The morning after: where are we and where do we go from here?

It was an extraordinary election. Both Stephen Harper and Jack Layton got the results they were aiming for. Stephen Harper got his majority and Jack Layton replaced the Liberal Party not only as the Official Opposition but quite possibly as the only federal alternatives to the Harperites.   Canada now looks like so many other countries with one party on the Right and one on the Left. So why do I feel so bad?
Firstly, a government that has shown its contempt of democracy in a myriad of ways, not the least lying to Parliament about its spending, won a majority of seats. Now they have no structural limits on their power. True an NDP opposition is a major improvement over a Liberal opposition but a majority government that barely listened to the Opposition when it was in the minority will ignore the Opposition in majority. 
Secondly, most of the NDP seats came from defeating the Bloc Quebecois, also a social democratic party. So the 102 NDP Members of Parliament replace a combination of 83 social democratic members in the last Parliament, less dramatic than it appears.    The Bloc members were mostly very effective advocates in Parliament, most of the NDP members from Quebec are unknown. Everyone in English Canada talks about a split between the NDP and the Liberals but the NDP and the Bloc are much closer politically. A major weakness of the social democratic left in Canada is its fierce identification with the federalist cause against the self-determination of Quebec, stopping most progressive people in Canada from seeing their obvious commonalities with the Quebecois and vice versa.
On the other hand, having an NDP caucus that is half Quebecois can bring together the concerns of progressive in Quebec and English Canada. That can only be a good thing.  However, today on Democracy Now, Stephen Lewis declared the NDP victory in Quebec a blow to “separatism,” which is exactly the wrong way to see it. What it seems to be is a desire of the people of Quebec, including sovereigntists to stop a Harper majority, as well as a fatigue with the same old Bloc Quebecois and a genuine affection for Jack Layton. We should be thanking them.
An NDP opposition also gives social movements much more voice in Parliament. For example, Jack Layton and much of his caucus are strong feminists. Support for feminist and LGBT rights are bred in the bone for them and they have strong links with those social movements. Jack has often spoken at anti-war rallies and should be willing to call for a federal inquiry into the G20 repression. 
 My major worry about the Harper government is not that they will go after abortion and gay rights because that would wreck the coalition they have built with  Progressive Conservatives and probably undermine some of their corporate support. My major concerns are to do with the environment, Indigenous Rights, privatization, war, criminalization of poverty and dissent, cuts to funding for arts and culture  and of course democracy itself.  
An NDP opposition should also impact positively on the mainstream media, which has moved so far to the right in recent years, without a single left-wing voice outside of the Toronto Star and me on Q. More left wing voices in mainstream media, means Canadians will hear more of the actual debate between Left and Right particularly on economic and environmental issues. 
The mobilization of citizen groups, especially youth, was extraordinary during the election and bodes well for the future. Even if it didn’t have a major impact on voter turnout, it did have an impact on framing the debate and no doubt on the NDP high numbers, in Ontario and BC.  Most importantly, a new generation of young people have gotten a taste of activism and hopefully will continue. Lead Now, one of the most effective and impressive group’s plans to continue and build a progressive political movement.
The debate about strategic voting was fierce in the last days of the campaign. I don’t consider the Liberal Party to be in any way on the Left. On economic issues they are no different than the Tories.  The dramatic cuts to social programmes that opened up the gap between rich and poor were mostly carried out by Paul Martin. However in this election there was a difference because the Liberals support democracy. However, as soon as the NDP surge in Quebec started, it made little sense to vote Liberal strategically since no-one else would be doing it. If you look at the ridings the Conservatives picked up in Ontario, there were three way splits, where there had been just Liberal/Tory contests before. The people who check into a strategic voting site are not numerous enough when spread across ridings for strategic voting to work unless the parties are on side.
You may disagree with my analysis about strategic voting but please do not blame the NDP for the election results. The NDP ran a good campaign and won people’s support with their policies and Jack’s personality. That is what parties are supposed to do. The people of Canada rejected Ignatieff and the Liberals. Whether that will be permanent remains to be seen. 
  In 2001 the New Politics Initiative proposed a new party based on a fusion with the Greens and the NDP and a closer tie to the then rising anti-globalization movement. The NDP now has a chance to create a more vibrant party of the Left by working closely with Elizabeth May and what’s left of the Bloc in Parliament and by speaking for those who have had so little voice over the last fifteen years.   I hope they do it.
And whether they do depends on how much pressure is on them from outside of Parliament.   As Tria Donaldson, a youth activist blogging in said ,” we need to raise a little hell.”    We need  strong extra parliamentary movements that rely on the kind of grass roots mobilization we saw during the election since state funding will no longer be available for anyone who is really challenging the government. People of my generation need to step aside and make space for young people to provide leadership to these movements.    For too long, progressive social groups and unions have relied on old tactics and old methods, talking to each other.   We need to link up with the most vulnerable people in society who are mostly racialized in the big cities and live in places like the 905 around Toronto. One positive element of this election is that the divisions between left and right in a lot of communities of colour was much more clearly articulated in this election through initiatives like the “go ethnics go” video.   
Building much broader support for and profile to the Indigenous struggles to defend their land against the tar sands, mining and clear cutting will also be key.  The environmental and social justice movements are coming together globally through initiatives like the Cochabamba Accord and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Environmental destruction and its defence internationally will continue to be a major feature of the Harper government.
Finally, we need to build links again between Quebec and English Canada. Last week-end I attended a conference in Montreal that included people both from Quebec and English Canada on climate justice. It was the first Canada/Quebec conference I had attended in years. In the 1980’s we built strong alliances with Quebec against free trade. Now we must rebuild those alliances to fight the attacks of the Harper government. That way if the Parti Quebecois wins the next election in Quebec, which is very likely, the chasm that always grows between Quebec and English Canada when sovereignty is on the agenda can be narrowed. 
And as far as the movement for proportional representation goes Fair Vote Canada has already published the results if some form of proportional voting had been in place.  It would have been a minority Conservative government with the NDP in second place.  The bad news is that both the Conservatives and the NDP benefited from the First Past the Post system so don’t look for changes any time soon despite the fact that Harper used to support PR and as far as I know Jack still does.
That’s my take the day after elxn41.


