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Federal Election 2011

Harper, Let Loose

Ten Tyee contributors share their ideas of what the election signifies. Please add your voice.

Tyee Staff and Contributors 3 May

Colleen Kimmett

"It's like winning bingo on the Titanic," said my fellow election viewer Mitch Anderson, referring to Elizabeth May's win and Jack Layton's minority in the wake of a Harper majority this evening.

Watching the election results roll in with a handful of others in Anderson's apartment in East Vancouver felt indeed like a historic event, even Titanic in the realm of Canadian politics. The Bloc Quebecois is virtually dissolved, its leader resigned, and the Liberal party is, as Peter Mansbridge put it, "near destruction."

What it signifies for the future of Canada is less certain. While some in the room tried to look on the bright side -- this election is a historic first for both the New Democratic and Green parties -- other were worried that, like the fated ship, their Canada is sinking into a deep, dark place. Especially the artists, women and homosexuals.

Jack Layton has a big job ahead of him, but I think he could unite progressives in this country to defeat the Conservatives in the next election. Working with his new Quebecois cabinet will be a challenge, but perhaps the bigger challenge will be breaking through to those who don't identify with either French or English speaking Canada. A victorious Conservative MP Jason Kenney told the CBC's Terry Milewski that internal party polling showed the new Canadian vote, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, was a hugely important to the Conservatives' win.

I am an optimist. When there is a growing chorus for change there will be equal push for things to remain constant. I predict the next four years will be a polarizing, but interesting period in Canadian politics.

Colleen Kimmett writes about food and environment for The Tyee and others.

Charles Campbell

The biggest loser this election night is not Michael Ignatieff or his Liberal party. It is the Canadian electorate. As British Columbians should know rather well, the biggest determinant in the outcome of many Canadian elections is which side of the political spectrum splits its vote. In all but one of the last six elections, the Conservative or Reform/Conservative vote has fallen within two points of 38 per cent. The only true majority tonight is the 60 per cent of Canadians who didn't get a government they supported at the ballot box.

What happened to make this so? Of course it began with that loveless marriage eight years ago of the two parties to the right. Quebec yet again revealed its uncanny ability to vote with one collective mind. Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed remarkable skill in framing issues his way. The Liberals received the final payback for decades of arrogance and, as Jack Layton so resonantly put it during the English debate, sense of entitlement. Finally, the difference in tone of the NDP and Liberal campaign ads revealed that Canadians are more easily swayed by comedy than scare tactics.

And while the prognosticators and heir apparent Bob Rae try and sort out the Liberals' future, the rest of us can now go home for four whole years, thankful we don't have to face an election we don't want. Right?

Charles Campbell is a Tyee contributing editor.

Rafe Mair

There are a great many enormous questions to be asked and answered. It would be foolish to think that Quebec separatism has ended and indeed I would argue that the extent of the BQ loss was bad news. While they were in Ottawa in some numbers, separatism could be handled by dealing with the BQ across the floor. Now it is leaderless even though their twin, the PQ, seems poised to win Quebec provincially. It is as I said in a speech some years ago: "If there were not a Bloc Quebecois we would have to invent one."Separatism will be different in Quebec. Although Stephen Harper has representation, sovereignists will be looking at Jack Layton to express their ambitions and he won't do so. Prime Minister Harper will use the public purse as best he can as is traditional, but I foresee a great deal of ferment ahead.

Separatism has always been a political force in Quebec and, like poison ivy, its venom waxes and wanes with the moment. The target of the next incarnation of separatism will be what Jacques inelegantly called the "ethnics." This has been going on but the pressure will increase once the Bloc and PQ sort out, in a blood bath, who will lead what and where. They can count and know that separation needs these "ethnics."British Columbia will be an interesting study. I think many British Columbians, much like Albertans, have shrunk from voting NDP because they were seen as a party of labour leaders, professors and what my father would call "parlor pinks." Layton, now at least officially leading the "government in waiting," has the opportunity to gain for the NDP the traditional slightly leftish voter who once voted Liberal or Red Tory.

Former Socred minister Rafe Mair's column runs every other Monday in The Tyee.

Fiona Tinwei Lam

The biggest winners are the oil companies and large corporate and monied interests that stand to benefit from a strong Conservative majority. The biggest loser will be our environment, as those oil companies and corporate interests will be given virtually free reign. Big losers will include our cultural institutions, including the CBC and the Canada Council who will likely face further devastating cuts, as well as human rights, international development and arts organizations who were funded historically by the Canadian government (some of whom had already lost funding under the minority Conservative government).

I expect to see Canada's world reputation in the area of the environment to sink further and our foreign policy to become even more hawkish.

The biggest consequence of the solid majority of the Conservatives and the rise of the NDP as our new official opposition is that parliamentary politics will very likely become much more polarized along ideological lines. Issues will be even more sharply defined through the lens of rich vs. poor, have vs. have-nots. But however more effective the NDP might be than the Liberals in giving voice to the disenfranchised and disadvantaged, the opposition remains the opposition, i.e. without real power. Voters have handed Harper the mandate to realize the rest of his right wing agenda, which will continue to decimate what took decades to build.

