My class was cancelled last night, so I came home to watch the election results come in. It was like a punch in the gut. I had hoped, and polls had indicated, that the worst that could happen was another Conservative minority, this time probably with a New Democratic Party opposition. Instead, almost 40 percent of those who bothered to vote looked at the first government in the Commonwealth ever to be found in contempt of Parliament and gave them the keys.
At one point before I went to bed, I broke down and cried. I woke up at 3:30 this morning and had trouble getting back to sleep. I almost got up then to write this post, which my brain was keeping me awake with.
For those who don't know, when a party wins a majority (155 or more) of seats in the House of Commons, it forms a government that basically can do what it wants, within constitutional limits. It can pass any bill, including budgets. It controls every committee. It handles all appointments. And it can do all this for the next four years, uninterrupted.
Within those next four years, three Supreme Court judges will retire. As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper will appoint their replacements. He packed the Senate, a body he claims to want elected, with partisan appointments. Who can doubt he will do the same with judicial appointments? He has to appoint a new Auditor General, the person who watches government spending. The current AG has been a thorn in the side of the government. Will the new one be a lapdog instead of a watchdog?
We will see the end of public funding of political parties. Many people claim not to like using public money that way, but when it's taken away, only the Conservative Party will have the kind of money needed to run a modern election campaign, unless donation patterns change drastically. We might well see the end or at least the decimation of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, an institution widely known for providing truly fair and balance reporting (without having to claim so).
As for the rest, we'll have to wait and see. I am not comforted by Harper's assurances that he won't do anything radical. What he's been doing so far is quite bad enough.
Stephen Harper is a one-man show. He micromanages everything. One slight hope is that it's more difficult to clamp down on a larger caucus. With more MPs, there are more backbenchers. With a majority, I bet there are plenty of Conservative MPs who are feeling somewhat freed up. And some of them are wingnuts. Harper might have trouble keeping them all in line. There might even be backbench grumbling.
The NDP is now Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for the first time ever. They actually have only one more seat outside Quebec than they had at their previous high in 1988. The rest of the seats come from a remarkable sea change in Quebec. MPs from Quebec now dominate the NDP caucus. All bets are off as to how that will play out. Sadly, however, in a majority government situation, the best the opposition can do it snipe at the government. It can try to get media attention, but it can't actually affect the running of government. As well, at this point I think NDP support is a mile wide and a millimetre deep. It will be interesting to see if the party can change that.
The NDP gains in Quebec came mostly at the expense of the Bloc Québécois, which went from dominating the Quebec federal political landscape to becoming a rump of four seats. Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat and resigned as leader. Lest anyone rejoice over the near death of the separatist party, consider this. The next provincial government is almost certain to be formed by the Parti Québécois, led by Pauline Marois, an ardent indépendentiste. The provincial Liberals are mired in scandal and have been in power for too long. Quebecers will vote for change. Marois is already making plans for another referendum. With a majority Conservative government that has most of its seats west of the Quebec-Ontario border, how difficult do you think it will be for Marois to convince Quebecers that Ottawa is out of touch with Quebec's interests?
And then there are the Liberals. I am a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada. My beloved party, the party of the Wilfrid Laurier, MacKenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Mike Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, and Jean Chrétien, has been decimated. Leader Michael Ignatieff lost his own riding of Etobicoke-Lakeside and resigned as party leader. Curiously, much-reviled former leader Stéphane Dion handily won his Montreal riding.
Harper is on the record as desiring to destroy the Liberals. Between the Conservative attack ads on Ignatieff and the "orange crush" of the NDP, he has nearly got his wish. The old Progressive Conservatives came back from winning a mere two seats in 1993, but then they were absorbed by the Canadian Alliance, which rebranded itself the Conservative Party of Canada. The PCs really exist only at the provincial level. I don't know if the Liberals can come back from this devastating loss or if they will become like the Liberal-Democrats in the United Kingdom, once mighty as the Liberal Party (think William Gladstone) but now a perennial third party (although currently in coalition with the Tories). Without the Liberals in Canada, there would be no centrist party. That would leave voters with a choice between left and right, such as they have in the UK.
I'm feeling as devastated as my party. I migrated to Canada in 1994, a year after the Liberals had formed government. The governments of Jean Chrétien were socially progressive and fiscally responsible. The sponsorship scandal was bad, but nowhere near as bad as it was made out to be. It's nothing compared to what has happened since.
I'm glad that Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, won her seat, defeating Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn. The Greens now have a seat in the House for the first time ever. It was a night of firsts, some good, some bad.
I'm no good at prognosticating. I might be all wrong about Quebec. But I do expect there to be more independent activism in Canada. With Harper holding the only real power and the opposition parties unable to do much, some people at least are likely to hammer away at the Conservatives from the outside. I wouldn't be surprised to see more street demonstrations and other visible forms of activism. But I also expect a lot of whining from people who voted for the Conservatives but will end up not liking what the government does. "I told you so" won't be very satisfying. Harper has already done a lot of damage. He can do a lot more in four years with very little to stop him.