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Mercedes Allen

Canada Votes for Hard Right Turn

Filed By Mercedes Allen | May 04, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Canada, Christian Nationalism, conservative politics, international, politics, Stephen Harper

Canada voted Monday, and in the end, centrist Canadians decided - thanks to some effective Conservative Party messaging and third-party vote-splitting parliament.jpg- that they were more frightened by "socialism" than they were by the thought of a theocratic-influenced, Republican-style, control-fixated Stephen Harper majority government.

For my international readers who view Canada as a kind of liberal oasis and are envious of developments like equal marriage and the near-passage of a transsexual & transgender human rights bill (actually, it did pass, but died in the Senate when the election was called), they may want to watch what develops in the next four to five years. Because Canada has had Conservative governments before - and even Conservative majority governments - but there is clear indication that yesterday's vote signals a hard turn toward the right, and with fewer mechanisms than in previous years to hold that in check.

There had been no shortage of speculation on either side of the map as to what a non-progressive Conservative majority would look like in Canada. By some accounts, we'd see a new capitalist utopia of unfettered crime fighting and McJob creation. By others, we'd see a social agenda unleashed which, now completely unbridled, would rewrite Canada into a Christian Nationalist dictatorship.

The truth is more likely neither: a majority Conservative government is really far more likely to continue the tightroping trend it began five years ago, when first elected to a minority government and faced with having to work with centrist and left-wing parties to pass legislation. From the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Harper's long game, as he's discussed in years past, is to shift Canada rightward politically so that the Conservatives replace the Liberals as the "natural governing party" in the eyes of voters. That's not going to occur overnight and it's not going to happen by spooking voters with radical changes from a party the Tory Leader has acknowledged is more conservative than the Canadian public.

The Conservative Leader will likely seek to change Canada more incrementally.

Which is exactly what Stephen Harper has been doing for five years. But even so, the activities the Conservatives have undertaken by stealth signal some serious transforming changes in the air for Canada - even if you look only at those things the party has indicated it intends to do, has attempted to do and has already achieved off the public radar.

It is worth noting that Stephen Harper isn't himself as extreme as his political base, but that he is very control-oriented, a fear-based motivator, and has found far-right elements a dependable constituency during an election. However, after five years of faithful support and in light of a major rightward surge against abortion in the U.S. this base will be expecting far more from a Conservative majority government.

It is also worth noting that in terms of popular vote, the progressive parties combined far surpasses that of the Conservatives, and pundits this morning are more often lamenting a Conservative majority than hailing an historic breakthrough for New Democrats. In some ways, the election was less a vote for a hard right turn and more one of growing division between the left and right, with the center effectively frightened.

I ran an in-depth, three-part series at Dented Blue Mercedes, which has much more information for those who are interested, and I'll only lightly touch on here. I discussed how the current Conservatives grew out of a political reform movement in a disaffected and disillusioned west, a movement that called for Senate reform, pension reform, transparency in government, responsible oil sands development and an end to scandals.

That first article is worth noting, because Canada is very much a multi-national and multi-cultural state, being a loose coalition of English-speaking and French-speaking people of European descent and a marginalized and often completely forgotten Aboriginal population. There are major cultural, economic, and political rifts in the country, the latter highlighted dramatically by the stark polarized election of both a hard-right government and an opposition that is further left than Canada has ever had.

Ultimately, there are two possible directions for Canada's future: a visionary rethinking of multiculturalism from a decolonial perspective (which is admittedly difficult to coalesce, and not on the horizon) or a more strongly centralized authoritarianism. The Harper Conservatives are the latter, but are also the next step in a gradual evolution in that direction started by a number of previous administrations.

I've also gone into depth (fully linked) about how the political reform movement that merged into and dominated the new Conservative Party was hijacked from the beginning by social conservatism, trained in spin by U.S. far-right personalities like Frank Luntz and Ralph Reed, and outlined the infrastructure that forms the new Conservatives' base: allied Evangelical and Catholic Fundamentalist brands of Christian Nationalism (which needs to be recognized as being something very different from Christianity), a derailed version of Fusionist Libertarian perspectives and anti-Islam/Christian Zionist sentiment. When that article was first posted, I had to revisit it due to an unrelated concern, but the response to it (some of which had to be moderated and banned) surprised me with just how much Islamophobic and anti-Arabic sentiment has been fomenting in Canada's far right.

But as far as I am concerned, faith - whether Muslim or Christian - is not the problem: individuals who are inclined toward fascism based on any particular overriding hardline literalist ideology is.

