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LANA PAYNE: Harper 2.0? No thanks

A Michael de Adder cartoon from March.
A Michael de Adder cartoon from March. - SaltWire File Photo

Not quite four years ago, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and the entire Atlantic region kicked Stephen Harper to the curb.

Yet, if the polls are accurate, many Atlantic Canadians are considering giving Harper 2.0 a chance.

Our memories can’t be that short.

In 2015, all 32 federal Atlantic seats went red in resounding fashion, sweeping over experienced, smart, principled and well-liked New Democrats like Jack Harris and Megan Leslie. We could have benefited from them in the 42nd Parliament.

So badly did Atlantic Canada want to send a message to the Harper Conservatives, they voted strategically and without question. The Liberals won between 51.6 per cent of the vote in New Brunswick to 64.5 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Election night, as I watched Jack Harris go down by a handful of votes, I remember thinking this kind of majority would not be good for democracy in the region. But Harper had to go. A message needed to be sent.

Let’s not forget why we sent it.

The kinder, gentler Canada many of us had grown to love had been changed before our eyes. Workers were told to work longer or take a reduced pension. Veterans were treated abysmally. Women’s equality was set back. Child-care agreements were cancelled. Workers’ rights were under attack. Wealthy Canadians continued to take home more and more of the economic pie. Corporations banked billions in tax cuts.

And Canadians had had enough of the Harper abrasive style of divisive politics.

Indeed, if progressive-minded Liberals were being frank, they likely learned that they would have benefited from a few left voices in opposition across the Atlantic region as they pushed for advances internally in their own caucus and party.

The political landscape has changed dramatically in four years. Canada no longer has a single female premier. We went from six to none between 2013 and 2019.

There are currently seven provincial Conservative governments across the country. Although the P.E.I. Progressive Conservatives, who currently lead a minority government, are not in the same category as the harder-right Conservatives in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Recent polls have the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck federally. Some polls have the Conservatives in the lead and in safe majority territory. A poll last week by Abacus Data had the Liberals and Conservatives tied federally in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the NDP sitting at 14 per cent.

For those who resoundingly threw the Harper’s government out, and did so for a multitude of good reasons, it’s time to take stock.

Do you think the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer are going to be better than what we experienced under the Harper government? He and many of his bench colleagues were part of that government. Lisa Raitt. Michele Rempel. Pierre Poilievre.

Scheer’s provincial friends are dismantling public services at a rapid pace. Look no further than Ontario where the Ford government has attacked everything from services for children with autism to public health care to education, firing 3,000 teachers.

In the past two weeks, libraries got the boot and the government cancelled a program to plant 50 million trees. Every day another program or service is cut or gutted, while political friends are rewarded with plum jobs and the rich get a tax cut.

In Alberta, Jason Kenney is just getting started.

The majority of Canadians do not vote Conservative and yet Conservatives benefiting from the first-past-the-post electoral system are running the vast majority of the country and in many cases with a minority of the popular vote.

In other words, more people voted against the Conservatives or for something else, and yet the Conservatives have the majority of the power.

In the Newfoundland and Labrador election, the polls also say it is too close to call. We could be headed for a minority government, but interest in the election is low.

As voters, though, we can’t allow the political parties to sleepwalk through the election. We still need to do our due diligence and see where they stand on the things that matter to us, whether it is health care, education or workers’ rights.

If the country ends up being run by conservative politicians both federally and provincially, how is that a fair outcome when the majority of Canadians have voted for something else? What will it mean for important challenges like climate change?

What will it mean for workers’ rights or equality? Or health care or public pensions or the things that we haven’t even considered. Such is the case for many Ontarians and their experience with the Ford government, many of whom are suffering from a bad case of buyers’ remorse.

This isn’t fear-mongering. Do you think the parents of autistic children who voted for Doug Ford thought for one second he would slash services for their kids?

Who we vote for does matter to the kind of Canada we get. A gentler, kinder one or a harsh, divisive, angry one.

It’s up to us.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at [email protected] Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.

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