Tuesday, October 20, 2015


In a previous blog, I speculated on the aftermath of the Canadian general election. Like most people, I thought that the result would be a minority government for one of the major parties, and that the time period after the election (starting today) would be more intense and more interesting than the campaign itself.

I was wrong.

In one of the most remarkable results in modern political history, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have risen from the political dead to form a strong majority government. There will be no need of all the machinations, negotiations and manoeuverings I predicted would be necessary to make a minority work.

Justin Trudeau is Canada's 23rd Prime Minister, and he will be for the next four years. The Liberals will have free reign to implement their programme for the next four years. Liberals everywhere are rejoicing: Conservatives everywhere are wringing hands and planning their next campaign because, after all, this is what Conservatives do.

Whether the reader feels that the result was a good thing or the end of the world, three things have become evident.

First, anyone who underestimates Justin Trudeau does so at their peril. The Conservative attack ads, which aired well before the election writ was dropped, were highly disrespectful and refused to admit that Trudeau had any real ability. The Conservative campaign manager, at the beginning of the campaign, suggested that if Trudeau showed up for the first debate wearing pants, he'd exceed expectations. And the NDP's Tom Mulcair often referred to Trudeau by his first name only, mimicking the Conservative tactic, and spoke in a condescending manner to the Liberal. Trudeau kept his composure and showed a steady grasp of how politics really works. He is not the intellectual giant his father was, but he is highly intelligent, very disciplined and has a political acumen worthy of any Prime Minister.

Second, anyone who thinks the Conservative Party have suffered an irreparable setback are woefully mistaken. The Conservatives play hard-ball politics all the time. They are never quiet, never satisfied, always looking for ways to attack their opponents and always ready for a fight. Many find this attitude offensive, but one has to tip their hat to the Conservative fighting spirit. Stephen Harper has worn out his welcome ( probably long ago: he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of Canada's least likeable Prime Ministers ), but the Conservatives have a wealth of people to tap for a leadership role. They are not done, not by a long shot.

Finally, what is abundantly evident is that our electoral system is in need of an overhaul. One of the loudest criticisms levelled at the previous Conservative government is that, despite the fact that it enjoyed a majority, it only had around 40% support among those who voted. Now, in 2015, we have a strong Liberal majority .... with around 40% support of the electorate. Clearly, the "first past the post" system needs to be modified by a type of proportional representation. Otherwise, vote splitting and strategic voting will result in governments that do not accurately reflect the will of the people. Add to this the very real need for Senate reform, increasing voter turnout, reasonable political advertising ( also known as propaganda ) and Mr. Trudeau will be pressed to seemingly work against his good electoral fortune and bring about reforms that will make Canada more democratic.

As we digest the results, other realities will need to be addressed: our relationship with Indigenous Peoples, the disparity between rural and urban Canada, our role in the world, and our environmental policy come to mind. Justin Trudeau cannot solve all of these at once. But he will be sorely pressed to get to work on them soon. Hopefully, he will get a short "honeymoon" period in which to set priorities and plan. Then, facing fierce opposition from both Conservatives and NDP, he must get down to real work.  He shouldn't get a free pass from anyone. (That includes me, despite the fact that I like him and think he'll do well.) He must deliver. It is imperative that he not fail.

And for the rest of us, we must calm down, get on with real life, but observe closely. It's our Parliament, after all. We must insist that ALL parties make it work effectively.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


When Stephen Harper called the election at the beginning of the summer, he was hoping for two things. First, he hoped that the campaign would go so long that the Canadian public would lose interest, particularly in the summer months. And second, he was hoping that other issues would crop up, distracting from two negative aspects of his administration: the Mike Duffy scandal and the poor performance of the Canadian economy.

He was incorrect on the first item. Canadians have been engaged and interested in the campaign from day one, and have been more so since Labour Day. Whether this will translate into a larger voter turnout on Oct.19 remains to be seen. But he was correct on the second item. Since hiring an Australian "rain maker" to manage a faltering campaign, the Conservatives have been able to turn a relatively small item, the wearing of a niqab by two women in citizenship ceremonies, into a major issue, particularly in Quebec.

