A good piece and balanced point of view. A good summary of where we are as a Country.
The consensus: The election was pointless. It was about nothing. Canadians are agitated. And the country is now more divided than before the campaign, which released demons of poison and prejudice.
Yes, the election was unnecessary and unwanted, a misguided prime minister’s vanity project. Yes, it produced the lowest turnout ever, which undermines democracy. Yes, the campaign generated violence and ugliness.
Two days before the vote, one perfervid commentator bemoaned “the volcano of frustration, fear and hate,” and warned the Liberals had produced “a historical absence of consensus and unity.”
Whoever wins, she warned, won’t have received votes from “the vast majority of voters,” lacking a mandate to govern. The election would leave “permanent scars.”
The media has been full of this hand-wringing and finger-wagging. From the United States and beyond, though, Canada’s election looks different.
An election takes the country’s temperature — even if the thermometer is not inserted long — and this one did. But if Canada is shaking in rage and riven with discontent this political season, as commentators claim, would not the outcome of the vote have reflected that?
If Canadians were so polarized, would voters not have rejected the Liberals, embraced the Conservatives and flocked to the left or right, such as the New Democrats or People’s Party?
They didn’t. Instead, they ratified the status quo ante. They renewed the governing party’s contract. They kept the official opposition in opposition. They dismissed extremes.
And in a world full of conservative, populist and disruptive forces — the radical Republicans in the United States, the Conservative Brexiteers in Britain, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, the Alternative for Germany seeking more seats in Sunday’s elections in Germany — dear Canada remained moderate, sensible, centrist and most of all, progressive.
As one observer said long ago, Canada is “a hotbed of cold feet.” Or, as the extraordinary Peter Newman once put it, we’re “a nation of life-insurers more than risk-takers.”
Amid a wasting pandemic, wrenching economic and social realignment, and the growing existential threat of climate change, Canadians could have chosen something else, as they did decisively with majority governments in 1958, 1984, 1993 and 2015.
This time, they looked around, sighed, and said no. They gave the Greens two seats and the People’s Party none. They gave the Liberals and Conservatives one-third of the vote or less, and the New Democrats less than one-fifth.
If this looks like polarization, look again. Progressive Canada — the Liberals, Greens, NDP and Bloc Québécois — won more than four-fifths of the popular vote. The PPC and the Conservatives got the rest, and only after poor Erin O’Toole tried mightily and unpersuasively to be more progressive than conservative.
If Canada is divided, the division is political, not philosophical. The Liberals and their allies are largely in agreement on expanding the social-welfare state (day care), fighting climate change (carbon tax), controlling firearms (weapons bans), increasing immigration (401,000 new Canadians this year).
Something to celebrate: Canada remains the only western democracy that does not have a credible anti-immigration party. Like abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment and euthanasia, immigration is settled in Canada.
Polarization? Consider the U.S., where Congress is so evenly split that a progressive president elected with 51 per cent can do little legislatively. Here, the differences are political, ideological, religious, social and deeply personal: voting rights, racial reconciliation, income inequity, climate change. Here, things are never settled, which is why Americans are relitigating abortion.
None of that happens in Canada, where governments rarely win a majority of the popular vote but even minority governments exercise executive authority with more efficiency than in Washington.
Canada’s election about nothing could have produced a sweeping new Parliament, but Canadians were contented, pragmatic and sensible enough in a pandemic not to swap horses in the middle of the race. In a roiling world, that’s not nothing.
Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor at Carleton University and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History.