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Have a nice day -- Harper's out for the next decade

But we have to push the Liberals to fight the austerity agenda

by Judy Haiven

(photo by Darryl Dyck/CP)
(photo by Darryl Dyck/CP)

My bus driver’s pleasant ‘Have a good day’ took on new meaning as he dropped me at work the day after the election.  He smiled and I laughed – I asked him was it the Blue Jays’ victory or Harper’s defeat that made everyone so happy and so friendly merely hours after the election results.

We, on the left, felt that we had to vote strategically to defeat Harper.  Turns out we were wrong.  If the country had voted strategically, we would have a minority government – likely a Tory minority or a Liberal minority.  Neither could have lasted – and a new election, possibly called a few months later, could have resulted in another grim Tory majority.

It seems the only sure bet to sweep Harper out of office was a resounding majority vote – for the Liberals.

Someone I trust told me that 31% of Canadians form the Conservatives’ ‘base’.  That’s borne out by facts – the Tories won 99 ridings – just less than one-third of the federal ridings.  Despite the Duffy trial, the revelations about Nigel Wright writing the $90,000 cheque, the intrigue at the prime minister’s office, the Tories’ warped and inhumane response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the government’s attempts to battle against the right of one niqab-wearing woman to the Supreme Court of Canada, and ban women who wear niqabs from working the federal civil service — the Tories were able to maintain their solid ‘base’ of about one third of voting Canadians.  Add to that, the Harper government’s passage (with the Liberals’ help of course) of the notorious Anti-Terrorism Act (the former Bill C-51 which criminalizes just about any serious dissent), and the passage of Bill C-24, which permits the government to revoke someone’s citizenship (if they are a dual citizen) and has been convicted of spying, or terrorism – the Tory ‘base’ remained firmly in place.

It is a sad fact that to get rid of Harper and members of his nasty, right-wing cabinet including Julian Fantino, Chris Alexander and Joe Oliver—there had to be a major sacrifice.  That sacrifice was the NDP.  No matter how much people liked and respected NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie MP for Halifax, and long-time MP Peter Stoffer in Sackville-Preston-Chezzacook — they both had to lose their seats if Atlantic Canada was going to send a strong dump Harper message to the rest of the country.  The same applied to NDP’s Robert Chisholm who lost his seat in Dartmouth and Jack Harris in St John’s East, in Newfoundland.

Where to go from here?

Harper is gone. He won’t be back. Without him, the party has lost its champion, its key strategist and the person who has incrementally changed the face of Canada for the last decade.  It is a leaner, meaner Canada.  A Canada that sees seasonal and casual workers in the Maritimes as spongers, who need to have their EI taken away.  A Canada which denies climate change and dropped out of the Kyoto talks years ago. A Canada that punishes its veterans yet pours billions into building warships to be ‘one of the boys’ in NATO.  A Canada that tries to diminish workers’ rights to have unions, while at the same time publicly challenging the Supreme Court which upholds those rights.  A Canada in which scientists and researchers are muzzled or fired.  The Tories have created a Canada with a culture of fear,  stinginess, contempt for the poor and disenfranchised,  and of tremendous privilege for those at the top.

However, lest we forget, Harper was not the only villain. For more than 25 years, political leader after leader has kneeled at the altar of neo-liberalism, and supported an austerity agenda. 

Jean Chretien’s Liberal government was no exception.  In 1994, his finance minister, Paul Martin, vowed that for every dollar raised in new revenues, the government would cut five dollars in government expenditures[1].   The Liberals also decimated Employment Insurance (EI) benefits for the jobless.  In the 1990s, over 80% of unemployed received benefits; by 2000 that number had dropped to 45%[2].  The federal Liberal governments in the ‘90s capped funding for public housing and downloaded the responsibility for them to the provinces.  There were about 20,000 new public social housing units built in 1993, and just under 2,000 built in 1998[3].  Finally, between 1993 and 2011, after-tax incomes for the top quintile grew three times as quickly as they did for the bottom quintile[4].  

In this election, though Justin Trudeau said he would run a deficit, Tom Mulcair said he was “not entertaining any thought” of doing so – even though that decision would have meant massive cuts to public services.  Mulcair also promised a $40-million tax credit for businesses that invest in innovation, and cutting the tax rate to small business from 11% to 9% from 11%[5].

Where will the Liberals go with their majority and what will they do? Decades of politicians from the right, the centre and the left have convinced Canadians that there is no alternative to austerity – even as the rich get richer. Statistics Canada reports that from 1999 to 2012 the average net worth of the top 20 per cent of families rose by an average of 80%, compared with 38% for the bottom fifth of the population[6]

The Liberals have a long list of what they have to do almost immediately: rescind the Anti-Terrorism Act, dump Bill C-24, create jobs so that our infrastructure of roads, bridges and cities can be saved?  Help the poor? Set up an inquiry into the missing and murdered Aboriginal women? Admit and support tens of thousands of refugees? The list is long and growing.  But I’ll bet that the Liberals will have the next 10 years in which to do it.  Unfortunately, the NDP suffered collateral damage.



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