This morning I awoke to news that Canada elected a Liberal majority government. I tuned in just in time to watch final moments of live coverage. Voter turnout is up 7.5 points. Stephen Harper, the sitting prime minister, is out. And the Liberals swept up every last seat in Atlantic Canada. Now I know why Stephen Harper calls this part of the country a ‘region of defeat.’
Overall, I’m thankful voters have put an end to the Harper years. His tenure has been one of moderately good economic stewardship, marred by a venomous and divisive style of governing. Time and again, the prime minister used wedge politics and juvenile attack ads for electoral gain. No tactic was too low, and it corroded national discourse and Parliament.
While many profoundly good and decent candidates from across the political spectrum have been returned to Parliament (Marc Garneau, Elizabeth May, Michael Chong, Stephane Dion, and Dominic Leblanc, for example), many other worthy legislators suffered defeat (people like Megan Leslie and Paul Dewar come to mind). I suspect that few Canadians are ever entirely happy with the results of a given election. Democracy is messy that way. You learn to take the good with the bad. Party leaders will be making hundreds of phone calls over the next few days, congratulating those who won and consoling those who lost.
Some of the things I’m most looking forward to:
- Electoral reform: Trudeau has promised to make this the last first-past-the-post election. I’ve long supported a move toward ranked ballots in order to remove the pressure we all feel to vote strategically. He has committed to introducing legislation within the first 18 months of forming government.
- Ending the government’s war on Science: The Liberals have pledged to reinstate of the long-form census and make Statistics Canada a fully independent agency. Similarly, we can expect them to take meaningful action on climate change. The environmental file has been a source of shame for Canadians in recent years. While I still believe scientists on public payroll are ill-suited to enter the sphere of politics (see Harperman), they have clear a responsibility to inform and educate Canadians about their findings. Having to filter every public comment by the PMO hinders that duty.
- A new tone of governing: Trudeau is off to a good start. Reaching out to Canadians in his victory address, he said, “Conservatives are not our enemies, but our neighbours.” On the face of it, this may not seem bold. But as a thought experiment, just try and picture Stephen Harper saying those words about his political opponents.
Trudeau and his team now have the responsibility to govern, which is a world away from campaigning. Navigating the machine that is the federal civil service will be yet another learning curve for the 43-year-old Prime Minister. Luckily for him, and for us, he will be well supported by a team that has been there before. Let’s wish him luck.
Photo credit: Adam Scotti