close to ten years ago, i wrote a piece about why it was ok to be a little happy about the 2006 election result, the one that first saw stephen harper brought to power, albeit with a minority government. believe it or not, i stand by that post. the liberals had been in power close to fifteen years and they had become corrupt and ineffective. they needed to be knocked down a few pegs. i didn't agree with harper's policies, but i'd hoped that being in a minority, he'd be forced to temper the worst of them in order to negotiate support with others. in the end, of course, he chose to govern as if he were in a majority, constantly threatening to make every vote a confidence vote and throw the country into an endless cycle of elections. he clamped down on science, fomented fear and xenophobia, disenfranchised canadians living abroad, established rules for "security" that opened the door to a full-on police state, coldly ignored the plight of first nations, inuit and métis people... these have not been good times.
but for my own part, i gave the guy a chance and i feel like that's the least i could do.
for some reason, i'm finding that harder to manage today. maybe it's because my very first political experiences involve supporting my aunt and her party in their attempts to unseat justin trudeau's father. maybe it's because justin reminds me of the wealthy, privileged boys in high school who used to throw things out of cars at me and my other left wing freak friends. maybe it's because i feel like his party stole jack layton's dying words and used them against the party he'd worked so hard to build. or maybe it's because i've seen a lot of liberals put on a progressive mask during past campaigns and then do an about face once elected.
although the complexion of the house of commons has changed greatly, it's hard to square an appetite for "real change" by replacing the conservatives with the same party that has run the country for most of the time it has existed. we do have a real weakness here- both our citizens and our media- for interpreting a change of faces at the front of a party with a fundamental change in the party [not just for the liberals]. perhaps that was why no one questioned justin trudeau on his party's record in office.
but if i can find ten reasons to be happy about the election that first brought stephen harper to power, i can damn well find ten reasons to be happy about this.
1. harper is gone. our long national nightmare is over. maybe not in every part of the country, but make no mistake, the reason that the tide turned so suddenly in favour of trudeau was because so many people were determined that they would not stand for another minute of him in office [he is actually prime minister for the next several weeks, until justin trudeau is sworn in -ed.] and shifted their votes to the party who had historically seemed most likely to defeat him. perhaps the sweetest moments of the campaign for many of us were the ones where we watched harper's ads where he promised that this election was not about him, aired because it was clear that his personal unpopularity was the greatest threat to his party. hateful person forced to stand on national television and admit he is hateful and beg for his life.
2. a lot more people voted. with canada's voter participation falling to around 60% for the last two elections, it was pretty clear that we had a problem. to address that problem, stephen harper made it more difficult or flat-out impossible for some people to vote, through the provisions of the "fair elections act", possibly the most ironically named legislation in canadian history. this time, voter turnout was 69.4% and in eastern canada, where the anti-harper tide was so strong that the liberals took every single seat, voter turnout was in the mid-to-high seventies in places. that's a remarkable level of participation. whether they thought trudeau was so wonderful or harper was so evil, people were motivated to make a statement. prime minister elect trudeau has promised to repeal the "fair" elections act. let's hold him to that.
3. more indigenous representation. every party leader should be ashamed of themselves for not making a bigger issue out of white canada's treatment of first nations people. but not only them. canadians should be ashamed of themselves for not making it more of an issue. the horrors of the report of the truth and reconciliation commission and the non-investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women should have been important to all canadians, but they weren't. the parties weren't eager to have the issue raised, because both the liberal and conservative federal governments have disgusting histories on this issue. having never been in power federally, the new democrats have less to answer for, but all the more reason for them to have made the issue a centrepiece of their platform. the good news is that canada now has ten indigenous members of parliament. that may not sound like much, but it's more than we've ever had before and it includes members of four different indian nations, métis and inuit.
4. fear failed. the harper conservative campaign started well before the election call, with ads mocking justin trudeau's political inexperience and optimism, ads which continued throughout the longest campaign in modern history, finally turning threatening when the momentum started to move in trudeau's direction. harper tried to stir up fear of muslims, by making an issue of whether or not a handful of conservative muslim women should be allowed to wear their niqab while taking the oath of citizenship in canada. he did manage to suck the wind out of the ndp sails with that move, especially in quebec, but he saw little benefit from it. while in office, harper did manage to pass the anti-terror/ information sharing bill c-51, the provisions of which were enough to alarm the united nations because of their potential for anti-free speech abuse. once people started to find out about the content of the bill, it became a rallying point for harper haters. prime minister elect trudeau and the liberals supported bill c-51, although he hasn't completely rejected the possibility of amending certain parts of it. canadians don't support the bill and we should make him very aware that, as our employee, he needs to improve his performance in that regard. [side note :: the failure of fear-mongering attack ads was actually one of the things i took heart from in the 2006 election. nice to see how well that lesson was learned.]
