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September 11, 2019

Oh, goodie, there’s going to be a general election. Not the desperately-needed-to-be-avoided-because-you-can’t-trust-Boris election threatened in the UK last week, but a nice, neat, orderly Canadian general election.

The thought of the election here next month fills me with dread. Not the sort of bottomless pit of dread with which Brexit fills me, but dread nonetheless.

It was easy to predict what was going to happen in the 2015 election. Stephen Harper, the very right wing Conservative Prime Minister, had simply worn out his welcome. Tom Mulcair, the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, might have been an effective leader of the opposition, but he was singularly uninspiring on the campaign trail. The centrist Liberals, for the first time in several elections had a leader with a pulse: Justin Trudeau and his “sunny ways” were a breath of fresh air.

Early on in the election campaign, pundits were predicting that Trudeau would end up leading a coalition government, sharing power with the NDP. This was a far from unwelcome prospect as far as I was concerned.

Then there was the leaders debate. People say debates don’t matter, that people have already made up their minds, but, as I wrote after voters gave Trudeau a majority in 2015, that particular debate did matter.

It’s far from easy to predict what’s going to happen next month.

Canada is a funny old country. New political parties pop up.

There’s the Bloc Quebecois, formed in 1991 with the secession of Quebec from Canada as its stated primary goal. In the 1993 election it swept Quebec and as a result ended up with the second largest number of seats in the House of Commons and thus became the official opposition. (In the same way the Jack Layton-inspired sweep of Quebec gave the NDP its first and only stint as the opposition.)

Then there was the Reform Party, formed in Alberta in  1987 and led by the extremely socially conservative Preston Manning. They were like the Tea Party of Canada. In the 1997 general election they won the second largest number of seats and became the official opposition. (As an aside, the media often referred to Reform as the party of “western alienation”, a term that still pops up in political discussions. For the record, I live as far west in Canada as it is possible to be, other than the west coast of Vancouver Island, and I do not feel alienated. Nor, I suspect, do the majority of British Columbians, including the people of Tofino, Ucluelet and Port Renfrew, who really are as far west as you can get. Yes, Saskatchewan often goes along for the ride, but could we please start calling this Alberta alienation?)

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember that once upon a time, there really wasn’t much difference between Liberal and Conservative politicians. Yes, the Tories were more fiscally conservative, but that was the main thing. Hell, they actually called themselves the Progressive Conservative Party and they had no problem with universal health care, equal opportunities, yadda yadda yadda. That was before the upstart Deform party came along and stole all their safe seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan and rural Ontario. Eventually the Progressive Conservatives became the first Canadian party to achieve gender parity in the House of Commons: they were reduced to two MPs, one male and one female.

That was the end of there being anything progressive about Conservatives. In an effort to stop the vote splitting and get the right wing back into power, the two parties merged in 2000 to form the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (which even the right wing National Post couldn’t resist pointing out spelt CRAP). The name was quickly changed to the Alliance Party.

Around about that time, I went back to the UK for much of the noughties. At some point while I was away, Alliance was abandoned and Conservative became the party’s official name once more.

Just as the rabid right has now taken over the Republican party south of the border, the once (at least semi) progressive Conservative Party is no more.

And that is what is filling me with dread about the upcoming federal election.

To be continued…

From → Columns

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