For Canadian progressives, last week’s federal election result was the best of times.
The impressive and historic victory of the NDP to official opposition status is nothing short of a mammoth political ground shift.
Make no mistake, this new powerhouse of progressives from all over Canada will change the debate in our country. And it is a debate that needs changing.
Canadians will be exposed to progressive ideas, policy options and alternative choices. We will see that these choices are not impossible or pie-in-the-sky, but pragmatic options if we wish to build on Canada’s values of caring and sharing.
It will be a beautiful contrast to the ideology, policies, priorities and ruthlessness that we will, no doubt, continue to see from the governing Conservatives.
Also the worst
But to be clear, last week’s election of the hard-right Conservatives represented, to quote Charles Dickens, the worst of times. Our nation will not be better off for it.
Somehow, 5.8 million Canadians were able to overlook Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s contempt for democracy, contempt for Parliament. This I find, perhaps, the most disheartening because it speaks to something lost. It reflects a serious democratic deficit or perhaps even democratic crisis in our country.
Somehow 5.8 million Canadians, enough to give Mr. Harper his long-coveted majority, were able to overlook his ruthlessness or what political commentator and author Murray Dobbin has called a personality disorder.
The question, according to Mr. Dobbin, is whether Mr. Harper will be able to resist his natural instinct for vengeance. If not, we must prepare ourselves for the dismantling of “as much of the post-war social contract” as can be done in four years of absolute power.
Somehow, 5.8 million Canadians were able to support spending a whopping $30 billion or more on fighter jets at a time when the country is in deficit; at a time when our government really needs to focus on job creation and addressing the country’s growing infrastructure decline.
Somehow, 5.8 million Canadians thought that another $6 billion in tax cuts to corporations like banks and oil companies was justified, instead of investing just $1 billion to lift every Canadian senior out of poverty.
The Harper crime bills are going to cost Canadians billions and billions of dollars. This has more to do with ideology than with what makes economic sense.
Yet paying for all of this means other programs and services will have to be cut, but Mr. Harper was able to avoid answering what exactly those services and programs would be during the entire five-week election campaign — easy to do when you only allow five media questions per day.
And the media who have been bullied perhaps as much as any other group by this prime minister continued to take his battery, putting up with his rules even though his rules represented a chipping away at their societal and democratic role.
Mr. Harper continued during the election campaign as he always has. The politics of division, fear and wedge were in full force as they rolled into riding after riding, pitting one group of voters against another.
But in Newfoundland and Labrador, his message once again fell flat and it was not for the reasons Conservatives would like us to believe — such as the carryover of the ABC campaign.
It was because the people of our province are, for the most part, not hard-right Conservatives. We are a progressive people and that was reflected in the election results.
And while 5.8 million Canadians supported Mr. Harper and his Conservatives, 7.3 million voted for either the NDP or the Liberals. Over 61 per cent of Canadians voted for something other than Stephen Harper — a clear majority and yet that is not reflected in our Parliament.
So as our country becomes more polarized politically, we can expect the voices for electoral reform to pick up a lot of steam.
This debate is long overdue in our country. The first-past-the-post system — or horserace politics — has no place in a modern civil society. Too many voices are silenced in such a system.
For Canadians, the choices are about to become very clear and quite stark as we are presented with two completely opposing visions for our country.
Jack Layton and the NDP will put forward a vision of Canada that really does talk about people’s issues — like the high costs of medicines and how we can collectively do something about it. We can expect ideas and policies that lean towards how we can collectively work together so everyone benefits.
From Stephen Harper we can expect more policies and tax changes that support the notion of “me” rather than “we.” We can expect him to move the country further in the “fend-for-yourself” direction.
And while on election night, Mr. Harper promised Canadians there would be no surprises or radical measures, we all should take such a promise with a very big grain of salt.
I fear the social fabric of my country is in danger. I fear all of the things I believe in are about to be under siege. I fear for the damage the Conservatives will inflict on our great nation.
But mixed with that fear is a burst of hope. Hope that the progressive forces elected in such large numbers to our Parliament will be able to temper the carnage and build for tomorrow.
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Her column returns May 21.