I’ve spent the last week thinking about our recent election. I’ve contemplated writing a couple of times but warded myself off. So, here we are.
This morning, there is word that the parliament at Queen’s Park will be reconvened after one of the longest recesses in history. That’s nice. The length of hiatus, I think, was substantially determined by the timing of the federal election and the need to keep Mr. Ford quiet. The silence was deafening. I suspect, however, that not allowing Mr. Ford the voice to “energize his base” was an error in calculation and contributed to the Conservative loss, especially in the 9-0-5.
In any event, here are some thoughts which do not yet fully cohere. I stayed up into the small hours to hear the speeches. We had to wait a long time as, behind the scenes, the spinners spun. Eventually, the leaders said things but I tuned out when more than one was speaking at the same time. The speeches were dreadful.
From Messrs. Trudeau, Sheer and Singh, I heard that they each won. From Messrs. Trudeau and Sheer, I heard an awful lot of rally-the-troops, sing-to-the-choir blather wrapped in an astonishing lack of humility or critical self-awareness. At the same time, from everyone, I heard attempts to put brave faces on losses. Mr. Trudeau lost the popular vote (and AB & SK). Mr. Sheer lost the election (and ON & 9-0-5). Mr. Singh lost seats. And Ms. May lost her hope of winning a bunch more seats (three is fewer than a bunch).
Well, I’ve now pored over the entrails and it isn’t pretty.
A note about the debates. They are not debates. The clue lies in the pronouncements of the morning after. “No one landed a decisive/winning/knock-out … blow/punch/jab….” It’s some sort of blood sport mislabeled “debate” by common consent.
In another space, I ventured concern for the alienation of Alberta (and Saskatchewan). What I’ve heard a great deal of, however, is the short-form characterization of this as an “east-west” thing. It is not. Or that the Fed “isn’t listening”. It may in fact be listening but not able to give people what they want in the way they want. And so on. It’s all just not that simple. That said, there are several fault-lines discernible in the matrix of the Canadian Federation.
The first is the obvious fissure between the original Two Solitudes. M. Blanchet did very well by all accounts. To my mind, he was well-spoken, made his points plainly and clearly, and gave evidence, in public fora, of having read the briefs and thought things through. Moreover, he wasn’t deliberately abrasive. The great shame is that his competitors, dancing on eggshells, were unable to call the plain truth of Bill 21’s racism for what it is: racism.
A second faultline is an urban-rural Liberal-Conservative one. The Norwegian Poling Gnomes tell me it’s there. This would have contributed to the relative Liberal vote efficiency in urban Ontario and Conservative vote efficiency in the rural Prairies. An additional vote in one place contributed nothing to the outcome. An additional vote in another place meant the difference between winning and losing.
A third faultline has to do with fossil energy. Until this last week, not everyone was admitting that climate change is the big issue. That’s not the case anymore. Everyone said that climate change is big. The fault-line, however, has to do with the willingness to get off fossil energy anytime soon. Some are willing. Some (fewer) are not. I suspect that Mr. Ford’s challenge to the federally-imposed price on carbon will prove to be a waste of resources. I believe that New Brunswick has signalled that it may create its own programme. The climate change tide is turning if it has not already turned. (On that score, I recall that billions in smart money was recently extracted from a major pipeline project only to be replaced with not-smart-money. And with precious little thanks from anyone. We should avoid that sort of deal!)
A fourth faultline lies within the Conservative party itself. There are small-c conservatives who give evidence of occupying centre-right positions which seem entirely reasonable. But there are also people who, in the twinkling of an eye, could replace boisterous enthusiasm with the chant “Lock him up!” To his credit, Sheer didn’t put up with it and suggested the alternative “Vote him out!” However, it’s the scary chant itself, the “Lock him up!”, which is so disturbing. How quickly people chimed in! What’s the upside of keeping that “base” happy? I wonder.
A fifth faultline lies between the two main parties and their leaders. Both leaders show very little self-awareness and neither inspires confidence. With Mr. Trudeau, we bought the sizzle, in 2015, and there was no steak but we re-elected him and we’re likely stuck with him. With Mr. Sheer, there’s an awful lot of gristle. And we didn’t. And we aren’t. (The knives are out. Also, did you know that holding your nose impairs your sense of taste? True fact.)
A sixth faultline is perceived by some between have and have-not provinces or between provinces which contribute to equalization and those which draw on it. This is mostly a preaching to the locals rhetorical device which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny or shoes being on the other foot. If you’re contributing, things aren’t as bad as they could be. See my final words, below.
One of my worries is that Mr. Trudeau shows no ability to build consensus as will be necessary in a minority government. He’s not given to sharing the glory or the limelight. We’ll see.
A final note. I think we are in the throws of a major economic disruption. The movement off fossil energy is akin to the industrialization or electrification of Canada or the advent of cars or the Internet. The change, however, is coming more rapidly than did previous major disruptions and we cannot reliably predict the shape of things only a few years out. This experience, however, has analogues or at least one.
Ontario has undergone and continues to undergo a period of tremendous de-industrialization together with the loss of the family farm, movement toward factory farming, and so on. This has happened well within my working lifetime and within the very lives of the people I served as a pastor. Today, Ford announced job losses in the hundreds for a soon-to-be mothballed Ford Flex plant. It feels, to most injured Ontarians, like we’ve been building cars forever and many would have us keep on doing what we’ve been doing more or less as it’s been done. Well, in fact, not quite so. Cars have been around since the mid-to-late 1800’s. The first Canadian factory, however, was built in the next century (the last century). It cranked out a little over a hundred cars in the first year. That company is no more.
I believe the fossil fuel industry in Alberta dates to the 1940’s. But whatever the age, it hasn’t been a thing forever. Maybe 75 years? Albertans may take hope from the example of Ontario as economic voids have been filled by all manner of entrepreneurial ventures, good and bad, great and small. I think that might be where the smart money goes.
Interestingly, Ontario leaders have also sometimes howled about unfair demands made of the “engine of the Canadian economy”. Sound familiar?
André Lavergne — writing from a settler-descendant’s home on the traditional lands of the Neutral, Anishnaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples on the Haldimand Tract (1784).