5. positivity prevailed. say what you want about trudeau or the liberals, there is no denying that their campaign was soaked in sunshine. aside from their slightly scary [but eye-catching!] poster art, they radiated optimism from every pore and canadians responded. the most hopeful campaign carried the day, more so than they believed they could.
6. canadians saw through austerity. the conservative party and the new democrats were probably shocked to discover that their message of financial prudence fell on deaf ears, but after many, many, many years about hearing of the evils of running a deficit and having seen little to no benefits under the harper government, justin trudeau's plan to run a small deficit for a few years in order to invest in infrastructure [at a time when the cost of borrowing money is so cheap].
7. the "new labour" experiment is over. in recent elections, the left-leaning new democratic party has been trying to go all tony blair and shift to a more centrist position in the way that the british labour party did in the nineties. and canadians have spoken loud and clear: stow that noise. in fact, the disintegration of the ndp vote, while it's due in part to the zealous desire to see stephen harper gone, can largely be blamed on the fact that they allowed the liberals to steal the progressive angle from them. it could be argued that people were more willing to accept progressive talk and deficit spending from the liberals than they were from the never-tested ndp, but it's pretty clear that they're not eager to accept the small-c conservative approach.
8. quebec is back in the government. i'm lifting that almost verbatim from trudeau and while i think that the eastern swing to the liberals robbed us of some fine parliamentarians, it's been over twenty years since quebec had a significant number of members in the governing party. that's not good for any province. you see? justin's been prime minister for less than twenty-four hours and i already agree with him on something.
9. our prime minister believes in science. don't get me wrong, i'm concerned that, in an effort to reassure westerners that he was not their fathers' trudeau, justin sucked up to oil companies with the force of a black hole and environmental policy was clearly a low-key for him during the campaign [although he's promised to investigate the impact of the keystone pipeline], but he has pledged to restore funding to scientific organisations that was slashed by harper, who didn't like the fact that their discoveries didn't align with his policies. trudeau has also promised to reinstate the long-form census, because, when you're making important decisions, it's kind of nice to have things like statistics and facts at your disposal. at the very least, i believe that trudeau is going to try to redress some of the evil's of the harper government's war on science.
10. we'll know if promises are broken. we'll actually know mighty quickly, too, because candidate trudeau promised that his cabinet would be at least 50% women. so as soon as he appoints his cabinet, we're going to see how serious he is about sticking to his word. [he's recommitted to this today, also.] i was happy to see that the "friends of cbc" facebook group was quick to post that they would be holding him to his promise to restore the $115 million removed from their budget by stephen harper. [while he's at it, maybe he could reverse the much more damaging cuts inflicted by the liberals the last time that they were in office?] most importantly, party platforms have never been so accessible as they are now, which means that it's much easier for the media and the people to check exactly what was promised compared to what is delivered.
11. proportional representation is on the table? that's right, it's bonus happy. this is one promise that i'm not holding my breath for, but candidate trudeau did say that he'd look at reforming our pathetic first-past-the-post voting system. several people have pointed out that he might not be so eager to open that can of worms, since the difference between those two systems is the difference between him having a majority and a minority. that said, i think a lot of people realise that the first past the post system sucks balls at least fifty percent of the time no matter who you are. i say i'm not holding my breath, because that's the sort of reform that could take a very, very long time to work through. so, while i intend to hold mr. trudeau to his promises, i'm going to give him some latitude with this one. you see? i can be a nice, reasonable person when i've had adequate amounts of coffee and sleep.
and if that's not enough to make you feel good... did i mention stephen harper is gone??? seriously, that was really all most of us were asking for from this election. no, it isn't the groundbreaking, new day rising, real change we might have hoped for, but when the building is on fire, maybe it's not the time to start bitching about who the first responders are. we can work with this and if it turns out we can't, we have a chance to make a decision in another four years. i'm not sure how optimistic i feel about things right now, but i'm trying to take to heart the words i heard someone say recently: better is always possible.
p.s. :: the prime minister designate has also made it clear that he's committed to stopping bombing raids in syria. not being a country that turns people into refugees really belongs on the list.