Canada's New Future
January 11th, 2012
Just over a year ago, a majority Conservative government was still uncertain. The Liberals were stagnant, the NDP were stagnant, and the Bloc seemed to be slightly more popular than usual in Quebec. This was the autumn of 2010. Then, suddenly, the gusts of change started to blow across Quebec and a vast portion of Eastern Canada. With it came a thick, orange dust that threatened to dismantle and blow apart the country's status quo.
For nearly two decades, Canada had been a centrist nation run by left-of-centre (sometimes right) Liberals who always seemed to be opposed by two forces: the far right and the far left. Jack Layton had run in two elections and had never successfully broken the NDP's glass ceiling of public support. Even though not many Canadians liked Harper, the Liberals seemed lost and trapped in a constant state of decline following the election of Paul Martin. The Liberal government was about to lose its long, tight grip on Canada. First the Liberals slipped into a minority, then they lost their status to Stephen Harper's new Conservatives in 2006. Since then it has been a downward spiral for Canada's moderate elites.
On May 2nd, 2011, the Conservatives won their first majority government with the help of Jack Layton's far left NDP. The Liberal's Ignatieff disaster reached its lowest point, plummeting the Liberals to 34 seats in the House Of Commons, down from 77. The sudden and unprecedented NDP surge helped the Harper Tories win at least 10 extra seats across Canada, adding success to the 156 seats they had already won without the NDP's help through vote splitting. Many NDP supporters will adamantly deny their role in helping elect Stephen Harper's majority. However, analysis has suggested that NDP votes in 10 separate ridings were bled from swing Liberal voters, causing the Tory candidates in those ridings to win their seats. One such riding was the Bramalea-Gore-Malton within the GTA, which saw incumbent Liberal MP, Gurbax Malhi, fall to third place behind the NDP's candidate. This allowed Conservative candidate, Bal Gosal, to win his first seat in the House Of Commons.
It was a right-wing party winning a majority mandate with the help of a far left, socialist political party that helped lay the ironic cornerstone of Canada's new conservative future. Following the death of Jack Layton, it appears less likely that the New Democrats will be able to build the same cult of personality around any of their new leadership hopefuls. It was, in fact, Layton's charismatic and populist persona that helped bolster the NDP surge, not the NDP's misguided, foolish, and extraordinarily unrealistic platform. The same platform that was quick to fall under scrutiny from the very socialist idealists who helped write it; out of fear that it may threaten their hopes of, one day, attaining a majority leadership in the House. It quickly became evident that their hyper, pro-labour leftist agenda could only erode their position as a “government in waiting”.
As we start 2012, we find ourselves living in a country that could become just as politically polarized as the United States. The Liberals have fallen from grace. They were Canada's only centrist party – the only balancing factor between two sides. They were the mediators. They pinched from left-wing ideologies just as often as they pinched from right-wing philosophies, always attempting to balance the beam. Their fall began shortly after they began to adopt stronger, leftist principles – probably in an attempt to secure some swing NDP votes. Under the leadership of Stephane Dion, the Liberals advocated a carbon tax, more regulation in the business sector, higher taxes, and much of what the NDP and Layton had been advocating for decades. Soon, the line that separated the Liberals from the New Democrats began to blur. That, in combination with Layton's personality, provoked many Liberals to jump ship, and many of them weren't just swing voters. Long time Liberals became aggravated by Ignatieff and they were failing to see the differences between their party and the New Democrats. As May 2nd neared, Liberal mistakes began to prove fatal.
It is unlikely that the Liberals will stay down for very long. They have until 2015 to rebuild themselves, or bite the bullet and merge with the NDP; an idea that both parties currently refuse to accept as a possibility. Although it's likely that the Liberals will again rise to par with the NDP, it's unlikely that they will have what it takes to actually surpass them. This would leave Canada's leftists in an immovable position as permanent underdogs, constantly waiting for the Conservatives to make a fatal error. Even then, enough voters on the left would have to choose between one or the other in order to defeat the Tories in any election. Failure to swing enough voters would end in another stalemate between the NDP and Liberals, leaving yet another Conservative minority or majority government for them to complain about. Even if the Liberals were to make a subtle move to the right in an attempt to dig into the Tory base, this would open the door to a possible NDP government. Thus, the Liberal's situation could be permanently doomed.
The Conservatives only have the favour of 40% of Canadian voters. The other 60% belongs to the moderates and the left. The majority of the House Of Commons is occupied by the right and the left, leaving the moderates with significantly reduced influence. The centrist influence has been in chronic decline since 2006. Our country's path towards becoming a two-party state seems to have less obstacles than it did just twelve years ago. It's either a road to ruin or a road to a new and interesting future in Canadian politics. It would be a future with a consolidated right and a consolidated left. In order to successfully consolidate Canada's left wing, however, the Liberals and New Democrats will have to make some compromises, just as the Canadian Alliance and The Progressive Conservatives did when Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay consolidated the right. Unless the Liberals are able to re-emerge as Canada's “natural governing party”, it's unlikely that the Conservatives will have a replacement. With no election until 2015, the Tories have a lot of time to convince Canadians that a new conservative future is in everyone's best interest.
In three years, Canadians may find themselves fully embracing conservative values and economics. The NDP may have chosen the wrong leader and declined back into obscurity. The Liberals may have rallied their troops and regained their pre-Dion values. It will be the next three years that determine what kind of Canada we will be living in by 2015. Although the Tories have won their long coveted majority, their victory will not be their most pivotal moment. Their most important moves are still ahead of them and they're still a long way from calling a checkmate. It will be the next three years that determine whether Canadians are ever going to need, or want, the Liberals again. A long record of perpetual Tory successes could lead to an inevitable merger between Canada's left wings in an attempt to end a Conservative government, while a failure may see a full resurgence of liberal values – or worse: a surge in socialist values.