Canada’s voters reject Conservative government

The clearest message the Canadian people delivered during their federal election on Oct. 19, after a 79-day campaign, was that they wanted to see the end of the Conservative Party running the government of Canada as it had done since 2006.  Some 68 percent of them voted for a party other than the Conservatives, whose seats in Parliament dropped from 166 in 2011 to 99 this year.

The Liberals, with a majority of 184 seats, up from 34, will form a new government. Justin Trudeau, son of the former prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, will be prime minister. The social democratic New Democratic Party won 44 seats, down from 103.

The biggest lesson from Canada’s election is how various communities came together to reject a rightward drift in running their country.

Because of the fall in the price of oil and other commodities, the Canadian economy slipped into a recession sometime in the first half of 2015. Prime Minister Stephen Harper dealt with the economic hardship that Canadian workers were facing by quibbling over the definition of “recession” and maintaining his policy of deficit reduction.  He even cut spending on scientific research and historical monuments and museums that are tourist destinations.

The NDP’s election campaign proposed spending more, but still cutting the government’s deficit, by raising taxes on corporations and the very rich.  The Liberals proposed a program of deficit spending to increase employment, which polls found appealed to many Canadians.

While Harper was cutting spending on human needs, his government took on a role beside Washington, bombing in Iraq against Islamic State forces, and promised to buy the new F-35 fighter jet.

Justin Trudeau, the new Liberal prime minister, told Barack Obama during the U.S. president’s customary, congratulatory telephone call that he was going to end the bombing inside Iraq, something he had promised during the campaign.

Defense News on Oct. 25 predicted that Canada would withdraw its purchase of the F-35 “fifth-generation fighter jet,” manufactured by Lockheed-Martin.

Broader representation in Parliament

The Conservatives had incensed the members of Canada’s First Nations, its Inuit and its Métis peoples, by passing bill C-51, misnamed the Fair Elections Act. This bill was designed to limit the influence of the Idle No More Movement, which has been struggling to assert the rights of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The Conservatives designed C-51 to create obstacles for Indigenous people in getting the identification they needed to vote.

The law boomeranged. According to National Newswatch, “Some aboriginal communities saw voter turnout spike by up to 270 percent in the Oct. 19 election despite the Fair Elections Act. … In the riding [electoral district] of Kenora, which includes 40 First Nations in northern Ontario, voting on the reserves was up 73 percent — almost 3,000 voters.” Greg Rickford, the Conservative Party incumbent in Kenora and a Harper cabinet minister, came in third.

There will be 10 Indigenous members of the new Parliament.

There will be 46 members of Parliament from groups Canada calls “visible minorities,” which elsewhere are called people of color.  Eighteen of them are Punjabi-Canadians.  According to The Tribune, a website directed to the Indian community in Canada, there will be more Punjabis in Canada’s Parliament than in India’s.

There was a lot of anger in the immigrant communities about a campaign to ban the wearing of a niqab, which completely covers a woman except for her eyes, during citizenship ceremonies, and to ban acts that the Harper government slandered as “barbaric cultural practices.” Both the Liberal Party and the NDP supported the right of Muslim women to wear a niqab.

Another issue that came up during the campaign was “proportionate representation.”

Canada is divided into 338 election districts, called ridings. Under the current law, the candidate with the greatest number of votes in each riding wins the seat in Parliament.  Three major political parties — the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats — run candidates in all ridings. At least two provincial parties, the Bloc Québecois and the Greens, compete in a smaller number of ridings. Candidates can win with 35 percent of the vote or less.

This system can produce wide swings in seats. For example, the Liberals gained an additional 150 seats from 2011 to 2015 and won 53 percent of the seats in Parliament with just 39.5 percent of the vote.  The Greens got 1 seat with 3.5 percent of the vote while the Bloc Québecois got 10 seats with 4.7 percent.