An Age of Upheaval
The federal election currently underway in Canada started out as a sleeper, but has suddenly taken a very surprising and unexpected turn, if not detour.
There is much to ponder in the surprising surge of the left in Canada that threatens to reduce the Liberal Party to a remnant, if not oblivion. The Liberal Party has often been considered Canada’s “natural governing party”, and has been in power for most of Canada’s 144 years as a nation. The traditional contenders for government and votes were always Liberal or Progressive Conservative (now rebaptised the Conservative Party after the Progressives or “Red Tories” were purged by the “new” conservatives). The socialist New Democratic Party (now generally referred to as “left-leaning” rather than socialist) were always a distant third in the polls.
Virtually overnight (and that’s almost no exaggeration) the political configuration of the nation has changed. Led by Quebec, the left has erupted to become a contender for government, having almost overtaken the ruling Conservative Party in the polls while severely depleting the Liberal ranks, pushing the Liberal Party into an unheard of distant third place and also-ran. The NDP is also surprisingly drawing off votes from the ruling Conservative Party, making it questionable whether the Conservatives can even form a viable government after this coming Monday, May 2.
The upsurge of the left is being called the “Orange Crush” (boring orange being the NDP’s colour) and it has been a cause for astonishment amongst the commentariat and of fear and trembling within the ranks of the Canadian Establishment. (It has probably astonished the left as well). The surge of the left has been so sudden and so unexpected that the old line parties and mainstream media have been caught completely unprepared to effectively or strategically counter it. Meanwhile, the old growth is bleeding support from both centre and right as the “unthinkable” has come to seem a real possibility — that the NDP might actually gain enough public support over the next few days of its eyebrow-raising upsurge to form Canada’s next federal government and even dismiss the unpopular and increasingly undemocratic minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper from power, who has conducted himself more like an old-style reactionary or Latin American caudillo, and whose conduct led to the opposition vote of non-confidence that brought down the minority Harper government and precipitated Canada’s 4th general election in eleven years.
There is little doubt that the rally of the liberals, the nationalists, and the old “red Tories” around the NDP is a direct response to Harper’s autocratic and authoritarian style. The Conservatives sowed discord, and they have reaped the fruits of it.
The demise of the Liberal Party as Canada’s “natural governing party” (which status the Conservatives have always resented and envied) has polarised the nation between right and left. There is probably, no longer, any “middle” ground or continuum that can serve effectively to mediate or translate between them. Part of the blame for this outcome must be placed right at the feet of Mr. Harper and the Conservative Party, who have managed by their autocratic approach to government to alienate large segments of the Canadian citizenry through a divisive and duplicitous politics. Part of the problem is the “first past the post” system of governance selection which makes polarising competition and a “winner take all” attitude inevitable. A system of proportional representation would permit a more ecological politics with a distributed spectrum or continuum of political ideas, voices, and choices. It would be more appropriate to the political reality of the country today. But there was never much political will or foresight to promote that fix for the problems created by a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Polarisation with regionalist rivalries and competition for power has been the outcome and the price for that negligence.
And perhaps the New Democrats are now perceived as more representative of a national rather than a regional politics. In the event that the NDP should form the next national government, Canada will indeed change course, most especially in its foreign and international policy (which I welcome).
It did not help that the Liberal Party selected the controversial academic Michael Ignatieff as party leader, either. The anti-Harper vote is not only mobilising the disaffected young (who appear to be coming out finally in droves specifically to vote down the Harper government), but is congealing around the social democrats, rather than the Greens. There is even the prospect that, come Tuesday morning next week, Canada might have a socialist government. Until a mere two days ago no one even considered that at all possible. The surprising and the unexpected still can happen in this over-developed, over-predictable, socially engineered, technocratic, and routine world.
Did I hear rightly? Did someone call this “The Age of Upheaval”… and not The End of History?