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Uranowski: Canadian Politics Word(s) of the Year: 2011

January 2, 2012

2011 featured a federal election and provincial/territorial elections in Manitoba, Ontario, PEI, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the NWT. At the end of 2011, Canada now has 4 female premiers (up from 2 at the beginning of the year), the BQ have 4 seats in the HOC and the Liberals and NDP have interim leaders. It is impossible to summarize the year in one paragraph/blog post, so I have decided to highlight 5 words that paint a picture of the last 12 months in Canadian politics:

1. Contempt:

Though the Harper government wants to forget what precipitated the 2011 election, the catalyst for what the massive shift in Canadian politics that seems to have occurred this year, is the motion that held Prime Minister Harper and his government in contempt. This was Michael Ignatieff’s last noble act as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. “Contempt” is the best word to describe how Stephen Harper and the CPC treated the media and the Canadian voter during Canada’s 41st election campaign and it describes the triumphalism of the Harper government in the months after the vote. With a declining voter turn out and memberships in political parties, it seems that “contempt” is how many Canadians view politicians in Canada. As a Liberal I have felt my share of contempt from the media. The amount of ink/bandwidth spent on why the Liberal Party is doomed is unprecedented (the NDP/Reformers/BQ were dismissed but never faced an unending flow of articles on why they should just fade away.) Let’s hope that 2012 is the year where the oppositions channel their anger at the arrogance and contempt of the Harper government into substantive debate and strong political organization.

2. Orange Crush/Jack Layton/Le Bon Jack:
Though I believe it is too early to view the NDP gains in the last election as evidence that the Liberal Party of Canada is doomed, I also reject the notion that a view polls in Quebec show that the NDP wave is receding. The NDP gains in 2011 have drastically changed the political dynamic across Canada. No one can deny that the routing of the Bloc Quebecois is a good thing, but we should not convince ourselves that the NDP MPs who supplanted the BQ are themselves strong federalists (the Sherbrooke Declaration makes no mention of the Clarity Act and argues in favour of asymmetrical federalism for Quebec only.) The massive electoral shift in 2011 has been combined/overshadowed/absorbed by the tragic death of NDP Leader Jack Layton. It seems like the NDP want the letter released after Mr. Layton’s death to be the final word on his legacy but the reality is that we finish 2011 with more questions and flux than certainty and answers. Questions still remain about the media’s coverage of Layton’s health and his choice of Nycole Turmel as NDP leader will be explored over 2012. Jack Layton was a very gifted politician but the beatification that occurred after his death could have negative implications for the next NDP leader.

3. Omnibus crime bill:
Bill C-10: The Safe Streets and Communities Act is the perfect microcosm of the Harper government: it puts gut feelings over evidence, it will do the exact opposite of what it claims to do and it wastes hundreds of millions of dollars for no reason. This bill is going to create criminals, bankrupt governments and destroy the futures of many young Canadians. C-10 is a farce. Harper claims to be for decentralized, fiscally responsible government that puts safety first. This bill flies in the face of all three of those proported ideals. The process of passing this bill was an affront to democracy and is further evidence of the Prime Ministers contempt of parliament. With the leader of the opposition, Nycole Turmel, being so weak and the NDP’s front bench running for its leadership it has fallen to the provinces, the ones who will be bankrupted paying for the bill, to opposite PM Harper’s regressive crime agenda. The only positive outcome from the passage of this bill is that the Liberal Party has finally realized that if we are to differentiate ourselves from the Conservatives, we must be smart-on-crime and it showed us how dumb we were to fear being labeled “soft-on-crime.”

4. Insite:
On September 29, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously to uphold Insite’s exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing the facility to stay open indefinitely. This was not only a rebuke of the Harper Government, it was judge-created public policy that will let the provinces lead on crime prevention and treating mental health and addictions. In the year of the Harper majority, this Supreme Court ruling was a sign of hope for progressives. There is even talk of a safe-injection cite opening in Montreal. Since there was no strategy for the Insite victory (besides using science and facts) it is not as if this blow to the Harper government can be replicated.

5. Strong Stable Majority Government/Moving Forward Together:
Even with the so-called “orange crush”, 2011 was a year where the plurality of voters said they preferred stability or the perception of stability, over change. On the federal scene, the Prime Minister used “chaos” as a stick and “continuity” as a carrot. In Ontario, the Premier used “Hudak” and “growth” to the same effect. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and PEI all said “Yes” to the status quo. In Quebec, voters lined up for a leader who spent his life in politics and who didn’t necessarily call for drastic change in Quebec’s approach to federalism. Though it seems like 2011 was the year of anti-change, with the occupy movement and the arab spring, the dynamic of 2012 could be defined in opposition to the fear of change voters.

What word(s) do you think defined 2011?

Joseph Uranowski blogs regularly The Equivocator and can be found on twitter @Uranowski.

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