April 1st, 2013 | A. Marshall
As the saying goes “if you don’t vote you can’t complain” – or something like that – but is the right to complain all we hope to attain once we cast our vote?
Democracy is treated as though it is some kind of wonderful gift modern societies have been given. Our forefathers dreamed a dream and democracy is what we got. The best part is that few of us seem to take advantage of this gift. Apathy runs rampant and only decreases slightly when an election appears less banal than the last.
Coincidentally, or not, recent Canadian elections have proven to be quite interesting.
In 2010, Calgary incumbent Mayor, Dave Bronconnier, stepped down and the flood gates opened. There were as many as seventeen candidates who intended to run, with fifteen officially filing for nomination. Included in this pool of candidates were people like Ric McIvor, a staunch conservative well known as Alderman of ward 12 since 2001; Barb Higgins, Calgary’s “sweetheart” CTV news anchor; and Jon Lord, a well-known local entrepreneur, former alderman and PC MLA. Concerns with the 37th Street ring road and the new airport tunnel were on the table, making infrastructure a hot topic. In a somewhat unanticipated outcome, Harvard educated Mount Royal University professor, Naheed Nenshi, pulled ahead in the horse race to become the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city. Nenshi ran a strong social media campaign, attracting the largely untapped youth vote.
In 2011, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives pulled off a majority win only months after dissolving parliament due to a motion of non-confidence. This election was monumental in so many ways. The Liberals, plagued with grave leadership issues, won the fewest seats in their history and lost their status as the official opposition; Jack Layton’s charismatic leadership saw the NDP gain the lost Liberal support and become the official opposition; the Green party won their first seat in the House; and the Bloc Quebecois lost party status all together, thanks to the surge of Layton’s NDP (one thing we can thank them for).
When Ed Stelmach finally stepped down as the Progressive Conservative party leader in 2011 there were several people interested in taking his spot. Allison Redford, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, took the prize despite coming in second to Gary Mar after first round voting. Shortly after taking her post in October, Redford dissolved the legislature on March 26, 2012, and called an election slated for less than one month later on April 23, 2012. It became a battle of conservative women with Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party, and Redford as the main front runners. Due to the uncertainty many Albertans felt about Smith’s relatively new party, although consisting of many former PCs, voters turned out in droves to throw their support to the evil they knew rather than embracing change. This enabled Redford to be elected with a majority government.
After a prolonged season of entitled students rioting through the streets of Montreal, the 2012 provincial election in Quebec saw the revitalization of separatism and more of that good ol’ rage Quebecers are known for. The province saw a great divide among those who are still holding on to the separatist dream and those who embraced the progressive Liberal leadership they were previously governed under. Although only by a slim margin, separatist Parti Quebécois leader, Pauline Marois, came out on top to win a minority government. Moments into her victory speech shots went off and one person died – all in a day’s work.
Reflecting on these elections that appeared to draw attention from many around the country and attracted some normally apathetic voters, what can we conclude?
First, we can conclude that people are afraid of change. As seen in the results from Alberta’s 2012 election, people were so afraid of the unknown that they voted to keep the Progressive Conservative leadership in power, despite the fact that a truly conservative party was providing them with an alternative. A year into her term and Redford has been under much scrutiny after the surfacing of shady deals made while she was Alberta Justice Minister and Attorney General. Noticeably, most news sources don’t even have footage asking Redford for her opinions on hot topics anymore, opposition and Wildrose leader, Danielle Smith, is the one being consulted. On top of Redford’s mounting bad press, the release of the PC’s unfavourable 2013 budget sent many Albertans into minor rage. Budgeting for billions of dollars in deficit every year, one of Redford’s top priorities is to borrow money in order to save it. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t fret, it doesn’t make sense to most of us either. The official “Budget 2013” website states that “Budget 2013 delivers the responsible change Albertans want and expect”, however, I am still trying to find an Albertan who wanted or expected it.
Second, we can conclude that even when people think they are voting for something different it is usually just a dressed up version of the status quo. Nenshi was made out to be the breath of fresh air Calgarians needed. “Mayor Nenshi” made headlines across the country as the progressive new leadership icon cities like Toronto should aspire to have. Fast forward three years later and major projects like the Peace Bridge and West LRT have been completed and the airport tunnel commenced, but all were projects initially approved under the former leadership of Dave Bronconnier, and the West LRT still finished late and over budget. Although fluoride was finally removed from the water under his watch, taxes continue to rise and conveniently so do Aldermen salaries. Some would argue, “it's simply impossible to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars while supporting progressive causes, but the key to winning in Calgary is to make people think you have a fiscally conservative mindset.” Nenshi hasn’t shown much to Calgarians in the form of change. Unless you consider spending a considerable amount of time debating random people on Twitter and advocating for food trucks important progressive causes, I don’t see anything Nenshi has done to be particularly impactful.
Third, sticking true to party values proves to be beneficial, but leaderhip is everything. Because the Liberals inched too far left during the 2011 federal election they lost a damaging number of their supporters to the NDP. With Layton’s NDP clearly focused on environment and social programs on the left, and Harper’s Conservatives clearly focused on supporting industry and maximizing government efficiency on the right, the Liberals endangered their entire party by no longer providing a centralized option for Canadians. With the ill-fated timing of Layton’s death only months after the election Thomas Mulcair went on to take over leadership of the party. If leftist voters and Liberals everywhere weren’t already remorseful the day after the election when they realized they had voted in a bunch of first time 18-25 year old MPs they were now. Mulcair, previously flirting with the idea of running Conservative, somehow managed to wheel his way to the top of the NDP and ever since has been digging himself a hole. Bashing the West and working to jeopardize Canada’s economic future with blatant public attacks on the energy sector, Mulcair is likely making Layton roll in his grave. With canonized Justin Trudeau throwing his hat into the Liberal party leadership race, many Liberal defectors are making their way back. The left soon stands to be divided once again and the NDP will have much to lose.
Lastly, we cannot count on Quebec for anything. The only thing they are consistent in doing is being a pain in the ass. All the power to the new separatist leadership, ideally they do separate. When they do, they can take Mulcair with them. Whether or not people decide to vote, the results often still leave much to be desired.