The public opinion polls all indicated that Canadians were going to return Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to government. The only question was whether or not it would be a government with a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. It all depended on how the vote was split between the opposition parties. It also appeared likely that the support for Harper would again be less than 40% of those who actually went to the polls.
For the Harperites, it could not have been a better time to have the election. The economic performance of the Conservative government during the recession was mediocre, but Canadians always use the United States as their standard. Compared to the administrations of George W. Bush and Barrack Obama, the Harper government looked quite good.
The collapse of the U.S. economy
What collapsed the U.S. economy, and brought the Great Recession, was the push by the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to try to get almost everyone into a single family house with a mortgage. It was hoped that this strategy would to some degree offset the loss of jobs; the U.S. Department of Commerce recently reported that over the past decade transnational corporations had eliminated 2.9 million jobs at home and created 2.4 million in low wage countries.
The housing strategy was facilitated by instituting historic low interest rates and then using U.S. federal agencies to provide insurance for very risky mortgages. The result was a large bubble in the housing market that collapsed, as all financial bubbles eventually do. That deflation is now in its double dip.
Harper follows the U.S. lead
In Canada the government of Stephen Harper followed suit, introducing very low interest rates and directing the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (the taxpayers) to insure no-money-down mortgages eagerly pushed by Canada’s big banks. A housing bubble resulted here as well, and it is only just beginning to start its downward adjustment. The fact that the change in the housing market is relatively unrecognized by Canadian home owners at this time provided a tremendous base of support for the Harper Conservatives. By fall the more evident downward trend in the housing market would have created a very different political climate. It is astonishing that the three opposition parties in the House of Commons were seemingly unaware of these realities and chose to rush into an election.
What we can expect from the new Harper government
So once again the electoral system has denied the 60% of Canadians on the centre-left their chance to form a government. The opposition parties had some influence in the House of Commons when the Harperites were a minority government. With a solid majority of seats, Harper is now in a position to completely disregard the position of the opposition. What can we expect from this new government?
- The consolidation of Stephen Harper’s foreign and military policy. The final end of Canada’s historic role in UN peacekeeping and an even stronger commitment to support the U.S. government in its imperialistic project in the non-white less developed world. Part of this strategy includes the continued promotion and financing of numerous right-wing “think tanks” at Canadian universities.
- Deeper integration with the United States, beginning with the Perimeter Defence of North America, enhanced economic integration, and more advanced harmonization of standards, as in agriculture and food.
- Expansion of the regime of “counter terrorism” that came after 9/11, with the steady erosion of historic civil and human rights and the increased surveillance of citizens. This is to be enhanced by the omnibus anti-crime bill that is to be shortly re-introduced into Parliament.
- Full speed ahead on the development of the tar sands and the export of Canada’s non-conventional oil to the United States. There will of course continue to be no national energy policy.
- Nothing of substance will be done in the area of policy on global warming and climate change. The political right likes the ridiculous policy of carbon capture and storage, a cover for the expanded extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.
- In the area of agriculture and food, we can expect a a stronger push toward the free market. The most powerful business organization, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, has already asked the Harper government for the elimination of the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board, the end to supply management marketing boards, and greater support for the Doha Round of the WTO and other free trade deals.
- Poverty and inequality will continue to increase, given the thrust of taxation policies over the past 20 years. Government support for civic organizations which assist the poor and women will likely lose what federal funding they are still receiving.
- It is uncertain how far the Harperites will go in pushing their patriarchal agenda. Their party membership and voters are counting on this. The gun registry will go. They will probably expand taxpayer support for private schools, where evolution does not have to be on the curriculum and boys do not have to be taught by women. They could expand the role of organized religion in the adjudication of family matters. But they could lose too much support if they choose to take on gay rights, abortion and capital punishment.
All of these policies are a strong attack on the political views of the majority of Canadians. How will we react? Is waiting to vote for the NDP all we can do? Is there any possibility that such a strategy would work? That seems to be the only option that is being advanced in English Canada so far. Part II will look at possibilities for building a resistance to the Harper agenda.
John W. Warnock is retired from teaching political economy and sociology at the University of Regina. He is a long time political activist.