|As the polls accurately predicted, Canada punished the Paul Martin Liberals for sloppy administration (allowing a small group of party stalwarts to steal taxpayers’ money for the party and to line their own pockets) and for the most astonishly inept election campaign in history (one might almost think their campaign managers and ad firms wanted them to lose), and half-heartedly elected the opposition Conservative Party with a minority win. Martin himself has resigned. Summary results:
If we had proportional representation like more enlightened countries, the Liberals would have 92 seats, the Conservatives 111, the NDP 52 and the Bloc 34. There would be 15 Greens in parliament. So what happened last night is that 6% of the population, one out of 16 Canadians, decided to punish the Liberals and voted Conservative instead. Not exactly a conservative mandate, 36%, when all four opposition parties are left-of-centre. I know quite a few of these moderate switch voters, and I know they are going to be surprised at what Harper does next.
The Conservatives are thirty-one seats shy of a majority, so they will not be able to pass any legislation without support from either the Bloc or the outgoing Liberals. The Conservative strategy will be very similar to the one that the Liberals have most often used when they were in a minority government position: Press forward with legislation that they want, but which is moderate enough that voters won’t want another election to be fought over it, even if they don’t really like it, and dare the opposition to vote against it and force an election. The Conservatives clearly believe that the 6% increase in their support represents momentum that they can use to win a majority in the next election, which will allow them to introduce their more radical right-wing agenda: Curtailing of rights for women (e.g. right to choose), minorities (e.g. gay marriage), opting out of Kyoto, and embedding ‘property rights’ in the constitution (which will entail the unlimited right to pollute, abuse animals and maintain weapons on one’s own ‘property’). What they will do first on their ‘dare to force another election over this’ agenda will be tax cuts for the rich (a promise they certainly made to the Big Oil interests that bankrolled their hugely expensive election campaign). Harper was a great fan of Reagan and likes the discredited idea of ‘trickle-down’ economics — lavishing huge government gifts on the ultra-rich in the hope that maybe a bit of their excess wealth will trickle down to the little guy. They are also committed to much more defence (that’s how we spell it in Canada) spending and opting in to Bush’s loony, ineffective and absurdly expensive Star Wars program. And in another promised act of bribing taxpayers with their own money, he will cut the federal sales tax (GST) from 7% to 5%. This will be papered over with some ineffectual ‘get tough on crime’ bills and a new law to reduce the risk of corruption in government, which will create more work for auditors but otherwise accomplish nothing. All of this will cost a fortune, and, like Mulroney, the last Conservative prime minister, Harper will get Canada out of the black and into the red — watch for huge deficits during Harper’s administration.
My guess is that these first acts will not bring down the government. The first stumbling bock will be the plan to cancel the Liberals’ extensive national child care program and replace it with a small tax credit program. The Liberals will be opposed to that, and Harper will have to bribe the separatist Bloc to get them to go along with it. Watch for a set of significant transfers of power and more money to the provinces as a sop to the Bloc in return for passage of this. Or Harper may agree not to take sides on a 2006 or 2007 referendum on Quebec sovereignty in return for Bloc support on the child care rollback (Harper actually received a small majority of non-Quebec seats in yesterday’s election). Harper used to be a Western separatist and, like the Bloc, sees a limited role for the federal government other than national defence.
Then it will get interesting. With Paul Martin having resigned, the neocons have the chance to put one of their own at the head of the Liberals as well. Michael Ignatieff, an opportunist with dangerous right-wing views (he supports a ‘lite’ form of American imperialism as necessary to enable democracy in struggling nations, and approves of the use of torture to extract information and confessions from prisoners) has rushed back to Canada (he had been living in the US as a Harvard professor) and last night won a comfortable victory as a Liberal in a safe Toronto riding. He was parachuted into this nomination by the Liberal party establishment, to the outrage of the local Liberals, whose own candidate was forced out. He is now the odds-on favourite to succeed Martin as the next leader of the Liberal party. If (when) this happens, Harper will have the chance to introduce some of his more extreme right-wing agenda items. My prediction is that Ignatieff’s victory, and his subsequent support of some of Harper’s very un-liberal proposals, will cause mass defections to the NDP from Liberal ranks, and create just the crisis Harper needs to try for a majority in the next election, probably early next year. Just as the moderate Conservatives were swallowed up by Harper’s right-wing Reform Alliance party, the moderate Liberals could then be swallowed up by the more progressive NDP.
If the referendum in 2006 or 2007 ends in Quebec separation (which I think is reasonably likely) we might then face an election in the ‘rest of Canada’ with two polar choices — Conservatives or the NDP.
Ugh…this is all too ugly to think about. Mulroney and now Martin: What is it about Canadian politicians from big business backgrounds that they screw up entrenched 150-year-old political parties so badly they destroy them?
Well, I have been working on a proposal to introduce tax shifting in the federal government, from employment and income taxes to taxes on production from non-renewable resources, pollution and waste. Now we have a prime minister determined to abrogate Canada’s support for the meagre Kyoto Protocol, maybe it’s time to work on my novel instead.
What progressive Canadians can do:
Once again, wherever you look, voters seem doomed to repeat past mistakes, and the parties and media seem determined to keep them uninformed. And you wonder why I am so often pessimistic about our future.