It could be the Republican-style voter suppression tactics, or the muzzling of scientists. Or the cutting in half of health transfers, with the obvious intent of weakening Medicare by forcing the provinces to raise taxes or privatize health services—after the election. Or the obvious lack of respect for campaign finance legislation, independent officers of parliament, or the Supreme Court of Canada. Or the ingenious way the prime minister had of appearing to support Michael Chong’s Reform bill—while strategizing to kill it in the Senate. Or Bill C-51 (the Anti-Terrorism Act), which drastically expands the definition of ‘security’, gives the government far too much discretion in its acts of surveillance, and criminalizes speech that has no direct connection to violent acts. Or it could be the ways in which the government’s failure to engage with others on climate change and the ham-fisted approach to building pipelines backfired. Or so-called omnibus budget implementation bills, so egregiously stuffed with arbitrary measures that they have sparked two different social protest movements—Idle No More and Evidence for Democracy.
Whatever your reasons for concern, it now appears that prime minister Harper wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to change Canada beyond recognition.
But has he succeeded? It may be that he has—but not in the way that he had intended. Popular support has been building for major change—to the point that political scientist Denis PIlon has called this the most propitious moment for major electoral reform (proportional representation) since 1919. An NDP government in Alberta has brought a breath of fresh air to environmental and energy policy by stating bluntly that it recognizes the truth about climate change and the particularly polluting nature of the oil sands. Imagine that, a truth-based policy! If there is also a change of government at the federal level (Liberal or NDP or minority government), Canada could present a very different face to the world in December, one that is determined to be part of the solution and not just meekly tied to whatever Washington is prevented from doing by its domestic oil lobby.
If there is a change in October, the future path of development for our health care system could also be very different from the one intended by the prime minister. Conservatives like to argue that it improves accountability to have less money sloshing around in unconditional transfers and forcing provinces to raise their own taxes. But they ignore that you can also achieve a better match between fiscal capacity and spending responsibilities by uploading certain responsibilities to the federal level that fit the federal government’s jurisdiction and competence –such as a greater national role for income support, student grants, and pharmacare. By resisting Harper’s agenda and finding creative new ways to reform our democratic institutions, our health care systems, and our economic priorities, we may indeed create a new Canada.
Mark Crawford teaches politics at Athabasca University.