I concluded with how what we got instead of reform was the social redesign of Canada, the dismantling of democratic and community organization infrastructure, and the revisiting of social agendas by stealth - without "reopening the debate." And in fact, that particular piece of Harper phraseology is worth noting because debate is exactly what Harper does not want: better instead to act by stealth and hope it's unnoticed until the landscape has overwhelmingly changed in his favor.

The social change by stealth approach was most recently illustrated when a backbencher bragged to an anti-abortion organization of "defunding" International Planned Parenthood, which American readers will recognize as the clarion call of the resurgence of anti-abortion activities in the U.S. Indeed, a developing pattern of attempted restrictions on access, funding and awareness, attempted elimination of abortion, and even contraception from womens' health programs beyond our borders and attempted fetus personhood bills have not only mirrored the wave occurring in America, it has been occurring since the Harper Conservatives first came to power.

One of the figures at the heart of the Conservative base is a leading international anti-abortion figure and another publishes Matt Barber, so there has doubtlessly been some cross-pollination of ideas. With a majority government, however, there are now fewer obstacles to the passage of such bills. And what is about to occur in Canada may not simply mimic U.S. Christian Nationalist and Republican techniques, but in fact may end up teaching our American counterparts how to perfect them.

There has been more occurring in the background. In the same way that Toronto Pride has been defunded behind the scenes (without any need for Parliamentary approval), the Harper Conservatives have already been busy stacking the non-elected lifetime-appointed Senate with conservatives, appointing right-leaning Supreme Court and lesser court justices, allowing and even assisting government employees to foment anti-gay, anti-woman and anti-Islam agendas, making immigration for LGBT people more difficult, and targeting left-leaning organizations for defunding, especially womens' health, Aboriginal and LGBT organizations - ostensibly for cost-cutting, while at the same time announcing new funding for theologically-biased initiatives. In the months before the election, news leaked that the Government of Canada had been rebranded the "Harper Government," and in the middle of the campaign, Sun TV - referred to as "Fox News North" - launched with a former Harper advisor at the helm.... and quickly hatched a bogus smear tactic against NDP leader Jack Layton.

We will probably not see a government initiative to ban same-sex marriage, although we could certainly see a private member's bill to attempt to do so (which is a technique the Conservatives have used to put forth anti-abortion initiatives thus far without seeming to support them as a party). However, here are some of the things the Harper Conservatives will very likely do in short order:


  1. Citizens United, Canada-style: Canada currently has a vote subsidy based on the popular vote that helps provide funding for political parties based on the amount of national support they have. This is to help offset a limit that was placed on the amount of money corporations and private parties can contribute to campaigns. The intent of that is to ensure that democracy isn't determined solely based on who has the most money. Even with those restrictions, the ability of the Harper Conservatives (who have previously found loopholes to skirt them) to buy top-dollar and often pre-election ad time during the Oscars, Grammy Awards, Hockey Night in Canada and Super Bowl was cited as a reason for the demise of the Liberal Party. Even before becoming leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper has tried to have the corporate donation cap struck down, and the first prorogation (shut-down) of Parliament occurred when opposition parties united to block his attempt to eliminate the per-vote subsidy. Harper has vowed to eliminate all party subsidies if given a majority, so expect "electoral reform" bill which will result in democracy being decided by whoever can obtain the most corporate funding.

  2. In the third part of "In the Bedrooms of the Nation," I outlined how the Harper Conservatives were working to defund womens' health and anything reproduction-related that wasn't abstinence-only in nature, as a way to erode abortion and womens' health infrastructure overall. Expect that to continue, and a new onslaught of private members bills to try to ultimately twist legal abortion into murder. Some of these techniques will likely include legislation to grant health care providers the right to refuse medical treatment to anyone they morally object to, and things tried in America like legislation that would call for investigation of miscarriages or roadblocks like 72-hour delays, lengthy psychiatric intimidation and reductions in the number of locations providing care. If these bills continue to be handled as free votes, their success rate may remain low or mixed.

  3. Conservative appointments throughout Canada's governmental infrastructure will continue, with Harper's Christian Nationalist base being given ever-increasing positions of influence.

  4. Republican-style attack ads and tactics to marginalize and discourage left-leaning voters - which occurred on a few occasions during this campaign - will increase in occurrence and become better-hidden.

  5. New Internet changes will be proposed, including ISP surveillance and a collection of overly broad anti-pirating initiatives.

