First, the good news.
Anti-immigrant, far-right xenophobic People’s Party founder and leader Maxime Bernier officially lost his seat in Beauce last night. If that’s not a clear-cut “pack your bags and go home” rejection of far-right populism I don’t know what is. What’s more, when you tally up the number of seats the Liberals, NDP and Greens won, Canadians voted overwhelmingly for progressive parties
Most importantly, the country went against the grain of worldwide regressive and populist trends that have seen far-right or conservative-right parties rise to power around the world. It is no small accomplishment and a reminder that as complicated and as messy as this weird coexistence of provinces and tribalistic (often petty) conflicts of interest that form this federationseem to be, we somehow continue to reject the notion that division and protectionism serve us well.
Trudeau’s minority government will now have no choice but to be propped up by the left, and just as I had hoped for, the far more progressive NDP will hold the balance of the power. The Liberals will now be forced to truly address climate action, electoral reform and Pharmacare, which they chose to ignore or delay in the past, since their majority afforded them the arrogance and luxury of procrastination.
More good news… Most Canadians voted for parties who acknowledge that climate change is real and needs to be dealt with head-on. Alberta may indeed be a sea of blue, but that points to very specific challenges there that have failed to be addressed by competent local leaders, who prefer to stoke anger instead of seeking solutions.
As Trudeau alluded to in his victory speech, the very real concerns of Albertans need to be acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean we need to pretend that Canada’s bitumen giants are our future. Environmentalists have been saying for years that oil sands are among the world’s dirtiest fuel sources, producing carbon pollution at a much higher rate than conventional oil extraction. At the same time, green energy sector jobs have surpassed total oil sand employment, but we’re still pretending that pushing for clean energy is somehow some futuristic pipedream that’s impractical for the economy. We need to be brave and invest in the future.
As political columnist/national treasure Chantal Hébert said while commenting on the results last night, “This should be the last Canadian election where a party tries to win without a serious plan for climate change.” We simply don’t have the time for any of this dicking around and while it’s great that the party advocating for the removal of the carbon tax has lost, I want to see far more aggressive measures put in place to tackle climate change. Trudeau can spend the next four years (he won’t, it’s a minority government) on his knees planting trees, but Canada would still fall spectacularly short of its total promised emission cuts for 2030 by about 79 million tonnes. And before we rush to blame him and him alone, we pretty much suck too.
A recent CBC News poll found that while Canadians say they are deeply concerned about climate change, half of them surveyed would not fork over more than $100 per year in taxes to prevent climate change. That’s the equivalent of less than $9 a month, or roughly what most Canadians spend at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s daily for their coffee and bagel. It’s depressing. And don’t get me started on those who assure you that climate action is on their agenda, but recoil at the thought of having to leave their car at home and take public transit. We need to demand better environmental policies, but we also need to do better individually.
Now the bad news.
The Bloc, which was almost wiped off the map in last two elections, has won 32 seats. That, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad news, and I’ve always said that I believe that the Bloc has a role to play in the House of Commons. But with Blanchet not holding the balance of power in Ottawa, he’s pretty much going to be shouting into the void for the next few years. While his party’s resurgence almost guaranteed a Liberal majority would not see the light, it’s a win with no teeth.
That may be enough to appease the Bloc’s hardcore supporters, but it will do absolutely nothing for Quebec. With a Liberal government propped up by the NDP (and even the Greens, if approached and open to it) Trudeau’s minority government does not need to beg Quebec for much. Imagine how much more power progressive Quebecers voting NPD could have had in Ottawa, especially with a diminished in power (and open to compromise) Liberal minority now there.
