From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters
Oct. 21, 2019, was Federal Election Day in Canada. As expected, Justin Trudeau is again Prime Minister, but is holding onto power with only a minority government. This should be better for low- and middle-income people and for workers, because the New Democratic Party/Nouveau Parti Démocratique (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois hold the balance of power, with a slight boost from the Green Party, even though the Conservatives won 121 seats, up 22 from the last government.
Trudeau’s Liberal Party tends to lean to the Right when in the majority, but we get more legislation towards the Left when they govern in a minority.
These are hard times economically for most Canadians, and that is a major concern. In Québec, the two surprises are that the leftist Québec Solidaire (QS) party has tripled its number of seats, which can be seen as a small move to the Left, and the Bloc Québécois (BQ) has also tripled its number.
The BQ is a nationalist party, but not independentist, that may help to protect Québec’s social programs and also the French language. Trudeau is openly hostile to French-language rights.
FRAGILE MINORITY RULE
Without the two metropolitan areas of Toronto and Montréal, Trudeau and the Liberals would be out of power. The Conservatives swept the West except for one riding (federal district) in Edmonton, Alberta, and one in northern Manitoba. British Columbia (BC) tended toward the Conservatives and also had an equal number of Liberal and NDP seats, with two Green Party victories.
In the larger provinces the provincial governments are solidly Conservative except for BC which is NDP, and Québec, which is governed by the Coalition Avenir Québec (les “Coalisés”) who are nationalists but not independentists. This represents a rejection of the emphasis of provincial Liberals on “cultural” issues (in the ethnic sense, not great art and literature). Their attempt to reduce all issues to “multiculturalism,” which allowed little discussion of social class, economics, and actual human rights, has been a failure. “Multiculturalism” here is in opposition to the actual biculturalism of Canada, much as “All Lives Matter” in the U.S. is an attempt to undermine the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
CLASS ISSUES TO THE FORE
Issues of class and economic well-being are back on the front burner. People want healthcare, education, gender equality, a safe environment, and housing. There is a particular Canadian value called “social housing/logement social,” which sets the rent payments of low-income people at 20-25% of their income.
Not only is this insurance against homelessness, but there isn’t the same “retail apocalypse” in Canada that is happening in the U.S. because people have more disposable income.
There are tensions over the fact that the federal government has most of the money, and provinces and municipalities often have a lot of difficulty financing such projects, but that may be alleviated with the NDP and BQ having more influence.
Canada is changing, and there is a sense that people are getting their feet back on solid ground and can work together for better living conditions and a greater sense of social equality. These are just breathing spaces, and the real goal is to get out from under the yoke of capitalism!
—D. Chêneville and Ti-Ouistiti