Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These are what shrinks call the “stages of grief,” steps a person has to go through before fully coming to terms with a traumatic event. Consider the shock of hearing the words “prime minister Stephen Harper” for the first time. I couldn’t believe it (denial), then I expressed dismay about the choices other voters made (anger). That frustration has eased in the days since the election, however, and I’ve moved on to bargaining—looking for a silver lining in the Conservative Party’s victory. For example, the Conservatives are in a minority government, with three left-leaning parties holding the bulk of seats in parliament. Isn’t Harper’s half-assed win a sign of strength for progressive politics in Canada?
The province’s largest labour organization, the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, sees hope. Ian Johnson, an NSGEU analyst, points out that the election results show “73 percent of people didn’t vote for Harper.”
Johnson is a fan of minority governments, because the ruling party has to make friends all over the political map if it wants to get any legislation passed. He says minority Nova Scotia governments work more closely with the union than majority governments do.
Minority or not, however, the Conservatives will be setting the legislative agenda. “I’m troubled that the Conservative government is in the driver’s seat,” says Johnson. “And that’s not the Progressive Conservatives.”
Gerald Keddy used to be one of those Progressive Conservatives, until his Tories joined with Harper’s aggressively conservative wing to become the straight-up Conservative Party (the shortened form of Conservative Reform Alliance Party). Now Keddy is the Conservative member of parliament for the South Shore-St. Margaret’s riding, although his opinions retain the socially liberal bent that brand him a “Red Tory.”
He says serving under Harper “in no way, shape or form prevents me from having a social conscience.” And he’s not alone. “I wouldn’t be too harsh on my colleagues. There are a lot of very progressive members of the Conservative Party.”
One of just three Conservative MPs who voted in favour of the same-sex marriage bill when it passed last year, Keddy says rookie nerves made the party look worse than it is. Many of the newest politicians in his caucus were too timid to vote against their leader. “Out of 99 players, at least another 20 would have voted with me if they had a little more experience,” he says.
An observer from the right wing of the political spectrum shares Keddy’s view that the Conservatives aren’t as bad as all that. (Were you expecting outright gloating?) Brian Lee Crowley, president of the business think-tank Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says there is “evidence the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois on a number of social issues are closer to each other than to the Tories. But there are lots of issues on which Tories and the NDP could collaborate.”
Crowley suggests electoral reform as such an area of interest. Harper’s Conservatives received just over 36 percent of the popular vote, and they got a minority of seats in parliament. But in 1997, Jean Chretien’s Liberals managed to take a majority of seats with 38 percent of the popular vote. The way seats are divided across the country doesn’t necessarily add up, and this parliament might be willing to explore some form of proportional representation to make the votes and the results align better.
Of course, no amount of reform will guarantee a contented citizenry. “If everybody wanted their own view precisely represented, there would be 30 million parties,” says Geoff Regan, the Liberal MP for Halifax West. While Regan was rewarded with a cabinet post during the Liberals’ time in power, he says he’s looking forward to seeing things from the opposition side as part of the “coalition of compassion” allied against the Conservatives. Riffing on the Conservative mantra that Canada’s west wants in, Regan says “the new ministers are in for a lot of headaches.”
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