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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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