media take on Quebec vote

Judy, thank you for providing space, and Caroline, thank you for taking Judy up on using it! From the newspaper headlines today ("Vegas" girl, etc.) it is clear that the mass media is missing the deeper analysis and merely portraying Quebec voters as "stupid." This is unkind, unfair, and deeply divisive. I am fortunate to have lived and studied in Quebec (U.Laval) for a time. There is an ethic of care (pour autrui, pour l'environnement) that would serve well as a model for the rest of this country. Quebec is the ONLY province with a universally accessible, affordable daycare system! How do we make a broader understanding go mainstream???

@ Caroline

Thank you for your words Caroline. I want you to know that many of us outside of Quebec feel this betrayal by Canada also. Perhaps it is my french roots that I share the ideals, but I know many many good people of many backgrounds who would voice the same concerns that you express. All of us who want a just and egalitarian Canada have to join together to push all parties to hear and attend to our values. Merci.

Totally agree

Hi Judy!

I see you have received a lot of attention from us, people who live in Quebec. I agree with what you say, and I wish more people outside of Quebec would understand it. It saddens me that Harper didn't get the message, when really, he should listen for the sake of Canadian unity.

We vote NDP because we were (and are even more now) scared of a Harper majority. We wanted to stop the Conservatives so that all we love about Canada is not taken away, as some of it is already gone.

What is it that we love in Quebec some would say? We love equality among individuals. Our colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation or any other thing that would make us different is just that one thing that makes us so unique. And we celebrate it. We also have a very strong artistic community, a very "Québécoise" one I would even say. One of our way of expressing ourselves to each other and to the world is through arts. And that are just two things, because stating them all here would be long, and I think that you described it well in your blog.

What makes us so different is this strong social movement we have here in Quebec. We are not communist, but we like our public institutions, we like to have the power over our own resources and to protect each other from harm. We also have a strong reluctance towards anything that involves war.

One thing that many young people like me remember is their parents saying how Canada was trustworthy internationally. How we were a country that was look up to when others wanted to improve some part of their systems. That when you travelled, saying you were Canadian would make you well received. And now that we are old enough to vote and go abroad, this is no longer true. And this makes us sad, and angry, and we accuse (with just reasons) the Harper government for this.

A lot of us (including me) love Canada. I've seen almost every province, I've been from coast to coast and loved my fellow Canadian citizens. And the ROC tends to think that being a separatist is being closed minded and selfish. There is nothing further from the truth. We would much like to stay in Canada, and have our ideals be represented in federal institutions.

The problem is, a lot of people in Quebec don't speak English and a lot of people outside Quebec don't speak French, which makes it hard for the "two solitude" to understand each other. I am bilingual, born and raised in French, and started truly understanding what bothers each side so much only when I learned English.

