The autumn glory of the maple leaves was just about to sprout their gold, coffee and fiery red in abundance. Maybe, to supersede the imperfections of this proud, industrialized nation. On 19 October 2015 as I gazed at the thousands of Canadians all around me swarming into voting centres to exercise their democratic right to elect their next Prime Minister and choose their political party's candidates in such a peaceful, systematic manner, there flashed in my inward eye, the scenes of pre-election violence, disquiet and terror when I was visiting my beloved birthplace, Bangladesh in January of 2013. The major opposition party BNP withdrawing from the election and the ruling Awami League party winning without any contest. The stark contrast between developing and developed nations! Again, in developed nations like Canada, democracy is often executed in unexpected ways and means. The centre left Liberals won 184 seats in the 338-seat House of Commons, the centre-right and governing Progressive Conservatives won 99 seats, the left leaning New Democratic Party won 44 seats, Bloc Québécois 10 seats and the Green Party 1 seat. Forty three years old Justin Trudeau, famed world-wide for his exceptionally attractive face and figure (based on social media) will become Canada's next prime minister following his illustrious father Pierre Trudeau, who served as prime minister of Canada for 16 years. The winds of change will be executed by the Canadians' chosen golden man for the coming years. Canadians hope that Justin Trudeau will bring back Canada's 'idealistic global face.'
In 1982, when I immigrated to Canada, Pierre Trudeau ruled as prime minister for only two more years before his retirement, but being a fresh master's graduate from Public Administration from the University of Dhaka, I was totally charmed by his foresight and statesmanship. His legacy included the Constitution Act of 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the Canada Act. Pierre Trudeau acquired immense admiration and created history for enhancing people's civil liberties under this Act.
For anyone who has been following Canadian politics, you will know that the election results announced earlier this week were completely out of the blue. A sweeping Liberal majority government win, with the other once-leading parties, the Conservatives, and the NDP, lagging far, far behind in an unprecedented election. Political pundits, writers, forecasters and commentators alike had been providing running commentary over the last couple of months about which political party had been leading, what platforms were popular with the people, and which 'wedge issues' were dividing Canadian voters. But no one accurately predicted what would happen in the end. For months, it was a relatively tight three-way race between the three major parties, and as is the case with usual election time fervor, different parties lost and gained points as the game went on. So what lead to such an extreme and last minute win for the Liberal party? A broken electoral system?
For those of you not versed on Canadian politics, The Conservatives had been the leaders of the nation for the past decade. This is the far right-wing party of the country, similar to the Republican Party in the US. In a nutshell, their platform was one about prioritizing the rich, big businesses, oil and fracking companies while also being anti-immigration, anti-social welfare from the state, and anti-working-class peoples' rights. The NDP has traditionally been the far-left leaning party, arguing for exactly the opposite things - creating a stronger Canadian economy by respecting immigrant rights and credentialing immigrant workers, supporting small businesses, and advocating for the rights of the working and middle classes. The Liberal party is the 'center' party between these two parties.
Having followed politics in Canada for almost three decades, I can say that this was a particularly interesting election for a number of reasons. First of all, in previous years, the NDP was never a meaningful contender in the election rat-race. It was always a question of whether or not the Conservatives or the Liberals would win. In the last election before this, and in this current one, for the first time in history, we are saw a 3-way equal race. This reflects that the conversation about politics and what citizens want for their nation has expanded, and has actually shifted towards more left-leaning and socialist values. In the last election, the NDP was the fastest growing party in Canada. While the Conservatives and the Liberals largely mobilized the same voter base, the NDP went from being a minority 'radical party' to being an equal contender to the dominating parties. So while they may have lost the election this time around, the fact that their voter share quadrupled at a much faster rate than the other parties reflects that the Canadian people are hungry for meaningful changes.
All week long, plenty of Canadians have been celebrating that Stephen Harper's autocratic and malicious rule has finally come to an end, and their sentiments are perfectly understandable. The Conservative government was one of the most regressive governments in the history of Canada. Harper was an Islam-hating, fear mongering, diversity degrading, corporation-loving negative energy monger. The fact that this election had the highest voter turn-out in decades shows that Canadians wanted to vote Harper out. But there is something wrong with the picture when previously-apathetic Canadian voters are suddenly bent on voting simply because they want to vote someone out as opposed to wanting to vote someone in. This is a disturbing trend which shows the failures of a first-world democracy. In several surveys, thousands of Canadians said that they would vote in this year's elections simply because it would be too scary to have Harper rule Canada again. People were voting out of fear of another Conservative party win. Worse, the majority of NDP voters were so terrified that the NDP might lose, which would risk that the Conservatives would win, that they voted strategically for the Liberal party. The theory was this: if every anti-Harper citizen voted for the party of their choice, this would risk what Canadians call 'vote splitting' - the simple logic that say, if 60 per cent of Canadians are anti Harper, and 30 per cent of those people vote for the NDP, and the other 30 per cent vote for the Liberals, than the Conservatives may retain a 40 per cent voter share which would make them the winners of the election again, despite the fact that 60 per cent of Canadians did not want to elect them. So out of fear, Canadians overwhelmingly decided to consolidate their votes.As a result, the majority of NDP supporters, in fear of vote splitting, voted for the Liberals, who had a better chance of winning, and would be the only viable party that had a chance of beating the Conservatives.Sadly and ironically, I also belong to this group of Canadian voters. What else could I do? My hands and feet were tied. I could not breathe, but I had no alternative!
The problem with this is that it makes the electoral system hollow. In a true democracy, people should vote for the party that best supports their visions for a better Canada. Instead, when people vote out of fear and out of strategy, and their primary goal is to vote OUT an old party instead of prioritizing how to vote IN the party of their actual choice, than this is an indication that we do not live in the healthy, functioning democracy,we think we have.
We are told we live in a nation where people have an authentic say in how they are governed. But when we vote out of fear instead of voting for a vision, are we really having a say? How many people went to the polls on Monday and held their noses in a desperate 'Anybody-But Conservative' moment? Voting is the absolute minimum task one can perform in a democracy. But voting does not equal or encourage participation in decisions affecting our daily lives, which is why it is so easy for mainstream institutions to promote it as the noblest of political actions. How can Canadians enjoy a truly democratic choice when the richest 86 people in this country have the same wealth as the poorest 11.4 million Canadians? When voting is treated as the most important thing you can do in a democracy, it accommodates a status quo of incredibly narrow choices with only minor tinkering.
As Matthew Behrens, co-founder of 'Homes Not Bombs' tells us, privileging voting ignores the very grassroots efforts that create and sustain those best elements of democratic countries, from the community organizing that leads to the creation of women's shelters, co-op housing and credit unions, to the organization of demonstrations, strikes, and direct action. Governing parties are imperfect so we're still required to do our part in shaping the Canada we want. For example, if we don't end up with an affordable daycare plan, it's up to us to organize within our communities ourselves. We could set up childcare bartering circles, reach out to single moms within our personal networks and offer free childcare, and/or provide stay at home mothers interested in providing in-home care with branding and registration support. An over-reliance on government dulls our imagination and allows us to shirk accountability. Instead of focusing on all of the magical things Trudeau is doing or not doing, or will do, let's unpack our role as citizen, neighbour, change agent, and place-maker, and let's not let governments abrogate their responsibility at the same time. Let's focus on our visions for a better Canada, now that the fear of another Harper-rule is over.
Author and Critic Rummana Chowdhury writes poetry, short stories, editorials, and analytical articles. She is a social and cultural activist and writes from Toronto, Canada