There will be lots of talk about this or that epoch changing development. That’s great for pundits, but we need only look back to the ADQ’s recent victory and then subsequent demise in Quebec politics for a cautionary tale. The New Democrats have a chance to really become a major force nationally, but that is an organizational challenge that will (or won’t) be met over the next four years. Yesterday’s election merely means they have a chance.
The New Democrats’ rise to official opposition also means two other lines of commentary will be everywhere:
1. They will be blamed for Liberal losses and “vote splitting” in Ontario. While it is true that in some ridings the combined vote for NDP and Liberal candidates would have handily beaten the Conservative candidate, it is not clear what people actually mean by vote splitting. Since many liberals would not vote for an NDP candidate and many NDP voters would not vote liberal, I don’t see how one party can be blamed. Also, since the NDP is the official opposition, isn’t it the case that the Liberals are sapping their numbers rather than the other way around? And for those who still believe the antidemocratic line about liberals being a “natural governing” party, there should be some concern about Conservatives encroaching on that territory.
2. There will be much talk in English Canada about how Quebec voters repudiated the politics of the Bloc Quebecois and have “rejoined the federation” or somesuch silliness. If NDP fans need to take a cautionary tale from the right wing ADQ, Bloc haters might well take a cautionary tale from the Progressive Conservatives, who were also “eliminated from federal politics” once in recent memory. How did that work out long term? Granted, the party was reorganized, but still. Moreover, last night’s Anglo CBC commentators who claimed separatism was done-for clearly haven’t been following Quebec politics very closely, with the Parti Quebecois set to unseat the provincial Liberals in the next election. Maybe it won’t happen, but if it does, independence will be a major topic of discussion. And Quebec’s political difference from the rest of the country, as outlined in yesterday’s election, will be a topic of conversation for quite some time.
Of course the real story is Harper’s new conservative majority and what it will mean. I only briefly lived under any majority government in Canada (after arriving in 2004 before Martin returned with a minority) and so I don’t have a good sense of what it really means, as opposed to what people say it means. Certainly my experience of mandates in the US seems pretty irrelevant for gauging federal Canadian politics. It certainly means that we’ll have nine years of Stephen Harper, which is longer than I lived under any American president. And he’ll have a lot of time to put his agenda into place.
There is talk of how the Conservatives are “good for business” in the press, and my left friends seem to see him as an Americanizer (yes, that’s meant as a bad thing). For me, the jury is out on both counts. The Canadian Conservatives have a different style and operate at a different register than American Republicans to my eyes, even though some of the results might be homologous. And the “good for business” thing seems an outright lie to me. They will be good for the rich, certainly, but sometimes what business most needs is regulation. Canadians–even Conservatives–are smug about how the banks didn’t go down during the financial crisis the way they did in the US and elsewhere. That was the result of regulation, and nothing else.
On a personal level, I can at least be fairly certain that I will be able to cast a vote in the next federal election. A small consolation, but meaningful to me.