In fact, Harper's Machiavellian strategy has paid off handsomely. He's effectively destroyed the federal Liberal Party, leaving it demoralized and in disarray. The accumulated wisdom and experience of a party which was the main bastion against the right wing will be lost. Harper has managed to ensure he has an official opposition that will be full of rookie MPs who will need at least a year to figure out the parliamentary process. He knows that corporate business interests will never allow the NDP to come to power, and that his power base in Ontario, Alberta and rural ridings will remain unshakeable. I have consistently voted for the NDP all my life and will continue to do so, but it seems clear to me that, ultimately, Harper has ensured that he and the Conservative Party will retain a stranglehold on power for a very long time indeed.

Fiona Tinwei Lam is a poet and writes about literature and life for The Tyee and others.

Geoff Dembicki

The Conservative majority suggests a business-as-usual trajectory for Canada's climate change ambitions: rapid oil sands expansions, soaring greenhouse gas emissions, reductions targets on paper, if nowhere else. The Tory environmental platform, made public in early April, drew a sharp response from even the non-partisan Pembina Institute. Executive director Ed Whittingham lambasted the government's "five-year track record of failing to meaningfully tackle greenhouse gas pollution and avoiding federal responsibility for oil sands development."

Harper's platform doesn't contain the phrase "oil sands" once in its 66 pages. It does note as an achievement that Canada "aligned our climate-change targets with those of the Obama Administration."

No mention though that Environment Canada fears current provincial and federal policy still leave us three-quarters short of meeting our first serious benchmarks.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy issues for The Tyee.

Shannon Rupp

The 2011 election is historic for a number of reasons, including the astounding number of undeserving candidates rewarded with seats due to... well who knows what was in voters' minds? In Quebec, there's the NDP's Ruth Ellen Brousseau, who barely speaks French and decided to high-ho off to Vegas during the campaign. In Vancouver there's Wai Young, a Tory who flirts with the likes of Ripudaman Singh Malik, and then hides from media when questioned about it. And of course, there's Stephen Harper himself who proved he could treat voters with contempt and they would reward him.

But what struck me as I saw the Orange Crush sweep across Quebec was that the balance of power in the country has changed. This is the only majority government I can recall that won without any support from Quebec -- the Harperites don't need the six seats they managed to preserve there in order to hold power. He proved what every politician from outside of central Canada has always hoped was true: if you pull enough seats in the West and Ontario you can ignore La Belle Province.

Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

Bill Tieleman

The election stop signs were all there -- but the New Democrats and the especially the Liberals didn't want to hit the brakes.

So they forced an election they couldn't possibly win by defeating the Conservatives on a confidence vote in Parliament -- and gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper something he couldn't get without their invaluable help -- a majority government with no chance of being defeated for four years.

Brilliant strategy, except for the results.

And that's not a huge surprise. In my column of March 29 I predicted a majority Tory win was likely -- and many Tyee readers strongly criticized me for doing so, but the results speak for themselves.  At that time I wrote: "Friday's opposition vote to defeat the Conservative government for "contempt of Parliament" was an exercise in self-delusion, testosterone and faulty logic that will surely result in Stephen Harper returning after the May 2 election as prime minister -- and likely with a majority.

"Ipsos Reid found that 49 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe Harper would make the best prime minister, followed by an impressive 34 per cent for NDP leader Jack Layton and an abysmal 17 per cent who want Ignatieff."Harper also leads in the categories of someone you can trust, who will get things done, who has what it takes to lead Canada, who's running for the right reasons, who has a vision you can support and who can manage in tough economic times."Layton comes in second place in each of these categories, while Ignatieff is a distant third in all.

"So why did the opposition parties foolishly believe that the best way to restore those values is to give Stephen Harper an excellent chance to win a four-year majority?" I concluded.

And while the New Democrats are rightly celebrating the historic results that led to their first-ever chance at being official opposition and the hope that a social democratic government is within reach, the reality is that Canada will suffer four years of Conservative rule -- at a minimum. And that's not a prediction anymore.

Bill Tieleman writes a weekly political column for The Tyee and 24 Hours Vancouver.

David Beers

The way you work a chisel into small crevices of very large, seamed stone, Stephen Harper has been patiently exerting for years, inserting his wedge issues here and there, giving them twists to see what might pop loose. He's now been given a much, much larger hammer. Should he wield it to change the campaign finance laws and render his opponents at a huge disadvantage, turning their bulk into dust? Should he pound down the CBC so that the seams of the nation pull loose that much more easily?

A powerful person in media told me a month ago that he wasn't concerned about a Harper majority. This is a federalist state, after all, and the provinces will keep him in line. He expressed that faith as if citing laws of physics. But I find his assumption more ephemeral than, say, gravity. Less able to count upon than, say, the way a rock stays together better if you don't drive into it wedges, and then twist and hammer them, obsessively.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

Tom Hawthorn

The revolution begins today. It will not be the one the New Democrats thought they were celebrating last night.

