Commentary | The case for the big red tent

How to stop the Conservatives from ruling Canada forever

As campaign rhetoric heats up in Ottawa and the possibility of a spring election becomes more likely, many on the left are asking if there is any chance of Stephen Harper being kicked out of the prime minister’s residence.

Though the Harper government has made countless mistakes, some egregious, over the last five years, the Conservatives have never dipped below 30 per cent in the polls.  Harper’s base constitutes a floor of support that will vote Conservative until the end of time.  If he turned out to be a murderous vampire, his supporters would just become ‘Team Stephen.’  No matter how much is wasted on corporate tax cuts, how many times Parliament is prorogued, or how many government agencies – like Statistics Canada – are rendered useless, the Conservatives will never lose power, as its support remains above the next largest alternative: the Liberals.

Left-wing division has long been a feature of Canadian politics. However, since the emergence of the Bloc Québécois and the consolidation of right-wing parties, the effect of this fragmentation has become much more acutely felt. And if the Conservative division of the 1990s is any indication, unless it finds unity, the left just might be in the political wilderness for a long time to come.

That being said, a recent article by Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson examined a public opinion poll that, contrary to popular belief, shows that Canadians are not becoming more conservative in their values. We remain as entwined as ever with the socially progressive values that have defined us for over a generation. Moreover, it is important to remember just which party has transformed those values into public policy.

Though the Liberal party has been dragged through the mud over the last few years and its ranks of members seem depressed and not terribly enthusiastic about its leader, Michael Ignatieff, it is important not to forget just how entrenched the Liberal brand is in Canadian politics. The Liberals are the party of Pearson and Trudeau, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and multiculturalism, and of course through adopting the policies of the NDP, have become the standard bearers of universal health care as part of a larger social safety net, facilitated by a strong federal government. Though Liberals may be unpopular, their policies and values not only still resonate with the Canadian people, but are also an integral part of the Canadian identity. Moreover, realistically speaking, the Liberals are the only truly feasible alternative to the Tories at the Federal level of government.  In effect, a vote cast for the NDP or Greens is a vote for more of Stephen Harper as neither of the more radical left-wing alternatives can appeal to a wide enough segment of the electorate to put them in power.  So, with an election on the horizon, one cannot help but ask whether the throngs of socially progressive voters will be able to hold their noses and come together, under the Liberal banner, to get rid of the Conservatives.

Former Prime Minister Louis Saint-Laurent used to describe the CCF (The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor of the NDP) as “Liberals in a hurry.” Surely NDP and Green voters can see that though the Liberal party may seek less drastic action than their own parties, at least the Liberals, unlike the Conservatives, seek to move in generally the right direction.

Recently Michael Ignatieff said in reference to one of his proposals to expand the Canadian welfare state that “it’s not just a plan, it’s a statement of profound value. A sense we’re all in this together. Nobody goes to the wall. Nobody faces that fear alone. We stand together. That’s a Liberal value!” Clearly Michael Ignatieff is trying to appeal to NDP and Green voters as he realizes that they are his only chance at governing. The question is, will they take the bait?

Ben Hanff is a U0 Political Science and Drama and Theatre student.  He can be reached at benjamin.hanff@mail.mcgill.ca.


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