What has happened throughout the campaign is a series of wild fluctuations in support for all the major parties. For many weeks, the NDP under Tom Mulcair had been cruising along based on his solid if unspectacular work as Opposition Leader and the good feelings generated in Quebec from the last election. Then, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have responded by his perhaps surprising good performance on the campaign trail and especially in the TV debates. Finally, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, trailing throughout the early weeks and portrayed as a tired and arrogant government which needed to be turfed out, have rebounded based on hot-button items such as the niqab and security and perhaps a new trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations.

This means that the election on Oct. 19 is by no means certain. As of this writing, the Conservatives have a slight lead in the polls nationally over the Liberals, with the NDP seemingly bleeding badly. Depending on how this support plays out in ridings, it seems that two results will occur. Either the Conservatives will win another majority in a similar way to their victory in 2011 (caused by slim wins in many ridings over their rivals and a split in votes on the "left" between the Liberals and NDP ), or the results will give the three parties fairly even numbers in the House of Commons.

If the second scenario proves to be true, get ready for even more intense campaigning. If you thought this election campaign was long, nasty, at times laughable, and edgy, the aftermath in a three- or two-way split of seats will keep us guessing.

If Mr. Harper emerges with the most seats, but not a majority, he will undoubtedly try to form a government. It will not last long. Both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have said there would be no way they'd support a Conservative minority. Should Mr. Harper try and fail to win the confidence of the House, it would all fall into the hands of the Governor-General, Mr. David Johnston.

Mr. Johnston is a capable though quiet individual, which is probably why he is well suited for the Constitutional task he may be given. As Governor-General, he has the Constitutional authority to ask anyone he pleases to form a government. But the practice is that he takes advice and acts upon it from the Prime Minister. There will be no prize given for anyone who correctly guesses what advice Mr. Harper will give Mr. Johnston.

But the Governor-General would be well advised to listen to the mood of the country. And if the mood were to suggest that the voters do not want another election so soon after this one, then Mr. Johnston may indeed ask either Mr. Mulcair or Mr. Trudeau to try to form a government. And this is where it gets interesting.

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau do not necessarily like or trust each other. Just because their parties are both seen as left of centre, they don't always see things the same. A political marriage between these two men would be rocky, to say the least. But, in order for either of these men to form a government, they would need to have the support of the other party to make it work, certainly in the short term. And, if the marriage is seen to work, pressure would be immense on the two parties to consider a permanent merger, as happened many years ago between the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Reform Party. That merger ended the continual splitting of the vote on the right and allowed the new party, the Conservative Party of Canada, to form governments. The current Liberals and NDP would have to seriously consider such a permanent move. If that move happens, it would undoubtedly be over the objections of the current leaders. It would then be probable that such a merger would spell the end of the careers of both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau.

(The other parties, the Bloc Quebecois under Mr. Gilles Duceppes and the Green Party under Ms. Elizabeth May, will probably not win more than a handful of seats and will probably not be factors in the election result. But, if the three main parties are in a virtual three-way tie, these smaller parties may have a role to play. )

But, unless we want another election soon, this short term marriage is our best option failing a majority for the Conservatives or the others. We must keep in mind that our task, as voters, is to elect a Parliament, not necessarily a Government. It is up to the Parliamentarians we send to Ottawa to make a Government work. That is the nature of Canadian democracy, which is badly in need of rejuvenation.

Whatever the case, the result on October 19 will probably not end anything, unless Mr. Harper can squeeze out a majority. Failing that, we will see more manoeuvering and posturing than is going on now. As voters, we can't stop paying attention. We must be alert and demand that our elected officials do what we wish. If we do not want an election, they had better not plunge us into one. And the blame game, if another election is sprung upon us, will be explosive. Which leader wants to be portrayed as the one who forced us back into another divisive election? So, the campaign will continue: nasty, bitter and never-ending.

We get the government we deserve. If we are disinterested and unengaged, Parliament will continue to be a gong show. But, if we stay involved and vote in large and significant numbers, it will show the Parliamentarians that we demand they make the Government work. And it will convince the Governor-General that we, and not the Prime Minister, decide what is best for the nation.

Stay tuned.