The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An open letter to five party leaders

To Stephen Harper:

Congratulations on a significant victory and on achieving the majority you sought. Now that you have uncontested power, people will expect you to live up to your promises. Now that you have your elected majority and also your appointed majority in Senate, you have absolutely no excuses. They ran out during the last proroguing of Parliament.

At the same time, Conservative voices are now free to speak up toward different visions of Conservatism. You may well discover division lines within your party which, until now, had been relatively silent in the common interest of achieving uncontested Conservative power. You won with 167 seats. How many of those MPs will still be part of the Conservative caucus at the next election?

Some of your fair-weather supporters may even discover that the economic policies and stability you have been taking credit for were actually enacted by the Paul Martin Liberal government before yours. Let's hope your own policies can work half as well. We are not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. Good luck.

To Jack Layton:

Congratulations on a historic achievement. The people of Québec were seeking a viable alternative to Conservative, Liberal, and Bloc Québecois alike: and you certainly provided that.

But the heady victory is past. The difficult days are just beginning.

Unfortunately for you and your party, more seats in this case does not equate to more power. Do you have any illusions that the Conservatives will be willing to compromise at all with the NDP? You had more power when you co-held the balance of power with the Bloc. Get used to the sound of bells.

To Michael Ignatieff:

This result should not have been unexpected. The early warning signal should have been the new Conservative tagline: "A vote for the Liberal party is a vote for Michael Ignatieff." Long before the Conservatives began targeting you, many, many Canadians never trusted you. As to any real vision: those of us who read your academic work found it a derivative rehash. Another Trudeau? Don't make me laugh.

Now you have chosen to fight it out to the bitter end, even after having lost your own seat. No honourable resignation speech for you! Yet the Liberal brand and Liberal leadership clearly needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Do you really think you can possibly win a leadership convention now?

To Gilles Duceppe:

This result was unexpected. For the most part, you should not consider it your loss but Jack Layton's victory. Québeckers were desperate for a viable alternative to Conservative, Liberal, and Bloc alike: but who could have suspected Jack Layton could provide it in the very last week of the election? Even so, I suspect you were still holding your own, right up until you brought out Jacques Parizeau and all those old sovereignist shadows.

Just like Québec itself, the Bloc still holds a necessary place within Canada. The current result does not mean that Québec has abandoned those parts of itself which give it its unique identity. That will always remain: and the Bloc is a prominent note in that symphony. It may sometimes grow and sometimes fade, it may even reinvent itself, but it won't ever be silenced entirely. (Have you ever considered fundamentally redefining yourself without including the sovereignty issue?)

To Elizabeth May:

Congratulations on a significant victory and on becoming the Greens' first elected MP. Yours is one of the two true victories of this election.

Now comes the truly difficult task. You have established that Greens are electable, but now you have to establish that Greens are a viable voice within Parliament, and a majority government at that. You have your work cut out for you. Good luck.

To all:

The battle has been fought, this election is now past. Given the amount and type of change demanded by the electorate, it appears this was not an unnecessary election after all.

Yet even though strong messages have been sent by the electorate, an even stronger message is that despite the strong advance poll turnout, only 61.4% of the electorate voted. The only thing that can be said for that is that the numbers are slightly up from the previous record low. The trend, as a whole, has not changed. If anything: the advance poll numbers demonstrate that this time around, even fewer people voted who had not already made up their minds before the election.

A government may be elected with these or even lower numbers. For some political parties, they may even be desirable. A democracy, however, cannot remain healthy where there is such a strong disconnect between the people and their government, any government.

It is up it you now. For once, try to look beyond taking or taking back power. Bring the people back into their own government, not just the core supporters who elected your party MPs into power. We have entrusted all of you with the reins of the country. Make it work.

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