Some thoughts about the 2015 election and Canada’s new government

My congratulations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. The Liberals managed to win a healthy majority government on October 19, 2015, defeating Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. I’m not completely happy with the election day results, but I think there is still plenty to be satisfied about. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic thanks to a clear Conservative defeat and the first few moves on the incoming Liberal government.

I reside in Toronto Centre, a downtown riding in which there was no incumbent Member of Parliament. Chrystia Freeland, the Liberal MP elected in Toronto Centre in 2013 opted to run in the new district of University-Rosedale. Toronto Centre, like most urban Toronto ridings, was a two-way race between the New Democratic Party and the Liberals.

The NDP candidate was Linda McQuaig, an author and journalist committed to income equality and the environment; the Liberal candidate was Bill Morneau, a Bay Street businessman and past chair of the C.D. Howe Institute, a right-wing business think tank. With Rosedale and Yorkville gone from the new shrunken Toronto Centre, I speculated that McQuaig would have a very good shot of being elected based upon previous election results, and the NDP polling in first place nationally.

Full disclosure: I supported McQuaig, I even volunteered on her campaign, because I liked her, and because I felt she was a better fit for this riding, which includes neighbourhoods such as Moss Park and St. Jamestown as well as new condo developments and wealthier neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown. I’m still proud to have been part of her team. But if I still lived in York Centre, as I did in 2011, I would have supported Liberal Michael Levitt.

But things changed in September and October.

In Toronto, all five NDP MPs were turfed from office, including the very talented Peggy Nash and Andrew Cash. Dan Harris, elected in the “Orange Wave” in 2011, lost his seat to former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. Even Toronto-Danforth, Jack Layton’s old seat, fell. Elsewhere, other excellent NDPers like Jack Harris, Megan Leslie, Paul Dewar, and Peter Stoffer lost their seats to the Red Tide, despite winning by wide margins in 2011. But that’s politics.

The NDP ran a lousy, uninspired, dull campaign. Despite party leader’s Tom Mulcair’s excellent performance as Opposition Leader, he couldn’t hold onto Layton’s gains in Quebec and Ontario. The Liberals, who have a record of campaigning left and governing right (look at the Ontario Liberals and their controversial sell-off of Hydro One), ran on a promise to run deficits in order to fund infrastructure programs, while raising income taxes on high earners. The NDP, however, promised balanced budgets. When the Liberals were running effective commercials during the Blue Jays’ playoff games, the Conservatives were airing the tired, old “Just not ready” ads. But I do not remember seeing a single NDP commercial on television. And as for campaign style and charisma, Tom Mulcair was no Jack Layton.

Yes, the Conservative’s dirty campaign hurt the NDP. The “dead cat” trick of bringing up Islamophobia in September (opposing the wearing of niqabs when taking the oath citizenship) put the New Democrats on the defensive in Quebec and distracted them. It probably lost them a few seats in that province. And when the Liberals started to look like the leading alternative, with poll after poll showing them in first or second place and the NDP trailing in third, Canadians looking to defeat the Conservatives had a clear path for doing so: an increasingly confident Justin Trudeau. Trudeau was no Michael Ignatieff.

While I am sad to see many talented MPs turfed, and other great candidates (like Jennifer Hollett) defeated, the national NDP party have only themselves to blame for their loss. The NDP’s performance reminds me of the Ontario New Democratic campaign in 2014, and Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign that same year.

I believe that left-leaning parties and candidates can win, but they need the support of the progressive base as well as compelling reasons for non-committed voters to vote their way. For a while, the NDP looked like they were going to form the next government, though likely a minority. Olivia Chow looked like the next Mayor of Toronto in May and June 2014, but her cautious, uninspired campaign saw many progressives, like myself, look elsewhere — I supported David Soknacki until he withdrew from the race. John Tory’s smarter campaign allowed him to capture the anti-Ford vote and win.

Happily, despite my election-night disappointments, I feel cautiously optimistic. And it’s important to note the positives.

It should go without saying that I am very happy to see the end of Stephen Harper’s rule as Prime Minister of Canada, and the relegation of the Conservative Party of Canada to official opposition status.

Michael Harris’ exhaustive account of Harper’s record as Prime Minister, Party of One, discusses the many ways in which Harper’s autocratic rule hurt Canada, and it’s still worth the read. The book describes the dismantlement of Canada’s democratic traditions, the government’s muzzling of scientists, watchdogs, and top bureaucrats, its contempt for veterans and aboriginals, its cuts to the CBC, its incremental reversals Canada’s economic, social, environmental and foreign policies, and the Harper government’s blatant disregard for the law.

With the Liberal sweep of Atlantic Canada, much of Quebec and Ontario, and its gains in Western and Northern Canada, the Liberals also turfed many terrible Conservative MPs. Among the Conservatives booted from office are cabinet ministers Julian Fantino, Joe Oliver, Chris Alexander, and other awful MPs including Bal Gosal, Paul Calandra, and Mark Adler.

Quickly, Justin Trudeau promised to restore the long-form census in time for 2016, and renewed his commitment to electoral reform. Both issues are important to me, and both the NDP and the Liberals made these promises in their campaigns. But today’s cabinet appointments give me more reason to feel optimistic, for now.

While Morneau, as expected, was named finance minister, many of the other appointments are indicative of an activist, moderately progressive Liberal government. While Bill Blair will (happily) get to sit in the back benches, there are many highlights in the new 15-woman, 15-man cabinet:

  • Stéphane Dion, Foreign Affairs: Despite Dion’s poor campaign as leader in 2006, he’s a strong, capable minister with a good environmental record.
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justice. Wilson-Raybould is a First Nations leader from British Columbia and a former Crown prosecutor; hopefully this will mean action on missing and murdered indigenous women, among other pressing matters.
  • Harjit Sajjan, Defense. A former Lt.-Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces who served in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
  • Kirsty Duncan, Science. A science minister with a PhD, who taught geography and environmental sciences at the University of Windsor and the University of Toronto. No longer will a creationist hold this portfolio.
  • Amarjeet Sohi, Infrastructure and Communities. A former Edmonton City Councillor who championed LRT expansion in his home city.
  • Other talented veterans appointed to cabinet include Ralph Goodale, Marc Garneau, Carolyn Bennett and Dominic LeBlanc.

Of course, there will be disappointments; we’re still in the “honeymoon” stage that a new government often enjoys. I felt that the Liberals did not show the right stuff in supporting Bill C-51 and Bill S-7, the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Courting Bill Blair to run in an NDP-held seat didn’t sit right with me.

But right now, I’m quite happy to give Canada’s new government a chance.

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