The separatist movement was slowing down before this election, the youth was less attracted by it than they were 15 years ago. Upon seeing the elections results map though, most of us, anglophone, francophone or allophone have had a really bad feeling. It's like we fought so hard to protect our rights and Canada failed us. I don't mean to say that everybody else should have voted against Conservatives (although I really do resent their thinking) but that it shows us how much difference there is between us. And that is not a question of language, because I well know that anglophones in Quebec voted NDP alongside everybody else. It is striking to see that a government who we didn't vote for is the one who is going to decide our fate. And that has brought the separatist movement back on the map for sure. It was a kick for those who weren't sure or those who really liked Canada (like me) and thought that we could make it work.

Like you say, I would be tremendously happy if we could learn to understand each other and form a country where nobody feels left aside by the institution in power. I would be very surprised if it happened though, considering that the Conservative majority will probably destroy our faith in Canada.

So well explained and so

So well explained and so true. I believe Canada will be facing a rude awekening by October 2015.


thanks Caroline.  I hope it is ok with you that I post your response on my Facebook page as well.  I would like more people to read it.



My pleasure

It is fine with me!

I'm happy my answer pleased you and that more people will get to see it.

You can also sign it with my full name. I'm looking foward to see what people think of it!

Hi Caroline There are already

Hi Caroline

There are already many responses on my facebook page and I just posted it on, which gets even more traffic  and I am sure people will respond there.

I am so happy to get your response and the others.  It's like the beginning of what I hoped would happen.  If you want to give me your email, I could put you in touch with the young people at Lead Now who organized the best way they could to turn the tide against Harper in ROC





In response

Excellent discussion.  I agree that the primary motivation for the vote was to defeat Harper or at least hold him to a minority.  But the impact of the vote is for the Quebecois to engage in federal politics not just by "defending Quebec's interests" but by working with people in English Canada on common issues.  The Bloc did some of this but it will be easier for it to happen with Quebecois members in the NDP

I imagine for some people it was anti-BQ and perhaps for others anti-sovereigntists but my point is that the overwhelming nature of the vote was not a rejection of sovereignty.

Francois, thanks for posting in French.  I have the same problem in written French.  I can read and speak French but my writing is terrible.  So I like having a bilingual comments section.

Jason, thanks for the reminder about the middle.  Will you be at CSI?  Maybe we can chat about what the middle means in this context.

Use of Terms

You explicitly called the The Conservatives an "extreme right wing party." I agree The Conservatives are Right Wing and have done things which where wrong, however as wrong as these actions are is it really fair to compare the The Conservatives to the 'BNP' in Britain which is an 'extreme right wing party'? Frankly Im not buying your spin, your taking something that is a truth and greatly inflaming it by using words like "extreme right wing" they may be right wing like the Republicans but is it really far to characterize them as 'extreme' like someone would correctly call the British National Party? I think your upset at Harpers Majority has left you irresponsible in your use of semantics.


I do not mean to compare the Conservatives to the BNP, who I would call a neo-fascist party or  far right, but you make a valid point William.  I think the Harper government is to the right of previous conservative governments so I used the term "extreme right," which could be misinterpreted. 

.... not quite

Judy: I very much think you have the wrong take on why the people of Québec have voted NDP this year. Watching the election on CBC French (Radio-Canada) every analysts agreed to say it was a resounding mandate to Mr. Layton from the part of the people of Québec to give Federalism another chance. Had Quebecers wanted to simply punish Mr. Harper it is unlikely they would have voted en masse for the NPD (NDP). Indeed they could have gone towards to Liberal, or even remain with the Bloc had it been the case they rebelled against Harper. But they did not. I have said it for some time on the social medias and sadly NDP'ers here in Alberta generally fail to listen, so eager and hopeful they are for change: This is not a movement towards the left, this is not solely an anti Harper driven action. Simply, it's a vote of confidence for Jack Layton and behind that vote is a clear message. "We trust you and we have heard you and yes, we will give Canada another chance. Period.

I disagree with you, Gaston

I disagree with you, Gaston (and with Stephen Lewis too). I am from Québec, I always voted Bloc, I endorse Quebec sovereignty and I voted NDP this time, like many friends, students and collegues of mine. This is not about a weakening of the separatist option. This election result is not about shifting federalist/separatist lines, it is about a social democrat agenda. We voted NDP because we wanted to stop Harper from winning a majority and were aware that the division of the progressive vote was a problem. We know well that Quebec’s independence will not happen soon, and so in the mean time, we think better to support a progressive party than to enable a regressive, right-wing government in Ottawa. The people of Québec are generally a lot more socially progressive than people in Canada (which is by the way one of the main reasons we support an independent Québec).
As regards the Bloc, it is true that after 20 years of voting Bloc, many of us have begun suspecting that maybe the Bloc strategy isn’t working so well. The Bloc’s presence might even be enabling a functioning federalist peace, making it look like federalism can work… Revoking the Bloc will not weaken the separatist option in the province. Actually, the recent result does more to prove to us that we are a distinct society. You know what? The only thing that might lessen our need for our own country would be if Canada evolved toward a real, working, passionate social democracy.

