In this modern world, good news is hard to come by. The far right is on the march in communities and governments across the world, people are being ground into dust by a dystopian neoliberal gig economy that is not delivering tangible results, and we’re on the verge of a full-on apocalyptic nightmare scenario of climate change displacing millions around the world, disrupting the global food supply, and releasing infectious diseases last seen in the stone age from the arctic permafrost. So keeping all that in mind, it’s understandable that people are looking for positive signs that somewhere out there, things are… maybe not improving, but not actively getting worse.
Is the recent Canadian election an example of this? After all, our liberal establishment’s favourite Prime Minister is still standing strong, mostly. The brand new People’s Party—seemingly created specifically to kick the tires of our nascent fascist movement and see if it can be harnessed as an electoral constituency—was resoundingly defeated. The New Democrats shrugged off their initial doomsday projections, returned to their social democratic roots and are now holding a sizeable amount of parliamentary power behind their charismatic leader—the first racial and religious minority to ever lead a Canadian political party. Is it possible Canada is proof positive that “the wave of Trumpism has crested and the center-left alternative is rising”?
The simple answer: no. No, it isn’t.
While last week’s election was not the worst case scenario for Trudeau and the Liberal Party, it is most certainly a rebuke from Canadian voters, as their government was reduced to minority status (and not the kind of minority status that Trudeau usually embraces). It may have ended much worse for the Party, but a stronger than expected showing in the Toronto city center and Atlantic Canada, more likely a case of strategic voters terrified of a conservative government than an actual endorsement of their performance as a political party, ended up allowing them to maintain their grip on power despite losing the popular vote to the Conservative Party and being amazingly decimated in Western Canada.
Now Trudeau will inherit an incredibly fractured political landscape with reinvigorated sovereignty movements in multiple provinces (we’ll get to that), and he’ll need to rely on NDP votes in order to pass any agenda, which he has already indicated is going to be focused on a regressive tax cut and continuing to ram through the Trans Mountain Pipeline. So as much as certain establishment figures would very much like to frame this election result as some kind of national rebuke to the toxic, divisive politics and perpetual crises that have enveloped nations across the west, it would be genuinely shocking if this government lasts longer than 18 months.
Despite all the stateside media hype and pop cultural credibility he managed to build up over the course of his very impressive campaign, the Jagmeet Singh-led New Democratic Party actually took a step backwards in terms of their parliamentary representation. And while the NDP is no stranger to underwhelming electoral results, this one is especially difficult to swallow. For while Singh and his party did take a step towards campaigning the way progressive activists have been begging them to for years, using unapologetic language around class and inequality, calling for a wealth tax and a significant expansion of Canada’s welfare state, they were almost completely wiped out in Quebec, losing all but one of their remaining seats in the province that just a few years ago was home to an Orange Wave that at the time seemed like a possibly permanent political realignment. There are a number of reasons one could point to as to why famously volatile Quebec voters rejected Singh and the NDP in favor of the resurgent Bloc Quebecois (who I didn’t even mention in my election preview, proving that I am a political genius), but there’s plenty of evidence that voters just couldn’t find it within themselves to support a guy who wears a turban.
Singh tried to find commonality among Quebecois due to their shared values on issues like environmentalism and women’s rights, he impressed in the French-language debate and in his appearance on popular talk show Tout le monde en parle, but he also spoke out against Quebec’s controversial bill-21, which bans certain public sector workers from wearing religious symbols and remains popular despite the controversy around it. He’s also an embodiment of the very type of person who would be targeted by this bill, and this election result is an unfortunate reminder of how Quebec’s focus on secularism can veer into racism and xenophobia. Sure, there are probably other factors at play in the NDP’s abysmal showing in Quebec; their success here in 2011 was itself a historical aberration that was maybe due for a correction. But this tweet from the Bloc in the leadup to election day encouraging voters to “opt for women and men who look like you” kind of gave the game away:
Whatever the reason, Quebec voters redrew the electoral map and prevented the NDP from capitalizing on any of the momentum they started to build over the course of the campaign (though ironically, they are now in a position of greater parliamentary power due to the Liberal Party’s minority status). How the Bloc is going to fit into this new political reality is somewhat difficult to predict, since they’re also vehemently against any oil pipelines being built in Quebec, and factoring in Alberta’s own nascent and very serious pro-pipeline sovereignty movement, it doesn’t really seem like a very stable arrangement.
The one unequivocal piece of good news coming out of election night was that the People’s Party of Canada was utterly humiliated at every level, and although that is certainly satisfying—particularly party leader Maxime Bernier losing his own seat in Parliament—no one should hold any illusions that there is not an enthusiastic far right constituency in this country. Bernier (who very nearly won the Conservative leadership election) and his party normalized some very extreme ideas over the course of the last year or so, and the very existence of the PPC has laundered the fact that our regular, run of the mill Conservative Party, itself filled with xenophobes, climate deniers and reptilian finance ghouls, is itself very far right.
In fact, some believe that the entire People’s Party stunt was part of a coordinated effort to do just that: the CPC’s very public expulsion of a Rebel Media journalist from a campaign event and a mysterious 11th hour leak about the Party trying to “deflect attention from the Conservatives’ own problematic candidates” and onto the PPC does seem a bit like a heavy handed attempt to make the Conservatives appear moderate and reasonable, and considering conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s ties to Rebel Media via his campaign manager Hamish Marshall, such a stunt does not seem beyond the realm of possibility. In any case, while the Conservatives were not able to form the government, they did win the popular vote, and though the rhetoric might be more civil, they’re still speaking to much of the same audience that Bernier and the PPC tried so desperately to cultivate.
So, while we still have a prime minister who is at least somewhat amenable to progressive values, and a third party holding the balance of power that could, in theory, extract meaningful concessions in exchange for keeping the government afloat, it would be a mistake to believe that Canada is on steadier political footing than some of our Western counterparts, or that the global trends of institutional xenophobia or extreme political polarization are on the verge of being reversed. If anything, we’re most likely heading for a recession that will upend whatever little stability Canada has left and really allow the ugliness that’s been festering under the surface of this country for decades to escape and poison us all. Typical of Canada, we’re often a few years behind the times, but we always catch up in the end.