Climate change activists in Canada are understandably depressed by the results of Monday’s federal election, which produced a majority Conservative government run by a party with zero interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are shards of good news lying in the rubble, although they only hint at the possibility of progress in the far-off future.

The fact that the new Official Opposition, the New Democrats, support cap-and-trade legislation isn’t as positive a development as it could be, considering that they have no chance of influencing government.

More interesting is the election of the first Green member of a national legislative body in North America. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party and a supporter of aggressive carbon taxation, managed to handily defeat a government cabinet minister in her hippy-heavy constituency on the Left Coast. She too will have zero parliamentary sway, and her party received only half the popular vote it got three years ago (in part a consequence of the Green’s strategy of focusing almost entirely on getting their leader elected rather than running a serious national campaign).

However, this means that May will be included in the next federal leaders televised election debate four years from now, and May is a formidable debater. Given that the New Democrats’ historic showing this time round is being tied to their leader’s debate performance, this could prove critical to the Green’s future electoral success. Of course, the notion that the Greens were excluded from this year’s debate but will be included in the next one despite losing half their voting base only proves how silly are both Canada’s electoral system and the criteria used by the television networks to determine debate inclusion.

Meanwhile, Quebec has finally gotten over its fetish for separatist politics, booting out all but a rump of Bloc Quebecois MPs in favor of New Democrats. From an environmentalist’s point of view, this is marginally a good thing, in that the Bloc, while ostensibly progressive ideologically, had little real interest in anything that didn’t enhance Quebec’s ability to do its own thing. This strategy is increasingly at odds with the growing realization that intergovernmental cooperation is essential to solve the real problems facing civilization. Not that Quebecers thought about that consciously when they went to the polls Monday.

Canada had a chance to move on climate change in 2008 when the Liberal Party embraced a carbon tax and was soundly defeated in the polls. This time around they more or less ignored energy and climate policy and lost even more support, ending up with the smallest share of the popular vote in history. Not that anyone took that into account when they went to the polls on Monday.

All of which means, the real lesson for all the losing parties and their supporters is that radical change is required. Existing strategies have failed. Even the New Democrats, which saw their best showing ever, now have less influence than that they did last week, thanks to the return of Canada’s traditional form of government, which can best be described discontinuous tyranny. It’s as if the country agrees to grant the winning party leader absolute dictatorial power, although only for a few years at a time. This is no way to run a country. In a sensible world, Canada would rise up and demand electoral reform. But it won’t. And even if did, the majority government that the country just elected would pay no attention. Why should it?

Comments

  1. #1 Kate
    May 3, 2011

    “Four years” – I believe it is actually five (the maximum time between elections).

    Used to be five years, now four is the max.
    From Wilkipedia: In 2007 Parliament passed an act fixing federal election dates every four years, unless the government loses the confidence of the House of Commons.
    — jh

  2. #2 Francois Dufour
    May 3, 2011

    Actually, since Mr. Harper voted the ‘fixed election date’ bill, the maximum is 4 years, putting next elections on October 19th, 2015.

    Never mind that he broke that bill when he went for a snap election in 2008.

  3. #3 JoeKaistoe
    May 3, 2011

    Yes, we should demand electoral reform… Changing to what, exactly? Maybe we should change to the USA’s form of government(because that’s working out so well right now).

    While I agree with the need for change, it’s not in the way you declare. The change needs to come in the way the parties and members behave in parliament, not the way that votes are counted. Currently it’s true that the proportion of votes don’t properly represent the country, but if the elected members actually represented their constituency, rather than their party, that would no longer be a problem, as each constituency would be represented by their MP (rather than every MP blindly following their party). A pipe dream, I know, but it is the way the government was designed to work.

    Of course, declaring that Harper will now have dictatorial power is naive, completely forgetting about the senate and governor general.

    I would argue that not recognizing the effective impotence of the Senate and the GG is naive. — jh

  4. #4 Francois Dufour
    May 3, 2011

    Except that the Senate now has a majority of Cons, and anyhow they can only return a project to the Commons once, and I don’t recall a GG ever denying the Prime Minister anything.

