s revoking some citizenships and the revelation that the PMO was interfering in the Syrian refugee selection process.
Harper has never liked the Charter of Rights or even the rule of law and it is questionable whether he believes in the multi-cultural vision of Canada. His view of Canada is a bit flat, which always comes with authoritarianism. Once Justin Trudeau began to passionately assert a more varied, diverse view of Canada, the view associated with his father, support for Harper began to drop. This wasn’t a coincidence.
THE TRUDEAU LEGACY
Harper’s wedge politics may have finally bumped up against the modern Canadian identity. Rather than expecting everyone to accept prescribed behavior to be able to “join the Canadian family”, we are invited to bring along our differences and still be equals. This irks some people, but the niqab involved only two women and the woman who won her right to wear her niqab can hardly be called oppressed. She used the rights we value as Canadians to win her case and she won against the ideological power of Harper’s small-minded government. And it’s impossible to see Harper as advocating for women’s rights when he has resisted the call for an inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women.
If Harper is rejected in a big way then we will have found out that Canada is not as small-minded as it sometimes appears. Now old and new immigrant need to realize that we have a special relationship with the indigenous population. Will the new Canadian government finally make a break-through on this?
We shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch. As I write the Liberals are pulling ahead at 36%, the Conservatives have dropped to 28%, with the NDP holding at 25%. Harper has gained Quebec support through xenophobia, but his numbers are down in Ontario. Will the prairies stick with Harper this time? Will Saskatchewan? And what would it tell us about ourselves if Harper lost ground everywhere else but in the rural prairies?
The large turnout to advance polls is a good sign; it may mean that the majority who want change are going to follow through. It may even be healthy pushback to Harper’s ongoing manipulation of the electoral system. We must ensure that a new government reforms our electoral system so that we aren’t vulnerable to another divisive politician like Harper in the future.
But be sure to vote!