November 15, 2019

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Stark political divide makes conciliation a priority; Canada's future depends on it

Opinion

If you draw a line at the Manitoba-Ontario border and compare the results from Monday’s federal election, the contrast is startling. The governing Liberals lost the popular vote in every province west of that line. Yet they won the most votes in every province east of it.

Out of 104 seats west of the border (close to a third of the seats in the country), the Liberals won only 15, or 14 per cent. They were shut out in two of four western provinces. Liberal stalwart and longtime former cabinet minister Ralph Goodale was punted from his Regina-Wascana seat. Likewise, Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, a shining star in the Conservative caucus, was defeated in her Ontario riding of Milton.

 

It’s almost like two different countries.

One side, for the most part, chose a fiscally conservative party that pledged to balance the books, cancel the carbon tax, build pipelines and turn Alberta’s disastrous economy around. The other side chose perennial government deficits, a higher carbon tax, no new pipelines, and were largely indifferent to the plight of Alberta.

One side objected to a prime minister who politically interfered in the criminal prosecution of a multinational corporation. The other side didn’t care.

The East voted to further socialize Canada’s health-care system through a national pharmacare program. The West chose to preserve the right of people to buy their own prescription drug coverage while maintaining provincial pharmacare plans for those in need.

Not everyone who voted Liberal or Conservative fell into such a neat, cookie-cutter mould. It’s not that simplistic. But the contrast between the East and the West was so profound in this election, it should be a major concern for all Canadians.

The contrast between the East and the West was so profound in this election, it should be a major concern for all Canadians.

There is an antidote for this. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could take a more conciliatory tone and work collaboratively with other parties; not only with the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, but the Conservatives, too. In fact, he must.

That’s not easy to do in Parliament's combative environment, where parties almost always put their own interests ahead of anything else. But something has to give.

Every party leader — save for the Bloc Quebecois' Yves-François Blanchet — wants to be prime minister, or wants to retain that title. Everything they do revolves around trying to achieve that goal. Most people get into politics because they want to be in government. It’s good to be king and everybody in politics wants to be king. That may seem cynical, but it’s reality.

Most politicians speak in platitudes about rejecting division and negativity. However, they don’t adhere to that principle. Their real goal is to win power at almost any cost.

There are exceptions to that rule. But we need to see more of those exceptions, from all parties, including Conservatives in the West. It’s unrealistic to expect any party to set aside their overarching goal of wanting to occupy the Office of the Prime Minister. But for the sake of Canadian unity, that basic instinct has to be tempered.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could take a more conciliatory tone and work collaboratively with other parties; not only with the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, but the Conservatives, too. In fact, he must. (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press files)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could take a more conciliatory tone and work collaboratively with other parties; not only with the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, but the Conservatives, too. In fact, he must. (Paul Chiasson / Canadian Press files)

There’s no road map to follow in order to get there. Politicians are wired to tear each other apart. We saw that in spades in this election. But Canada is facing some serious challenges, particularly in Alberta, a province whose wealth Canadians have relied upon for decades to fund front-line services such as health care, education and social services.

Oil has to get to market. Pipelines need to get built. Parliament has to figure out how to do that. And the prime minister should be having multiple meetings with western premiers and Indigenous leaders to get the job done.

Practical solutions to address climate change, including adaptation, also need to be pursued. But those must be balanced with the economic needs of the West. For the sake of Canadian unity, the vilification of Alberta’s economic priorities has to end. The anti-oil hysteria has to be curbed.

Canada is facing some serious challenges, particularly in Alberta, a province whose wealth Canadians have relied upon for decades to fund front-line services such as health care, education and social services.

That leadership can’t come from Trudeau alone. But it has to start with him. He’s the prime minister. It has to be followed by other party leaders and premiers. The constant sniping, self-serving attacks and negativity will only deepen the divisions we saw on election night.

Other than Blanchet, each leader wants to be the prime minister of Canada. But if they’re not careful, there may not be much of a country left to govern.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at 12:52 PM CDT: Removes incorrect popular vote graphic.

2:21 PM: Adds corrected popular vote graphic.

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