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Stephen Harper Was Ballot Question: Canadians Rejected Him 

                     And His Divisive Vision Of Canada

 

             Justin Trudeau Must Now Implement Democratic Reform 

          So Leaders That 60% Of Voters Oppose Can No Longer Rule

 

By Susanna Kelley

If the old adage "governments are voted out, not in" is true, and it is, the message of Election 2015 is crystal clear: Canadians have overwhelmingly rejected Stephen Harper and elected Justin Trudeau and his Liberals - a man with a view of Canada Mr. Harper profoundly opposed and the leader of a party he despises.

Canadians have not only rejected the man himself but the vision of Canada that he presented in this campaign: mean, closed, fearful, xenophobic, racist, corrupt and one in which he would attempt to buy voters by slicing and dicing the electorate into specific demographics who were then offered various boutique bribes - tax cuts, income splitting etc. - to attract their votes.

So make no mistake: the issue in this election was Stephen Harper himself, and Canadians overwhelmingly rejected him.

The proof is in the avalanche of votes that broke in the last several weeks of the campaign.  Approximately 70 per cent of voters polled said they wanted a change of government but until the last weeks, it was unclear whether they would make the Liberals or the NDP the agent that change. Polls showed Liberal supporters' second choice was the New Democrats and vice-versa. For many it came down to which party had the best chance of ousting Harper. When it became clear the Liberals were moving up in the polls, many New Democrat supporters abandoned that party and switched to the Liberals. The Anybody But Harper movement was visceral in the land.

Mr. Trudeau's vision of "sunny ways" - a nod back to one he calls his second favourite Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier -  "hope and hard work," inclusiveness, celebrating Canada's diversity by standing against the anti-Muslim racism of Mr. Harper's campaign, an emphasis on the middle class and his mantra that "Canada can always be better" was an appealing one for voters tired of Mr. Harper's divisive, wedge-issue style of politics.

Ironically, that wedge issue politics was, in the end, Mr. Harper's undoing.  For it was when Mr. Harper raised the niqab issue in the first French language debate on September 24th that the bleeding of NDP support in Quebec began, which prompted its polling numbers nationally to begin to fall, and it gradually appeared over the next few weeks to be less and less the party that could defeat Mr. Harper. Voters then chose to abandon the NDP en masse in the last several weeks of the campaign and switch to the Liberals just when the Conservatives needed the NDP to remain strong to split the anti-Harper vote.

It will be discussed for years whether Mr. Mulcair should have come out so strongly against the demonization of the niqab in that debate, which then began the slide. But leaving aside how unprincipled it would have been for him to soft-pedal an issue on which he had a clear opinion, it would also have been pretty hard to do so in a province where "religious accommodation" had already been such a hot issue for several years.

Likewise the criticism that the NDP should not have stood for a balanced budget. Could you seriously have imagined the outcry had it not? "Spendthrift socialists" would have been the pundits' cry throughout the land. "See, they can't possibly be trusted to manage the economy!"   That issue was a no-win for Mr. Mulcair from the get-go.

But how ironic that Mr. Harper, who had a reputation as a great political strategist, so miscalculated in the niqab issue as to begin the avalanche that eventually defeated him. 

It was always a long shot that Mr. Harper would be re-elected, as he headed an old tired government awash in the Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, robocall and other scandals.

One has to speculate that Mr. Harper ran again this time largely because he thought he could finally finish off his most despised rival, the Liberal party, which at that point was in third place. It must particularly sting that his own niqab miscalculation led to his defeat by the party he most hates and by the son of a Prime Minister he most despised: Pierre Trudeau.

For nine and a half years, Mr. Harper kept a stranglehold on power in this country by exploiting an unfair, undemocratic first past the post electoral system that allowed him 100 per cent of the power while having had less than 40 per cent of voters cast their ballots for him.  For nine and a half years more than 60 per cent of Canadians have had to live under a government they did not want nor support.

That makes democratic reform, which has been promised by both the Liberals and the NDP, a critical priority for the Trudeau government.

Past promises by Liberal governments to do away with first past the post were reneged on - witness the weak referendum campaign Dalton McGuinty ran to change our system to a mixed member proportional electoral system in Ontario - a referendum that failed. Liberals in Ontario shed nary a tear, as by that point they'd been elected by the unfair first past the post system themselves by about 40% of the electorate in this province, so why rock the boat?

But if Mr. Trudeau really means what he says about trusting Canadians, he must make good on this, his most important promise.

Because the realization of Canadian voters' wishes from here on in - i.e., whether we have a real democracy or not - is riding on whether he does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 22, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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