  6. Expect a return of omnibus crime bills designed to fill all the prisons Harper is building and expanding, further encourage prison privatization, and ensure that release becomes increasingly unattainable. The Conservatives have already arbitrarily eliminated health care funding for transsexuals in the correctional system, even though there is a Supreme Court ruling which mandates its availability.

  7. Increasing militarization is also expected. This has been no secret, and in fact it was lies about the price of engineless F-35 fighter jets that led to historic charges of contempt and the collapse of the minority government and election call in the first place.

  8. The Harper Conservatives have mulled changes to the Canada Human Rights Commission before and eliminating statutes addressing hate speech. This is another area he will be facing renewed pressure from his political base on.


In other words, more of the same, but with care to avoid visibility, and without an opposition able to provide an effective buffer.

So What Now For the Progressive Left?

Although Canada is more federally-controlled than the US, much of what governs our lives in terms of social accommodation, human rights, civil institutions, medical access, education, immigration and more are still very much decided province-by-province. While it is unlikely LGBT-affirming and protective legislation will go anywhere with this government, as we've seen with womens' health, the worst damage the Harper Conservatives can do is in the area of government funding.

It's a serious concern, yes, but advocacy now needs to refocus on the local level, to find areas where we can improve life on the smaller scale, and educate Canadians along the way. And in the meantime, we need to hold the Conservatives accountable for their ongoing stealth activities.

Image from sxc.hu


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And something I should add, for those who will find this to be dire news:

In spite of all that, this too will pass.

DROP the democracy bashing. Third party's don't "split votes". Please don't attack me because, when given a choice between two evils, I refuse to choose evil. This is exactly the shitty type of argument that the Democrats, a right wing party, use to bash anyone progressive or on the Left.

If this is indicative of how the 2012 elections will play out, we can expect millions of progressive queers to go to the polls and vote for right wing pro-corporate Democrats. But what else is new?

Um, I've lived with a multi-party system for over 4 decades. We have 5 major parties, in fact: one right-wing (Conservatives, which are a merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Reform / Alliance), one centrist (Liberals) and three left-wing (NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois, who are also regionally specific to the Province of Quebec)

One thing that is pretty much a consensus among pundits and media over the near collapse of the Liberal Party and Bloc Quebecois in this election is that people who leaned left flocked to the NDP and centrist Liberals who were scared of the "socialism" boogey monster bolted to the Conservatives.

One distinction that should be made is that ours is strictly a first-past-the-post electoral system, i.e. the party with the most seats governs, rather than selecting a leader based on popular vote.

I doubt that a 2-party system would be perfect either, but when we have a united right and the left and centre of the spectrum are split so many ways, it doesn't help.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 5, 2011 3:11 AM

Mercedes, I think your analysis is off on several key points.

The Conservatives are a right centrist party. The Greens and Liberals are centrist parties and the NDP is left centrist. From the viewpoint of working people none of these parties are leftist.

The Parti Québécois (PQ) is in transition to the right. Although still nominally nationalist it's far from being staunchly independentist. Nationalism is a program that when combined with trade union and leftist ideologies has real meaning for workers in minority communities. By itself its an ideology that flounders when the class struggle heats up. Last year the PQs right wing expelled it's left wing (Syndicalistes et Progressistes pour un Québec Libre. The SPQ Libre is still in disarray.

The Liberals and the PQ lost heavily when people became disillusioned with them for the same reasons nearly 30 million American voters deserted the Democrats last fall. They're all centrist parties moving inexorably right.

To be precise, neither Canada or the US moved right in recent elections. Rather, voters expressed their disgust with pretenders and sellouts in a period dominated by the impact of global depression and imposed austerity measures. The Canadian election and the US Congressional elections are indications of a sharp class polarization and the growth of radicalizing class consciousness. Escalating political and class polarization is on the agenda in all western nations. The abrupt swings from this to that fake party are preshocks of bigger events as things destabilize. Next time the Republicans and Conservatives will go down in flames, politically speaking.

Todays Pew Research Studey says "that a growing number of Americans "are choosing not to identify with either political party, and the center of the political spectrum is increasingly diverse. Rather than being moderate, many of these independents hold extremely strong ideological positions..."

"For political leaders in both parties, the challenge is not only one of appeasing ideological and moderate "wings" within their coalitions, but rather holding together remarkably disparate groups, many of whom have strong disagreements with core principles that have defined each party's political character in recent years." The days when political prostitues like Obama or Romney could lie and get away with it are over for good.

The NDP is, more or less, the party of the trade union leadership and should get electoral support even if it's program is far from ideal. The liberals, PQ, Conservatives and Greens deserve no support.

