Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The aftermath

When Stephen Harper first approached the possibility of a majority government in 2006, he tried to reassure Canadians that they could afford to vote for him since the civil service, courts and Senate would all serve as counterweights.

Now, Harper will have his majority - but only after the civil service has been thoroughly silenced and the latter two institutions made subject to five years of Harper appointments. Which raises the question of what can be done to keep Harper and his party from doubling down on the damage they've already done in a minority government.

Fortunately, there's at least a modicum of good news on that front.

To start with, the NDP has not only won official opposition status, but has managed to put together a particularly strong base of opposition in the process.

On my quick look, only once has an opposition to a majority government held more seats than the NDP's 102. And that was the result of a government losing power (Joe Clark's PCs in 1980) rather than a party demonstrating growth from one election to the next.

And that stronger, more activist opposition party looks to have plenty of opportunity to tap into broader public interest. We've seen both protest movements and positive surges of support develop over the past couple of years - and if some of the outpouring of interest from the campaign can be channelled into visible popular opposition, then it may be harder for Harper to reshape the country in his image than he may assume.

Of course, none of the above is to say that we should be happy with the results of an election which nearly resulted in real change for the better, but instead handed absolute institutional power to a leader who's done nothing but abuse every opportunity he's received. And I'll look at the big questions for each Canadian party going forward in the next couple of days.

But now is the time to take stock of our best means to combat Harper's plans, rather than giving up or looking to point fingers when the public's mood toward Harper is about to set the tone for the next four years. And the combination of a true clash of values and an engaged citizenry could go a long way toward avoiding the worst.

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