Following the election of the Liberal majority in Parliament, and the relegation of the New Democratic Party to third-party status, the NDP party faithful, predictably took to the media to express their discontent. Readers were often cautioned not to celebrate, as the Liberal’s sweep hardly represented a victory for the “true progressive left.” Consider former U of T student and The Varsity Editor-in-Chief Luke Savage’s article in Jacobin, which deemed Trudeau’s win a “hollow victory” for Canada, and urged that we should stop “settling for less.”
What most of these articles fail to address is that the NDP is no longer viewed as vastly different from the Liberals. Perhaps an implicit recognition of this is that Savage did not once reference Mulcair’s platform and the contemporary NDP. Instead, he painted an idyllic vision of the NDP as a “third current” to the dominant parties defined by its devotion to social justice. He hearkened back to the NDP as the party that brought Canada Medicare.
Yet in the past federal election, the NDP’s economic platform fell further right than that of the Liberals’. In a time when Canada is entering a recession, it is questionable at best why a socially progressive party like the NDP would recommend austerity measures. On the other hand, Trudeau’s willingness to engage in deficit spending was popular with the Canadian public and is widely seen as a turning point that differentiated the Liberals both from the other parties and, as Canadian Business put it, from Ottawa’s “decades-long obsession with balanced budgets.”
Healthy skepticism is good; let’s not idolize the Liberals, or glorify the NDP.
In response to this, some will surely point to other problematic non-economic issues that the Liberals supported. Let’s consider the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act to start. This bill, practically speaking, does nothing of importance: it simply reasserts that things like honour killings are illegal in Canada. The key issue with the bill was the way it was presented, namely in an Islamophobic, race-baiting manner.
However, the Liberal party clearly addressed this issue in Parliament, amidst recommendations to change the name of the bill. They also highlighted that “barbaric culture” discourse directed towards Muslim groups is unwarranted, because acts of polygamy and forced marriage manifest in Christian groups in British Columbia and Jewish groups in Quebec. Essentially, the issues surrounding this topic are not exclusive to Muslims.
The Liberals’ support for Bill C-51 is another bone of contention amongst progressive leftists. Yet, the Liberals are set to reform the legislation such that it will hardly resemble the original document, thereby avoiding some of the problematic consequences that originally came with it. Most notably, the Liberals will repeal the clause that supposedly allowed judges to authorize civilian spies to violate Charter rights, and create an all-party oversight committee for national security matters. In fact, the Globe and Mail’s justice columnist, Sean Fine, wonders of C-51: “will there be anything left once the Liberals start tweaking and repealing?”
Lastly, Trudeau’s recruitment of former police chief Bill Blair has routinely been condemned, given that Blair is a known supporter of carding and was in charge when instances of police brutality occurred over the course of the G20 summit. It bears reminding, however, that all three major parties tried to recruit Blair; in fact, the NDP was the first to do so.
The loss of excellent NDP parliamentarians, such as Megan Leslie and Andrew Cash, is rightly bemoaned. However, what Savage refers to as the “new political dynamic” of the 2011 Orange Crush, is not likely to be as missed by most Canadian who are more likely to remember 2011-2015 as a period of quasi-authoritarian rule under a Conservative majority.
Further, this election saw a record 10 indigenous MPs, eight of them Liberal candidates, brought into office. Additionally, 88 female MPs were elected into office, while Trudeau has made an unprecedented promise to have a gender balanced Cabinet.
Following nine years under Harper, I for one prefer a Liberal majority with a strong mandate to roll back the Conservatives’ changes — including on controversial issues such as C-51 and the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act — as opposed to the uncertainty and the spectre of a return to a Conservative government presented by a Liberal-NDP minority government.
Healthy skepticism is good; let’s not idolize the Liberals, or glorify the NDP. Instead, let’s hold Trudeau to his promises, and stay hopeful about the potential for change.
Sasha Boutilier is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science and ethics, society & law.