The Conservatives present themselves as centre-right. Their MPs have been predominantly rooted in the far-right Reform / Alliance, and their policies noticeably further right than the Progressive Conservatives that they merged with. Harper himself is not as extreme, but has found this base a valuable way of getting out a consistent vote. He's tightrope walking. I've discussed more of this in the series at DBM.

The NDP actually has two factions, although it hasn't been obvious yet since they haven't been in a position to determine much public policy, and whatever they've proposed thus far had to appeal to other parties. There are some people who are quite left, and others pulling to the centre and this tug-of-war has yet to play itself out.

The PQ are provincial only (Quebec) and not to be confused with the BQ. They have some ties, but are not one and the same. The change against SPQ Libre did not significantly change the BQ.

I do believe that the majority of Canadians are socially progressive. However, it still stands that voters chose a majority conservative government over the alternatives. The truly disillusioned stayed home. And this will move Canada to the right. Especially with the changes Harper is making and will make to governmental infrastructure.

This actually mirrors what's been happening over the last few years in Europe, too, where center-left parties are being rejected in favor of actually left parties and rightwing parties because liberal parties have all been bought up by corporations and don't stand for anything. It's been helping the right as much as the left.

In the US, though, there's no alternative to the two big parties, so who knows how this will play out in 2012.

Something will need to be done about the legality of political advertising and message spreading tied with fundraising.

So long as elections can continue to be bought, we're going to be in a world of trouble in terms of class breakdown and the existing gaps.

Jay Kallio | May 5, 2011 4:05 AM

Here in the US we need total campaign finance reform, switching to public financing of elections. I do not believe we will see any meaningful progressive change until then. Both parties here are corporate owned.

Many voters do not understand that when they vote for (or against) a party to express objection they are inadvertently empowering the conservatives to change the nature of government on all levels. When the Right wins there is radical rightward turn when those conservatives replace government workers and administrators with their own right wing ideologues who can then make their desired changes in the "stealth" manner that Mercedes describes.

It is the radical base who take over government jobs and policy when their party figureheads win. We then see the defunding of social services and safety net, rerouting of resources even more toward the rich, and a greater than ever disparity in distribution of wealth. That seals the deal in terms of power shifts toward the right.

They then gut public agencies and regulatory bodies so they no longer can perform their functions well, and then criticize their inadequate performance, and privatize those agencies on that basis. Government turns into another arm of business with profit as it's only motive, not public service. The whole process is rank. The problem is, it succeeds.

I was very disappointed that the Harper party won in Canada. I had high hopes based on the polls that it would have turned out otherwise.

Jay Kallio | May 5, 2011 4:06 AM

Here in the US we need total campaign finance reform, switching to public financing of elections. I do not believe we will see any meaningful progressive change until then. Both parties here are corporate owned.

Many voters do not understand that when they vote for (or against) a party to express objection they are inadvertently empowering the conservatives to change the nature of government on all levels. When the Right wins there is radical rightward turn when those conservatives replace government workers and administrators with their own right wing ideologues who can then make their desired changes in the "stealth" manner that Mercedes describes.

It is the radical base who take over government jobs and policy when their party figureheads win. We then see the defunding of social services and safety net, rerouting of resources even more toward the rich, and a greater than ever disparity in distribution of wealth. That seals the deal in terms of power shifts toward the right.

They then gut public agencies and regulatory bodies so they no longer can perform their functions well, and then criticize their inadequate performance, and privatize those agencies on that basis. Government turns into another arm of business with profit as it's only motive, not public service. The whole process is rank. The problem is, it succeeds.

I was very disappointed that the Harper party won in Canada. I had high hopes based on the polls that it would have turned out otherwise.

That's a kick ass series on your own site, Mercedes. I highly recommend it to Bilerico readers. Well worth the click!

Thanks. I can't elaborate on how, but it's become apparent that it struck some nerves.

The feedback from Harper's base is starting to come in (video will probably be available for only 24-48 hours): http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20110504/conservatives-religious-right-supporters-110504/

David Krayden (CVC): "I think it's time for those who don't think abortion is not on the table to realize it's catch-up with the rest of the Western world..." (a nod to the US clarion call against Planned Parenthood, something that surfaced during the campaign when a backbencher was speaking to an anti-abortion group)

It's notable that both are talking about abolishing Human Rights Commissions, and not just the hate speech clause. Ben-Ami's constituency is Canada's Jewish community, although he's tied to a lot of the Christian Zionist efforts in the far right, and it was felt that the Jewish community was one of Harper's obstacles to abolishing HRCs.