The movement to remake Canada -- to shred the remnants of the liberal consensus that governed this land for most of the past half-century -- took a giant step last night with the election of a majority Conservative government.

Stephen Harper is one sharp operator. A founding member of the Reform Party, he quit Ottawa to become head of the anti-tax National Citizens Coalition, "on the libertarian side of the conservative movement," as he described it. Fourteen years ago, he addressed a right-wing think tank, during which he made the statement, "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it."

He explained further, "In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance."

He plans to change that.

Whatever his failings as a stump politician, Harper is a brilliant tactician. He manufactured a hostile takeover of the rump Progressive Conservatives, a merger in which his more radical, more muscular style of politics cloaked itself in a brand name that however tarnished was at least familiar and historic.

Many voters remained suspicious of his agenda, hidden or not. He emerged from two general elections as leader of the party with the most seats in a minority parliament. He played his squabbling rivals against themselves; he absorbed criticism from the Terence Corcorans of the world, who decried his high-spending ways; he became familiar to just enough voters to win his long-sought majority. He has still to crack 40 per cent of support at the ballot box. But no matter.

The Liberal party is no more. A big-tent party that existed to exercise power has lost its raison d'etre and will not get it back any time soon. The list of replacement leaders -- Iggy, we hardly knew ye -- includes a tarnished former NDP premier and a handsome son of a former prime minister whose vacuity makes Robert Redford in The Candidate look like Lincoln.

Harper's rival now is the NDP, his fondest wish. While cracking the 100-seat ceiling and achieving official opposition status are worthy of celebration, the NDP seems not to have realized its circumstance. Jack Layton spoke last night as though he was moving into 24 Sussex Dr. and not Stornoway. As the smart-aleck Maclean's writer Scott Feschuk tweeted, "Jack Layton seems to be under the impression he has power or influence in this new parliament. ADORABLE."

Elizabeth May's victory is admirable and a triumph for her supporters. It is also a nice little gift for the Conservatives, as they no doubt welcome the arrival of another party to siphon some of the 60 per cent of the anti-Harper vote.

Another thought for New Democrats -- your party is no more. It is changed. Half the caucus, including the rookie member from Vegas-Blackjack, comes from Quebec, meaning the next leader of the party will need to be at least fluently bilingual, if not Quebecois. Thomas Mulcair is smiling. Aspirants from western Canada will not be. To top it off, the party's stunning success in Quebec owes almost entirely to the leader, "un bon Jack," a good guy. The party has four years to put down roots.

Layton said last night he looked forward to solving problems with the prime minister. I suspect he will wait by the telephone for a long fricking time.

Harper versus the NDP. Sounds very much like what British Columbian New Democrats have faced for 60 years. They know that movie. Usually doesn't end well for them.

Harper has been prime minister now for five years. He will be prime minister for another four. It is the start of a Conservative dynasty.

Tom Hawthorn is a long-time contributor to The Tyee and writes for The Globe and Mail.

Steve Burgess

Stornoway is now social(ist) housing. The division between winners and losers in this campaign was stark. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff saw his party decimated and Bloc chief Gilles Duceppe was brought even lower, both men losing their own seats. Stephen Harper got his cherished majority on the fourth attempt; Elizabeth May made the historic Green breakthrough that should guarantee an invitation to the next debate; and Jack Layton finally took one of Canada's most venerable political parties to undreamed-of heights, slaying the separatist dragon in the process. It was a stunning night.

No one on the political left would ever be likely to say that a Harper majority is good news. Perhaps Layton would not even say so privately. But speaking in purely political terms, the newly rampant NDP could hardly have asked for a better outcome. A majority Conservative government means no election for four years -- and those years should be invaluable for the NDP. As Her Majesty's Official Opposition, they will have growing pains -- possibly serious ones. The biggest NDP surge came in Quebec, catapulting inexperienced and potentially weak candidates into Parliament. Those candidates might well embarrass the party in the early months and years of the next government. Four years will provide seasoning time and a chance for Layton to figure out where his caucus strengths lie. As well, Layton may need to reshape party positions that will now get a lot more scrutiny as his party becomes the first line of defense against Harper's right wing agenda. He'll also have a tricky balancing act to pull off as a federalist leader with a lot of former Bloc supporters.

That is, if Layton even remains on the scene. Energized though he was on the trail there are still rumours floating around that Layton's health issues are more serious than he lets on. An NDP minus Jack would be in very deep doo-doo indeed. Give that scenario the NDP might need every day of that four year mandate to get their parliamentary house in order. The Liberals are down, but this wasn't quite a Mulroney-aftermath two-seat wipe out. If the NDP stumbles, the Liberal Party -- perhaps with its own charismatic NDP alumnus in charge -- could rise again.

You can call this analysis cynical. But if Stephen Harper's 2011 campaign proved anything, it is that cynicism is to politics as motor oil is to a Lamborghini. Once the well-wishers are gone and the cane laid aside, Jack Layton may well send up a little prayer of thanks for the very outcome he campaigned against.

Steve Burgess writes a film and culture column for The Tyee and is author of a new memoir: Who Killed Mom?  [Tyee]

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