Editorial: While Conservatives soul-search, Liberals have much to do

We’re glad it’s over, and the result of the Oct. 21 federal election – a Liberal minority – is possibly the best that could be obtained in the context of a lackluster campaign, relatively weak policy initiatives, and the Conservative campaign to demonize Justin Trudeau.

Since he will have to govern with the support of opposition party members, the first year of his new and weakened mandate will be a time of compromise and cooperation. It is no one party’s interest to have another go at it, at least until there is an unresolvable conflict. Minority governments in Canada usually last 12 to 18 months.

The Liberals have to compensate for total lack of support in Saskatchewan and Alberta; the NDP, which had to mortgage its headquarters in Ottawa to finance the campaign, is broke and ran a poor campaign in Quebec; and the resurgent Bloc Québécois will have to navigate its pro-Quebec outlook in a way that makes it seem credible.

The Conservatives, who actually won more of the popular vote than the Liberals and increased their seat count by 23, will have a lot of soul-searching to do. Some are geared up to blame the leader, while the Conservative platform, as described by the National Post’s Chris Selley, who followed Andrew Scheer in the campaign, amounted to “random dreck.”

Conservative program “a dumb, pandering” mess

“The party that insists every dollar left in your pocket is better than one collected by the government nevertheless pledged to bring back Stephen Harper’s politically micro-targeted tax breaks for your kids’ lacrosse and saxophone lessons. The party
that boasts of representing Canada proudly and properly on the world stage vowed to cut our already middling foreign aid budget by 25 per cent, insisting against all evidence it could do so only by excluding objectively un-needy or unworthy
recipients. This is the party that vowed to end needle-exchange programs in prisons, which borders on criminal negligence. It was a dumb, pandering, unambitious mess that reeked of focus grouping.”

Even Scheer’s promise to follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump (and the government of Guatemala) by promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move our embassy there failed to persuade Jewish voters to increase their support. Based on calculations by Andrew Griffith from the 2011 National Household Survey of the number of Jews by religion or ethnicity, in Mount Royal riding (30.7 per cent Jewish), Liberal Anthony Housefather saw his share of the vote increase by 6 per cent; In Notre-Dame-de Grâce-Westmount, (10.6 percent Jewish), Marc Garneau won another majority while the Conservative candidate, Neil Drabkin, came a distant third, with three percent less support than the party’s candidate in 2015. Liberals Sameer Zuberi in Pierrefonds–Dollard (8.5 per cent) and Emanuella Lambropoulos in Saint-Laurent (7.4 per cent) won majorities.

Housefather, Guilbeault belong in cabinet

One possible follow-up is that Housefather, who skillfully chaired controversial hearings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights looking into the SNC Lavalin affair, should be in line for a promotion to cabinet. The same goes for Steven Guilbeault, the La Tuque-born environmentalist, who left the movement to bolster Liberal credibility and won in the hotly
contested Laurier–Sainte-Marie riding.

Then there is climate change, and the simplistic and retrograde Conservative war against the carbon tax may well have helped bolster the party’s standing among its base, but went against the growing conviction among Canadians that this is a reasonable way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is not a coincidence that Conservative candidates lost voting share in 144 ridings, 139 of which were in Ontario and Quebec.

When you add the support that went to Liberals, the NDP, Greens, and Bloc Québécois, fully two-thirds of Canadian voters support the carbon tax. And when it comes to Scheer’s personal views as a social conservative against same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive freedom, he appeared out of synch with a large majority that supports these hard-won rights.

As noted by political scientist Duncan Cameron in a thoughtful essay for Rabble.ca, Scheer is not a Canadian Conservative and the party he leads has little in common with the Progressive Conservative (PC) traditions of R.B. Bennett, John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield, and Joe Clark. “Historically, Canadian PC’s have been wary of U.S. domination of the economy, loyal to principles of British cabinet government, protective of institutions such as the courts, universities, banks, churches and military, and anxious to protect the weak and vulnerable from the excesses of liberal capitalism.”

Scheer’s Conservatives mimic U.S. Republicans

Scheer’s Conservatives – the product of the 2003 merger of the federal PCs led by Peter MacKay and the Canadian Alliance led by Stephen Harper – resembles more the U.S. Republican Party than the Tory traditions of its predecessor.

Today’s Conservative Party is rooted in the philosophy of Preston Manning’s Reform Party, which became the Canadian Alliance. As Cameron notes, Scheer’s Conservatives, much like the United Conservative Party of Alberta and Doug Ford’s PC’s in Ontario, “mimicked U.S. Republicans: presenting themselves to voters as a low-tax, anti-government party, comfortable with a social conservative agenda.”

The new Liberal government can govern effectively and gain broad support in the House of Commons by implementing aspects of its program that appeal to the majority of voters. These should include action on a long-promised initiative on universal pharmacare, with faster implementation than the promised “down payment” as part of a $6 billion health plan over four years. The Liberals have previously promised $7.5 billion over a decade to expand childcare across Canada. The government should expand its platform promise to provide funds to cut before- and after-school child care fees by 10 per cent and increase the Canadian Child benefit by up to $1,000 for children under a year old.

Of particular interest to seniors, we expect rapid follow up on a ten-per cent boost in Old Age Security for all 75 plus, a 25 per cent increase in survivor’s benefits, and more funds for provinces to ensure access to family doctors.

Similarly, the basic exemption on federal income taxes is to be boosted to the first $15,000 in income, and finally we expect action on a pledge within four years to reduce cell phone bills – among the highest in the world – by 25 per cent.

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