Les trois raisons pour lesquels les Québécois ont voté NPD

Je comprend très bien l'anglais mais je l'écris très mal, alors permettez-moi de m'exprimer en français dans ce blogue anglophone. merci à vous.

Je suis citoyens de l'Outaouais au Québec.

Trois raisons pour lesquels les Québécois ont voté NPD:

1er raison: Comme le mentionnait Judy, le vote québécois était effectivement un vote en grande partie "anti-Harper". Les québécois aiment les politiciens sincères et idéalement plus à gauche. Harper est tout sauf ce que nous recherchons.

2e raison: Jack Layton représente ce profil. Mais je nuancerais en ajoutant qu'il y a quelques années, les québécois ont presque mis au pouvoir un parti de droite (ADQ)dont le chef (Mario Dumont), répondait à ces critères de sincérité. Si Mario Dumont avait été un gauchiste, il aurait été élu sans aucun doute. D'ailleurs, depuis 5 ans, nous avons un nouveau parti politique, très à gauche et souverainiste (Québec Solidaire). Un des chefs (Amir Kadhir) est actuellement le politicien le plus populaire au Québec selon les sondages, car il est... sincère et à gauche. Mais Québec solidaire n'est qu'à 10-15% dans les sondages actuellement.

3e raison: Le vote des québécois pour le NPD est beaucoup un vote contre le Bloc québécois. La souveraineté récolte l'appui de 40-60% de la population selon les interprétations de sondages. Même les anglo-québécois deviennent de plus en plus souverainiste. Mais les québécois constatent que la stratégie du Bloc québécois et du Parti Québécois n'est pas du tout efficace. Les Québécois sont fatiguer des conflits constitutionnels, mais demeurent quand même souverainiste.

Québec solidaire (QS) propose actuellement aux Québécois une nouvelle façon de concevoir la souveraineté du Québec, Il proposera un processus d'assemblée constituante. je crois que cette avenue charmera les Québécois, car elle représente un chemin d'accès constructif à la souveraineté, fondé sur le dialogue entre les composantes de la société québécoise et non une bataille constitutionnelle stérile.

Gaston, I disagree with you

Gaston, I disagree with you and agree with Judy on this point. I'm from Quebec, always voted Bloc before, I support Quebec's sovereignty, and voted NDP this time. My rationale (and I know for sure the rationale of many Quebec friends who did the same) was for a strategic vote, for not wanting H to win a majority. We are aware that the separation will not happen anytime soon, and so in the meantime, we thought it better to have a progressive federal government than a Harper government. No one I know has stopped dreaming of Quebec's sovereignty, but we did begin to doubt the wiseness of the voting-Bloc strategy. 20 years later, it has begun looking like the Bloc in Ottawa is enabling a kind of federalist peace - instead of moving the independence forward. Please do not try to interpret the election as a federalist/separatist issue - it is really a progressive vote: the election result in Quebec reflects the "société distincte", the fact that we are generally more progressive than the ROC and will want to do all we can to defeat a Harper.

Solid analysis Judy

Thanks Judy for this solid analysis, the good bad and ugly, and where we go from here. I like how it's not just doom and gloom, and I hope the youth and other previously disengaged voices who just started to care this year see this as a starting point to remaining engaged, not as the finish line (who doesn't lose their first race anyway?). I also think there is a strong role to re-build relationships with "middle Canadians". I spoke at length with two of them today who are very saddened. One asked in a shell-shocked way "where did the center of canada go", and my response was "if you want a centrist Canada, you have to fight for it now, it's not going to naturally happen". I'd love if we would include the center in our power-building plans, we need them. Finally I also like your link to Trina's post on getting mobilized. Movement building is a long game, we just lit up a bunch more hearts and minds, and we have to keep them in the game. I say game on.

Teach folks to ingnore NEWS=SALES

While some Twitter users were risking punishment online, it was Canada's national broadcaster, the CBC that seemed to have breached section 329 publicly.
At 9 p.m. EST, CBC Newsworld began airing results from Atlantic Canada in Ontario 30 minutes before polls closed there. Residents in the Prairies also reported seeing CBC results early on Twitter
Can voters ask for redress due to any proven infractions
Lets see an accident then a replay of goof ups , Think i will go for a real fish story !
(The media NDP bashing begins "Liberal & bloc Victims"

"fell victim to the NDP tide that swept the Bloquistes out of Quebec, and split votes in Ontario that allowed Conservatives to gobble up seats in Canada's most populous province."

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