Earlier this week, Canadians flocked to the polls for the fourth time in 7 years. This time around, the election was triggered when the minority government led by Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper was found in contempt of parliament in March for failing to release information related to the costs of proposed crime legislation and the purchase of stealth fighter jets.
From the moment the election was announced, Harper derided it as ‘unnecessary’, and ‘unwanted’ even though public polling clearly indicated widespread displeasure with his handling of the economy, public programming including programs for women, the environment, and for proroguing parliament twice. After the 2008 election, when voter turnout was the lowest in Canadian history (59% overall, and a dismal youth turnout of 37%), people wondered if this so-called ‘unwanted’ election would fail to motivate voters to the polls.
While pundits and pollsters made their best guesses leading up to election day, no one correctly anticipated the outcome. With just under 40% of the vote, the Conservatives finally won the majority they have coveted since ascending in 2006. The New Democratic Party (NDP) won 102 seats and formed the official opposition for the first time in history. The Liberal Party was reduced to a mere 34 seats, and the Bloc Quebecois lost 90% of its seats to end up with 4. On the positive side, Green Party candidate Elizabeth May won her party’s first seat in North American history.
Of the 14 closest ridings that Conservatives won seats, the combined margin of victory in all those ridings was 6,201 votes. That means the real difference between a Harper minority and majority was just over 6,000 votes. While 5.8 million people voted for Stephen Harper, another 9 million – the ‘real majority’ – voted for change. But, with his new majority, Harper no longer has to worry about impediments to his extreme ideology; he can ram his anti-science, pro-polluter agenda down the throats of the Canadian public. That spells trouble for Canada’s environment, and it’s especially bad news for the global climate.
Despite the news headlines of Harper’s ‘victory,’ sixty percent of Canadians still don’t support his economic policy. Harper will likely table the same budget that he presented before the election. It focused on the economy and jobs - and no, I don’t mean green jobs. Instead, Harper continues to promote and prioritize policies that hold Canada back from a prosperous clean energy future.
The Harper budget proposes to slash funding for clean energy programs and efficiency incentives – all significant job-creation vehicles that happen to protect rather than harm the global climate system.
The Conservatives have yet to introduce climate legislation to meet science-based international commitments to rapidly curtail global warming pollution. Harper’s position isn’t expected to improve over his last 5 years of inaction and obstruction, during which he failed to put in place any meaningful policy to meet his own weak pollution reduction targets (that aren’t even science-based). These policies made Canada a laughing stock in Copenhagen and Cancun. Now, with four years of unchecked Harper power, we’ll likely see more of Harper’s embarrassing stonewalling at international climate change summits including this fall in Durban.
What else have we to look forward to? Will the government continue to muzzle scientists, who are required to seek ‘pre-approval’ before speaking with journalists?
Will Harper even end the wasteful stream of $1.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies to incredibly profitable oil and gas companies? Will he even continue to pay lip service by calling for a gradual phase-out of a small portion of these polluter subsidies?
The world’s scientists have cautioned that climate disruption won’t wait four more years for a real Canadian action plan to materialize – if it does then – so we must act now, with or without Harper.
Even though we have our work cut out for us, this election caused a noticeable shift in Canadian politics, one that not only felt inspiring during the run-up to the election, but also one that produced a tangible outcome. The feeling that I have is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I know I’m not the only one who feels it.
A movement was born over the past weeks, when Canadian youth woke up and engaged in politics. They are organizing.
In my free time outside work obligations, I am one of those organizers. Some friends and I recently staged an action outside of a Harper press conference in Victoria. We criticized Harper’s campaign for failing to mention the issues that really mattered to young people – including climate and the environment.
Because of recent pressure on the Conservatives for kicking a student out of a rally and attempting to nix a special ballot on a university campus, a group of us were invited in (with no media present) to speak with the Prime Minister. In typical Harper fashion, we were allowed to ask 2 questions, the first about post-secondary education, the second about Canada’s horrible reputation for climate change inaction.
Demonstrating how out of touch he is with the most pressing challenge facing humanity, Mr. Harper seemed unfamiliar about the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, and when he talked about Canada’s representative at the most recent climate talks, he referred to “Minister Prentice” (wrong guy, it was John Baird). At that moment, I worried for the future of my country.
And I’m not alone. Many people fear what a Conservative majority will mean for the issues that many Canadians care about: banning dangerous tanker traffic on the west coast, ending dirty energy subsidies, and creating binding legislation for global warming pollution reductions. We are faced with an uncertain future, while scientists continue to alert us that there is no time to waste.
We must work together to hold this government accountable. We need to work together for our First Nations communities that are suffering environmental anguish, for the accountability and oversight necessary to rein in the dirty tar sands boom, and for investment in a renewable energy future. We must demand a clean future, and a world that is safe for our children.
Over the coming months and years, we must be vigilant, and work with an urgency and sense of purpose. We don’t have time to wait for a new government to respond to the environmental crisis. We must respond now.
We must lead now. To the ‘real majority’ of Canadians out there, are you ready?