Canada in context (Part Six)
By Mark Wegierski
Political, constitutional, juridical, and socio-cultural aspects of the origins and development of the Canadian State
In the January 2006 federal election, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were able to win a minority government. With adroit and deft maneuvering, Harper was able to stay in power for over two years.
Finally, he requested the Governor-General to call an election for October 2008. Harper won a strengthened minority government, but a majority as yet eluded him.
In November 2008, the threat of a coalition of the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois emerged. By deft political maneuvering, Harper was able to stave off defeat. It also helped him that the idea of the coalition government was extremely unpopular among the Canadian populace at large.
The Conservatives remained in power until the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois voted down the government in 2011, thus necessitating an election call for May 2, 2011.
In the May 2, 2011, federal election, the Conservatives won a strong majority, with 166 out of 308 seats. The incredible surge of the NDP gave that party 103 seats. The Liberals were reduced to 34 seats – probably their lowest total ever in the federal House of Commons. The Bloc Quebecois was amazingly reduced to four seats. 59 of the 75 seats available from Quebec were won by the NDP.
The leader of the Green Party also won the riding she was contesting – making her the first elected member of the Green Party in the federal Parliament.
So, Stephen Harper had taken a long road to win the first putatively conservative majority since the 1988 federal election. It was hoped that certain important lessons had been learned from the Mulroney years. Ironically, Mulroney’s huge Progressive Conservative majorities were a “defeat-in-victory” for small-c conservatives – what could be called a “false dawn”.
Harper, unfortunately, remained primarily pragmatic. The Left ferociously opposed him, no matter what he did, so he should have clearly tried to do some meaningful things – to attempt to govern in an “activist”, “transformational” way. It was high time to try to at least temper some of the various enormous excesses of the so-called “Trudeaupia” – to try to initiate a process of “recovery” from the “Trudeau revolution”.
Harper largely failed to “govern strategically” and found that his government’s initiatives were sand-bagged by ferocious media and infrastructural opposition – which was something akin to that which happened to Mulroney’s huge majorities.
Ironically, Harper was, to some extent, a visceral conservative – in contrast to Mulroney.
As the restoration of the traditional names of the armed services (Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Army) indicates, Harper was sometimes willing to undertake bold initiatives that suggested a desire for a true recovery of Canadian identity and history. But it wasn’t enough.
As of the October 2015 election, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau (Pierre’s son), swept into power, mostly undoing whatever fragmentary conservative initiatives Harper might have undertaken.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected in 2019 and 2021, albeit with a minority. However, they enjoyed the frequent support of the NDP in the House of Commons, which was cemented in 2022 when the NDP agreed to back the Liberals until 2025, in exchange for certain legislation being brought forward, such as pharmacare and dentalcare.
On September 10, 2022, the young, dynamic Pierre Poilievre won the leadership of the Conservative Party in decisive fashion. His candidacy and victory have clearly energized the Conservative Party. Nevertheless, despite his rhetorical sharpness, Poilievre faces an uphill battle to win a Canadian federal election. Most of the Canadian media is ferociously opposed to him, and will work assiduously to undermine his endeavors.
Certainly, Canada has been marked by massive social transformation and upheaval since the 1960s, and it is highly likely that these trends will continue. For example, Canada was the third country in the world (after Belgium and the Netherlands) to recognize “same-sex marriage.” At the same time, it has embraced multiculturalism, affirmative-action (called “employment equity” in Canada), and so-called diversity with a great intensity. Trying to somehow temper the decades of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s “activist”, “transformational” politics will be very difficult for any successors to Harper. Nevertheless, the existence and continuation of a more meaningful Canadian polity might well depend on those successors’ ability to challenge at least some aspects of the “Trudeaupia” that has increasingly engulfed Canada.
Author’s note: Partially based on an English-language text that appeared in Polish translation under the title “Kanada – eksperyment wielokulturowosci.” (Canada: an experiment in multiculturalism) trans. Olaf Swolkien. Miedzynarodowy Przeglad Polityczny (International Political Review) (Warsaw, Poland: Fundacja Srodkowoeuropejska – The Foundation for Central European) no 5 (no 10) (December 2004-January 2005), pp. 221-231.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based, Canadian writer and historical researcher.