  5. #5 JoeKaistoe
    May 3, 2011

    @Francois Dufour

    That doesn’t mean that the GG is unable to.

    I can tell you my opinion on why the Conservatives won a majority government, and it’s simple. Ignatieff conveyed as much charisma as dishwater, and nobody wanted a LiberaNDP government led by him. That scared people aware from both parties. That said, the surge in the NDP looks promising, and could spell an NDP minority in the future.

    What is really needed is a group of vertebrate conservative MP’s that will oppose Harper if they need to. It seems like he’s spent too much time learning American policy tactics (Let’s lower taxes AND raise expenditures, wheee!)

  6. #6 Paul
    May 3, 2011

    Let’s be perfectly honest here. With the exception of the fringe Green party, none of the major Canadian political parties have any real interest in reducing greenhouse gas emmissions. Real world evidence has already demonstrated that Cap and Trade schemes result in commodities trading but no real emmissions reductions ever happening.

  7. #7 jyyh
    May 4, 2011

    sounds like the political climate in canada is rather similar to finland, i guess it’s just because of the similarity of climate. the difference being canada is onto oil shales and finland onto nuclear (no oil shales here)

  8. #8 Joffan
    May 4, 2011

    I would argue that Harper, or any other majority government prime minister, is held back from “dictatorial” power most specifically by the knowledge that there will be an election in a few years’ time. There will always be a bedrock of opposition to any major party, on which discontent will build if the process of government is being abused. Combine this with the political desires of individual MPs who can and will break ranks if they see a better opportunity elsewhere, and almost no majority is so secure that disregard for other viewpoints is completely safe.

  9. #9 anthrosciguy
    May 4, 2011

    You’re perpetuating a misconception about May’s riding. Although the Gulf Islands tend to be leftwing/Green, the overall riding is pretty heavily conservative due to Saanich being very conservative and having much more population than the Gulf Islands. As Wikipedia points out:

    “Despite the usually close vote between the various parties, the Canadian Alliance, Reform and Conservative parties have consistently won here for the past decade. Since 1953, the riding and its predecessor, Esquimalt-Saanich, have only gone to a non-conservative candidate twice: 1968 to Liberal David Anderson, and in 1988 to New Democrat Lynn Hunter. The 1988 Conservative loss is attributed to vote splitting between the Progressive Conservatives and the new Reform party.”

    This makes May’s win even more amazing; it was expected to be a very close race; instead she won by a wide margin. She’s very articulate and a good campaigner, and may have picked up support because she was excluded from the leaders’ debates. The local news in the Greater Victoria area gave her a lot of coverage and also set up a broadcast originally intended to be a debate between May and the other party leaders, but when they declined the station presented an interview with May to let her get her party’s positions across to viewers in the Victoria area (which includes the Saanich-Gulf Islands) as well as Toronto/Hamilton, Montreal, and Vancouver.

  10. #10 anthrosciguy
    May 4, 2011

    One unfortunate thing about the overall Green Party platform though is that it supports a fair amount of woo-woo. Homeopathy, for instance, as well as chiroprators and naturopaths, which it wants publically funded. It’s sad to see them so far away from science on that front while so close on climate science.

    Agreed. I’m just willing to set aside that silliness for now in favor of my pet concern.

    As for the hippy comment: you are correct about the demographic breakdown. What I should have written is that the riding has a significant counter-culture community, relative to most other rural BC ridings, although it is, as you note, not the dominant one. — jh

  11. #11 anthrosciguy
    May 10, 2011

    Vancouver Island tends toward electing either NDP or Conservative when it comes to federal elections. Pretty start divides a lot of the time.

  12. #12 physicsciguy
    May 13, 2011

    “It’s sad to see them so far away from science on that front while so close on climate science.”-anthrosciguy

    Do the words cognitive dissonance have any meaning to you?

    People that support “green” politics rarely do so for rational reasons. The anti-capitalist, anti-industrial and anti-technology crowd make up the largest part of the extreme left which is the bread an organic butter of the Green Party.

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