The Canadian Election: A Chance for Real Hope and Change

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On May 2 of this year, Canadians went to the polls and generated a set of electoral results that defied the collective wisdom of the nation’s pollsters, editors, political pundits and think tankers. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was given the majority government that had eluded him over the previous two election cycles—and a substantial majority it was. The best he could have hoped for, according to the commentariat, was yet another minority government presiding over a fractious, multi-Party House of Commons, with little chance of passing a Conservative budget and implementing Conservative legislation. He was regularly lampooned in Canada’s mainstream left-wing media as cold, unlikeable, domineering and “scary,” apparently harboring a “secret agenda” to turn the country into a far right, semi-police state. Fortunately, ordinary Canadians thought otherwise.

The Liberal Party, which styles itself as the “Natural Governing Party” of Canada and which had been in power for most of the last century, met the worst electoral defeat of its long and epochal—and scandal-plagued—history. It was ignominiously reduced to rump status in parliament, a mere 34 seats to the Conservatives’ 167. The Liberals had pinned their hopes on the intellectual lustre of their leader, acclaimed author and Ivy League prof Michael Ignatieff, who had spent most of his career outside of Canada, teaching in Europe and the U.S. He was, presumably, to play the part of Elisha to Pierre Trudeau’s Elijah, donning the mantle of the “intellectual giant” who was also a university scholar and author and who had gradually snaffled the country to the left during his controversial tenure. Trudeau had captivated the public with his charisma and Gallic charm, his eloquence, his marriage to a beautiful (if unstable) woman, his sandal-wearing hippiness, his pirouette behind the Queen’s back when he succeeded in repatriating the Constitution, and many other feats of derring-do that arguably caused far more harm than good.

But Ignatieff, popularly known as “Iggy,” could never arouse the electorate. He came across as pompous, self-infatuated, rather stodgy, and like a modern version of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, seemed uncomfortable flipping hamburgers and kissing babies. Worse, he was seen as more American than Canadian, parachuted in to revive the Party’s flagging prospects. This was perhaps his greatest liability. Canadians tend to distrust Americans and to regard them with a mixture of condescension and pity, when they are not denouncing them as cowboys, rubes and warmongers.

No less surprising than the Conservatives’ stunning victory and the Liberal collapse was the unexpected surge of the hard left New Democratic Party, or NDP, led by the opportunistic Jack Layton. Earning hefty salaries, he and his parliamentarian wife, Olivia Chow, lived for years in subsidized government housing. As well, Layton, a vigorous supporter of mandatory public health care, had no compunction jumping the queue and undergoing medical treatment in a private clinic. No matter. A caviar socialist can do no wrong.

Formerly a minor player in the country’s motley parliament, the NDP’s appeal to the programmatic left had ensured it of a gadfly presence in the House, if not of administrative influence. Under Layton’s clever minstrelsy, all this has now changed. Buoyed by its 102 seats, the NDP constitutes the Official Opposition and brandishes considerable clout in upcoming budgetary and policy debates. In many ways, the NDP, given its close affiliation with organized labor, its courting of the Islamic vote, its intention to pass Cap-and-Trade, impose carbon tariffs, raise the corporate tax rate, withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, and steer hundreds of billions of dollars into social welfare programs, resembles the Democratic Party in the U.S. and José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in Spain.

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  • puc

    Thanks David. As always you have clearly nailed the matter. We in Western Canada, who remember getting the finger from Trudeau, have endured a long night of suffocating arrogance and worse, the gob smacking deceit and boring one dimensional discourse offered by the lib/left. My hope is that the new younger generation will now have access to fresh ideas with this conservative government. The reality of leftist stupidity and liberal moral obtuseness remains but there is a fresh strong breeze filling the air this morning in the Canadian politic. puc

  • davarino

    Leftists are working over time, something they are not accustomed to, trying to figure out how to appear sane to normal people. Its not working out to good so far. I think we conservatives here in the US are getting revved up for 2012, which should prove momentus.

  • Marco

    Harper can't do everything he wants because Canada is a left-wing country on the whole and will be for a long time.So tghey have to govern in the middle, which must be difficult psychologically for this bunch of conservative radicals.And the Conservatives have a more rabid left-wing opposition now to confront them in parlement after their every move. Even a Conservative of the National Citizen Coalition acuuses Harper of having sold out Conservative principles in an article today in Canada's National Post, Canada's premier hard-right paper. He cites a study that concludes that the NDP is "no flash in the pan".

    • USMCSniper

      I suppose rabid left wing minority opposition will obstruct in every way any attempt by the conservatives tobe able to govern Canada, starting with the liberal Canadian media who are all closet Marxists that will go on a propaganda campaign, the likes of Canada has not seen since Chairman Trudeau.

  • Jim

    The Liberal oarty lost because they had hubris;but the N D P won because the Quebec party voters voted for them. A Large % of the N D P seems to have made former Quebecois.
    N D P does not seem to have wide spread support. The percent of leftists does not seem to have grown just changed party affiliation.

    One green party person so as to continue the holy war against kinetic energy.


  • trisha

    Finally, we have a decent government here in Canada. Had the opposition party, NDP, won, it would have been a major disaster. As a Conservative Canadian, I hope and pray that American follows our example next year. All you need is one smart leader! We up north with you all the best!

  • Brian

    It is such a treat to be getting regular columns from David Solway. His intellectual journey from poet and academician (writing superbly on education and literature) to journalist, fueled by a 9-11 epiphany, has been fascinating. I would love to see him get further exposure in the new Sun Media TV.