I didn’t include the Bloc in my earlier list of progressive parties because in its current reincarnation it simply isn’t. I think Blanchet is a supremely charismatic leader who was able to capitalize on Quebecers’ rejection of the status-quo parties and secure votes for the Bloc. But — whether his partisan supporters recognize it or not — most of the Bloc’s current rise stems from unapologetically borrowing from the CAQ’s nationalistic playbook and using it to their advantage. Despite me having a healthy appreciation for much of their progressive platform, their support of deeply discriminatory legislation Bill 21, which denies my fellow Quebecers who wear visible religious symbols the opportunity to teach, practice law, or work as police officers, and claims it to be secularism, sadly brands them a regressive party in my opinion. Many other Quebecers agree with me, since 46 Quebec ridings out of 78 did not support the Bloc.
There’s no denying that, even if the Bloc didn’t advocate for openly discriminatory policies, it benefited greatly from the support of voters (and candidates) who made openly Islamophobic and xenophobic comments and were barely penalized for it. In Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, Valérie Tremblay, who made several derogatory and prejudicial comments against women wearing the hijab, was almost elected, losing by a very small margin, proving that her comments barely registered with her constituency. However, the ROC’s quick assessment that Bill 21 equates to Quebecers being racist (not everyone who supports Bill 21 is racist and xenophobic, and it’s insulting and ignorant to assume so), only added to popular sentiments of “Don’t tell me what to do in my own house” that fed the Bloc’s nationalistic resurgence.
What’s extremely frustrating to me is that we just experienced a campaign that blatantly proved that visible religious symbols mean absolutely nothing in terms of spotting a religious zealot or a socially regressive public servant. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh with his bright turban on his head, is infinitely more progressive when it comes to women’s and LGBTQ rights, abortion access, social equality, and the environment. And yet, Bill 21 supporters continue to pretend that this legislation is about secularism, even though it’s clearly a paternalistic and colonial-driven way of trying to enforce public homogeneity dictated by the majority, to the detriment of minority rights.
Not only is such an approach counterproductive to the increasing diversity of our world and Quebec’s immigration needs, it’s legislation that I’m convinced 50 years from now future generations will be studying in school and cringing at, the way we look at Potlatch laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Colour Bar in the Canadian Forces today as shameful chapters in in our history. Bill 21 only offers the superficial illusion of state neutrality, all while deepening the divisions between the majority and minorities. It will benefit no one.
Quebecers’ deeply progressive beliefs continue to do daily battle with rapidly changing demographics and a francophone majority’s fears that their values and way of life are in danger of disappearing with new (and desperately needed) immigration. It’s, of course, not the case at all, but populist theories meant to stoke fears and rile up voters rarely rely on facts, opting for anecdotal “evidence” instead.
Even with a particularly nasty campaign and a regressive agenda the Conservatives were still neck and neck with the Liberals in far too many ridings. The fact that Scheer was not able to convince enough Canadians to vote for him says more about his lack of charisma than it does the power of progressive platforms to woo voters. He was not able to capitalize on Trudeau’s significant missteps because he’s not very good. Scheer’s mediocrity gave Trudeau his second mandate (albeit a diminished one) and he needs to not squander it now by trying to cater to both conservative and liberal elements in his party. If people vote for a progressive platform, they want to see a consistently progressive platform and that does not have to come at the expense of business or a strong economy.
Perhaps the most telling moment about what’s to come is when the time came for the major party leaders to give their speeches. It was a mess of epic magnitude. Singh went on and on and Scheer couldn’t wait so he started talking and then the Liberals were scheduled to appear and so Trudeau started giving his victory speech while the opposition party leader was still addressing his supporters. It was a nightmare for those working and commenting on radio and a giant mess for those covering TV. Not that much fun for the average voter either. If they can’t get their timing right to deliver speeches that don’t overlap each other, one can’t help but wonder what will happen in the House of Commons in the next few years.
There was a moment around 1 a.m. last night when Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, appearing as a commentator for CBC’s election coverage, acknowledged his fatigue by simply saying, “I’m just glad this is over,” and in doing so managed to speak to my exhausted soul.
We’re all glad it’s over, Naheed. Let’s not try to repeat this anytime soon, mmk? ■