Political, constitutional, juridical, and socio-cultural aspects of the origins and development of the Canadian State (Part Six)
By Mark Wegierski
Paul Martin, Jr. never seemed to reach the potential that was said to be inherent in his Prime Ministership. In the June 2004 federal election, the Liberals were reduced to a minority government.
After the "Adscam" scandal gained wide coverage, the Liberals were essentially clinging to power. They almost lost the non-confidence vote in mid-2005, and were able to survive as a government only through extraordinary measures (such as the defection of Belinda Stronach from the Conservative Party to the Liberals).
Finally in November 2005, the Conservatives, Bloc Quebecois, and NDP combined to bring down the Liberal government, necessitating the calling of an election for January 2006.
In the January 2006 federal election, Stephen Harper's Conservatives were able to win a minority government. With adroit and deft maneuvering, Harper was able to stay in power for over two years.
Finally, he requested the Governor-General to call an election for October 2008. Harper won a strengthened minority government, but a majority as yet eluded him.
In November 2008, the threat of a coalition of the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois emerged. By deft political maneuvering, Harper was able to stave off defeat. It also helped him that the idea of the coalition government was extremely unpopular among the Canadian populace at large.
The Conservatives remained in power until the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois voted down the government in 2011, thus necessitating an election call for May 2, 2011.
In the May 2, 2011 federal election, the Conservatives won a strong majority, with 166 out of 308 seats. The incredible surge of the NDP gave that party 103 seats. The Liberals were reduced to 34 seats – probably their lowest total ever in the federal Parliament. The Bloc Quebecois was amazingly reduced to four seats. 59 of the 75 seats available from Quebec were won by the NDP.
So Stephen Harper has taken a long road to win the first putatively conservative majority since the 1988 federal election. It is to be hoped that certain important lessons have been learned from the Mulroney years. Ironically, Mulroney's huge Progressive Conservative majorities were a "defeat-in-victory" for small-c conservatives – what could be called a "false dawn".
Hopefully, Harper will avoid the temptation to remain purely pragmatic. He can expect the Left to ferociously oppose him, no matter what he does, so he should clearly try to do some meaningful things – to attempt to govern in a "activist", "transformational" way. It is high time to try to at least temper some of the various enormous excesses of the so-called "Trudeaupia" – to try to initiate a process of "recovery" from the "Trudeau revolution".
If Harper fails to try to "govern strategically" he will find that his government's initiatives will be sand-bagged by ferocious media and infrastructural opposition – which will be something akin to that which happened to Mulroney's huge majorities.
At least it can be hoped that Harper is, to some extent, a visceral conservative – in contrast to Mulroney.
As the restoration of the traditional names of the armed services indicates, Harper is willing to undertake bold initiatives that suggest a desire for a true recovery of Canadian identity and history. It is to be hoped that this boldness in restoring tradition could be extended as a direction for the entire federal government.
Certainly, Canada has been marked by massive social transformation and upheaval since the 1960s, and it is highly likely that these trends will continue. For example, Canada was the third country in the world (after Belgium and the Netherlands) to recognize "same-sex marriage." At the same time, it has embraced multiculturalism, affirmative-action (called "employment equity" in Canada), and so-called diversity with a great intensity. Trying to somehow temper the decades of Trudeau's "activist", "transformational" politics will be very difficult. Nevertheless, the existence and continuation of a more meaningful Canadian polity might well depend on Harper's ability to challenge at least some aspects of the "Trudeaupia" that has increasingly engulfed us.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.