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.
It should be noted, however, that of its 102 seats, 58 were picked up in Quebec, largely at the expense of the province’s independence Party, the Bloc Québécois, which was reduced from the 47 seats it held at parliament’s dissolution to an infinitesimal 4. Like the NDP, the Bloc is strongly socialist in its political orientation, a similarity upon which the NDP was able to capitalize. But after several terms in Parliament, once as the Official Opposition, the _Bloc_’s tiresome, one-note, strident vuvuzela and its lack of productive results, eventually paled upon Quebec voters.
Without a single member from the ROC (Rest of Canada), the Bloc was always something of an anomaly. For Americans to understand this electoral curiosity, they would need to imagine a parliamentary system in which an independence Party representing one of their most populous states, say California or Texas, is regularly elected to the halls of power in order to achieve the secession of the state from the body of the nation. One might call it the Catalan model—Catalonia has long agitated for political dismemberment from Spain, in some respects like Scotland from the United Kingdom and Flanders from Belgium. But in Canada the threat is real and ongoing, far more so than in other Western nations, and in the Quebec referendum of 1995 the country came within a 1% vote differential of breaking up.
What is rather delectable in the current situation is that the NDP now finds itself between a ROC and a hard place. As Official Opposition, with 44 seats won outside of Quebec, it must act as a national unity Party if it wishes to retain credibility and a viable future. At the same time, it must also answer to the demands of Quebec separatists and so-called “sovereignty-association” sentiment if it holds out any hope of retaining the Quebec vote that catapulted it to its present position of eminence. Adding to its predicament, much of its Quebec caucus consists of young people, students and raw first-timers, clearly unready for the exercise of power. For example, one of its candidates, twenty-something Ruth Ellen Brosseau, whose passion is rescuing stray animals, was happily vacationing in Las Vegas during the election, ran in a jurisdiction where she does not live, and does not speak passable French, the language of 98% of her constituents. Only in Quebec, one might say.
It will be interesting times ahead for Canada. The Bloc is moribund for now, but should not be counted out in the future. Liberals will be looking inward, struggling to rebuild. A product of the perennially freakish West Coast, the Green Party with its measly one seat is a non-entity, though it can be expected to side with the NDP in stirring up as much trouble as it can for the Conservatives—and for the country. The socialist zombie is always on the prowl, hunting for victims.
Nonetheless, the Conservative majority augurs reasonably well for the next four years. Cap-and-Trade is going nowhere. The Global Warming scam is likely to be rumbled or at least deflected. Those who desire to split the country will be up against a formidable opponent. The deficit will be tackled. Union pressure will be resisted. Islamic organizations and fellow-traveling NGOs may have a tougher time advancing their programs. Immigration patterns should grow more selective, tailored to the country’s needs rather than to multicultural bromides. Israel will have a good and honorable friend at the United Nations—very different from the hypocritical “honest broker” position adopted by the Liberals and in direct contrast to the pro-Muslim slant of the NDP. The business environment will continue to improve, thanks to less wasteful entitlement disbursement and lower taxes, leading to a more favorable job market. Resource exploitation will be increasingly pursued. The economy will be further strengthened.
All in all, Americans can surely sympathize.