When Stephen Harper was elected the new Prime Minister of Canada, American liberals freaked out. I have one thing to say in response: chill out, seriously. I grew up in Canada. Two of my best friends were the president and vice president of our high school’s environmental club and volunteered for the Green Party. Most of my friends don’t vote for the Liberal Party because it isn’t liberal enough. You would figure it would be five-alarm freak out time, something close to a democrat’s reaction to finding that Bush won in 2004, or a pro-choicer’s shock at the ease of the Alito confirmation. So of course, when I talked to them, naturally they seemed okay with it. My friend Rahul, the aforementioned green party volunteer, told me: “As much as I disagree with Harper’s views on social policy, the man has a graduate degree in Economics so I can’t accuse him of being a moron. I personally am fine with seeing how a Conservative government will run the country.” My equally Liberal friend Jonathan said hopefully: “we’re going to have another election in 20 months anyway.” My crazy left-wing English teacher who once told us that the Conservatives were “evil” in class, said: “I’m not that mad. The Liberals really shot themselves in the foot and we need a change.”
Harper didn’t win because, as the Family Research Council of DC said, Canadians suddenly found out they were “values-voters”. He won because the Liberal party lost. And it only took one of the biggest political scandals in our history, corruption on par with Jack Abramoff, to do it. And this is in a country that doesn’t have a history of Watergate, Lewinsky-gate, or any other “gate” to make us jaded. This was actually somewhat of a big deal and the Conservative Party brought it up time and time again.
Canada does, in fact, have “values,’ though they are different from those of the average American. Canada is anti-American, in the way that a less successful younger brother dislikes the rich older brother, even as he is living in the older brother’s apartment and having his meals paid for. Canadians hate to be called the 51st state, because it simply reinforces our inferiority complex. When the United States is the world’s greatest power, and the sole reason that Canada’s economy and culture continues to thrive, this kind of feeling invariably festers. So in a visceral response, we like to think of the ways that we, as Canadians, are better. This includes a TV show called Talking to Americans, which involves making fun of Americans for knowing nothing about Canada. Of course, few Canadians realize that the thrust of the show is more self-mocking than self-celebrating, and we are like the nerd who make fun of the star quarterback for not knowing his name.
So if conservatives in America actually think that the new election reflects a changing dynamic in Canadian values to be more similar to so-called “American” values, they are in for a major surprise. Harper took the most criticism for being an American lackey. He’s going to spend the rest of his term trying to not seem like he is blindly kowtowing to American demands, even if he secretly wants to. Remember the ads the Liberal Party ran? The ones you saw on the Daily Show, the ones that said if Stephen Harper won George W. Bush would have a smile on his face? Those kind of worked, and don’t think it didn’t scare the shit out of Harper. His core base is too small; he’s desperate for the support of moderates. Veer any more right-ward, any more “American,” and he and his party go back to Alberta.
The Liberal Party has ruled Canada for about 90 percent of its history. Here’s a quick recap of Canadian political history. Step 1: Liberal Party gains major majority. Step 2: Many years later, the Liberal Party, bloated from too much power, messes up extravagantly. This coupled with everybody getting tired of voting for them, causes the Conservative rule for a brief period of time. Step 3: Everybody realizes the Liberal Party is Canada and votes Liberal again. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Harper’s party isn’t even a united party. It is, in fact, a coalition of the two major conservative parties, the very right-wing Alliance and the moderate Progress Conservatives, who upon realizing they would never win anything if they were divided, decided to unite. The Alliance can be described as somewhat left of the Republicans, or something close to Joe Lieberman. The Progress Conservatives’ views are somewhat close to a moderate Democrat. Until recently, they didn’t really like each other that much. This, apparently, is the party that forms the evil Conservative specter that will turn Canada into the freedom-destroying theocracy. At the absolute “worst,” Canada becomes what America would be if the Democrats won.
And let’s not forget the most important point. This is a MINORITY government, meaning the Conservatives have the most votes, but not a majority. I will not go into how Canadian politics works, but suffice it to say, nothing of note has ever been accomplished with a minority government in power. A government needs more than half the votes in the House of Commons to pass a law. The Conservative Party has about 36%. The rest is made of the Liberal Party, the NDP (even more left than the Liberal Party) and the Bloc Quebecois (who hate everybody, especially the Conservatives since certain members of the Conservative party want to do away with certain laws protecting the French language). Ask anyone in Canada and they will tell you, a new election will come in less than 2 years. That is how long a minority party lasts, before it is forced to call an election. The last Liberal government, before this election, was a minority government. It “collapsed.” Therefore, the Conservative Party has two options while in power. The first is to go for the “values” agenda that the party base wants and try to enact legislation to ban gay marriage, abortion, universal health care, etc. If they choose this tactic, they will lose the next election. Badly. The second is to keep along the center, try not to stir the boat, cater to the moderates (since the right-way base support is locked up anyway). Then they might win again. Of course, nothing will have changed in Canada.
A vote on gay marriage will come up soon, because Harper’s right-wing base will demand it. Of course, a good third of the Conservative Party are moderates with nothing against gay marriage. At last count, there were only about 130 members of the House of Commons out of 308 who would definitely vote against gay marriage. My gay friend at Trent University is not worried enough even to attend to a rally.
The Conservatives are kind of like Hamas in this sense. Not in the blowing people up and being evil kind of way. In the sense that everybody got tired of voting for the corrupt ruling party and wanted a change, any change. Canadian values didn’t change, just like how the majority of Palestinians don’t actually support Terrorist tactics, but when a ruling party gets so bloated and old and ineffective, there is only one way to send a message. All hail Stephen Harper! Or at least, all give a somewhat lukewarm and indifferent reaction! May you enjoy your brief stay in office.