Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/5/2011 (3252 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
British physicist Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law states "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction."
In physics, so too in politics, as Canada's 41st federal election proved Monday night.
The long era of brokerage politics that began with Confederation in 1867 has closed. Instead of consensus-builders, Canada's dominant parties now occupy opposed ideological ground — Conservatives on the right, New Democrats on the left.
The transformation, begun with Stephen Harper's Conservatives' first minority victory in 2006, took just five years to complete, demolishing 144 years of alternation between Canada's historic two big political tents, the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, parties that had dominated Canada since before Confederation.
As they contemplate their new political reality, Canadians can take heart from hints his goal of majority won, their elbows-up prime minister might mellow.
His speech to the Calgary faithful late election night carried traces of consensus, compromise and conciliation.
Having pummelled the loathed Liberals into the ground, Harper managed to express some generosity to the second member of his despised triumverate of "Liberals, socialists and separatists," the new Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, Jack Layton, praising the fact the New Democrats' amazing sweep of 58 of Quebec's 75 ridings had dealt a body blow to the Bloc Québécois.
One robin does not a spring make, however, and Harper has a lot of ground to cover to abandon his scorched-earth policy towards Parliament and any and all critics he treats as enemies of the state.
Less than two weeks before the election, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a disturbing commentary by University of Ottawa law student Maria Gergin, entitled Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record.
"Over the past five years, exercise of the fundamental freedom of speech in Canada has been curbed and discouraged by a federal government increasingly intolerant of even the mildest criticism or dissent," Gergin writes.
"Particularly affected have been organizations dependent on government funding, which advocate for human rights and women's equality. Their voices have been stifled, some completely silenced, by cuts to their budgets... The Harper government's now lengthy record of silencing — or attempting to silence — its critics also includes the removal of heads of government agencies, commissions and tribunals who insist on making independent decisions."
Academic freedom is also coming under attack. Professors who have spoken against government actions or policies have been targeted with freedom-of-information requests requesting details of teaching reviews and records.
"This blatant suppression of basic human rights by a government constitutionally responsible for guaranteeing their expression is unprecedented in Canada's history," she says.
Gergin's list of organizations, programs, agencies and individuals who have been cancelled, defunded, silenced and removed by the Harper Conservatives fills three and a half pages and numbers a staggering 93 — from the 20-year-old Court Challenges Program, which advanced the rights of women, immigrants and refugees to the Law Commission of Canada to the Canadian Council on Social Development.
Equally worrying is Harper's unprecedented assault on Parliament itself. In the final days of the campaign, the prime minister repeatedly refused to answer when asked if he would accept the Governor General's decision to hand power to the opposition should he lose the election or a parliamentary vote. Journalists who dared to press the issue were jeered and booed by Tory supporters.
Also in the last days of the election, the prime minister's widely perceived antagonism to Parliament caused Peter Russell, University of Toronto professor emeritus of political science, to post a video on YouTube telling Canadians bluntly he "feared for Canada" given the prime minister's open disdain of Parliament.
"I've never been more worried in my entire life of democratic citizenship in Canada about the possible outcome of an election," Russell begins. "I really fear... if the Harper Conservatives were to win a majority in the House of Commons it would be an indication that parliamentary crime pays."
Russell notes the Conservatives had been found in contempt of Parliament by the Speaker of the House for refusing the most basic and historic of all parliamentary rights — the obligation of the king to tell the Commons "how much things cost... We're the fourth-oldest parliamentary democracy in the world. I treasure it, but I would be afraid that our government would be in the hands of people who don't treasure it, don't respect it... I hope all Canadians really worry and think about it and prevent a majority."
Russell didn't get his wish. But now that Harper did get his, perhaps he'll mellow and govern for all Canadians, not just his angry base.
Frances Russell is a Winnipeg
author and political commentator.