No common ground left in the Commons
TheStar.com – news/Canada/politics
Published On Mon May 02 2011. By Chantal Hébert, National Columnist
Canadians turned their backs on more than a century of centrist elite accommodation on Monday and selected a Parliament where the populist right and the populist left will be going head to head for the first time.
Breaking a seven-year cycle of minority rule, a plurality of voters handed Stephen Harper — the most Conservative prime minister in the country’s modern history — the majority mandate he so fervently sought.
But, by the same token, scores of progressive voters turned away from the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals to make the NDP — Canada’s most left-leaning party — the chief critic of the Conservative government.
In the process, Canadians have traded a dysfunctional minority Parliament for a more polarized one. There is less common ground between the current Conservative team and Jack Layton’s NDP than there has been between any previous federal government and its official opposition.
The next four years have the potential to be transformative in more ways than one. For the first time in two decades, Quebec’s main voice in the House of Commons is not that of a sovereignist party. For the next four years, it will be spoken for by the NDP.
The province now makes up half of Jack Layton’s caucus. Only a handful of BQ members are going back to Parliament and Gilles Duceppe is not one of them. It is far from clear that the Bloc can ever recoup from a body blow of this magnitude.
Harper will be returning to the Commons later this spring in control of the two Houses of Parliament for the first time. Depending on the scope of his ambitions, such free rein with the levers of power could prove more risky for his party than minority rule has turned out to be.
When Brian Mulroney won a second majority mandate in 1988, he and his party looked invincible. Five years later, there was little left of the Progressive Conservatives.
If Harper brings the take-no-prisoners approach that has been his trademark in the past two minority Parliaments to majority rule, his party could face as much scorched earth in four years as Mulroney’s Tories did in 1993.
On Monday, Canadians also sent a powerful signal that they would rather try to build a progressive national alternative on the half-finished foundations of the NDP than trust the Liberals to rebuild on the aging ruins of their past conquests.
Three leaders and three election defeats later, the prospect that their party could go the way of the Liberal-Democrats in Great Britain to a life on the sidelines of the main action has to be of the minds of many lifelong Liberals.
Still the trust placed in the NDP is conditional on performance. And as Quebec demonstrated on Monday, what it gives it can just as abruptly take away. Once the NDP celebrations of Monday’s historic advance have come to an end, the realization will sink in that trading places with the Liberals on the opposition benches is not a cure to a split progressive opposition.
On Monday, this split was one of the key ingredients in the crafting of a Harper majority. As of now and as separate entities, the Liberals and the NPD may be looking at a long and self-defeating war of attrition. Those are questions best addressed after the dust has settled on Monday’s results.
As it happens, the luxury of time is the only gift voters handed in equal shares to every party on Monday.
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