An end and a new beginning
After nearly a decade as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has finally reached the end of the line. Last month Canadians decided to remove him from office and give Justin Trudeau’s Liberals a chance to govern in his stead. No, we haven’t seen a repeat of the Trudeau-mania that propelled his late father into power. But we have witnessed a definite repudiation of Harper himself. If The Globe and Mail could manage to endorse his party without endorsing him, this was a clear sign that things were not well in Harper’s camp.
Reasons for this rejection are not difficult to come by. While Harper deserves credit for bringing the Conservatives back from the political wilderness and for guiding Canada through the economic turmoil unleashed by the market crash of 2008, he has also courted controversy on more than one occasion. Many felt that he maintained excessively tight control over his caucus. Many suspected that he had a hidden agenda, mostly because of the secretive nature of his government and the centralization of political power in the Prime Minister’s Office.
More seriously, Harper’s actions often appeared to run roughshod over the hallowed conventions of parliamentary government, even eliciting a contempt of parliament motion in 2011. His request to prorogue parliament early in December 2008 was a constitutionally questionable move to thwart the other parties’ efforts to withdraw their confidence in his government. The Governor General would have been within her authority to refuse his request. That she acquiesced reinforced in Canadians’ minds that our political system puts too much power in the hands of the Prime Minister, with insufficient checks on its exercise.
Furthermore, Harper’s call for an early election in late summer 2008 had already violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Bill C-16, his amendment to the Canada Elections Act which ostensibly fixed election dates to the third Monday in October in the fourth year after the previous election. Even Harper’s early dissolution of parliament this past August left Canadians with a nearly unprecedented 78-day campaign, which was unnecessarily long and ultimately backfired on him.
For all these reasons and more Harper is now out of the picture, and the somewhat inexperienced son of Pierre Trudeau has taken his place. History, of course, never repeats itself. We will not expect young Justin to be pirouetting behind the Queen’s back any time soon. Nor is he likely to send tanks rolling through the streets of Montréal, as his father did the year before his birth. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is securely in place, and Québec shows no signs of leaving Confederation any time soon. The country and the world at large are different places from what they were in the 1970s and ’80s. The younger Trudeau will face issues unlike those his father tackled during his premiership.
Will he stride confidently across the international stage, projecting a positive image for this country? Will he treat pressing domestic issues out of a passion to see justice done, especially to the disadvantaged?
Will he follow through on his commitment to electoral reform, especially now that his party has won 184 seats based on only 39.5 percent of the vote? Will he continue to inhibit the pro-life members of his own Liberal Party caucus? Time will tell.
For now we have much to be thankful for, whether or not we voted for the winning party. We are blessed in that governments come and go peacefully, if not always happily. Harper’s concession speech was gracious, promising co-operation in the transition to a new government. Such goodwill can scarcely be taken for granted elsewhere. In much of the world it is not unusual for a defeated leader, protesting its unfairness, to refuse to accept the results of an election and to do everything he can to obstruct the new leader, possibly even to the extent of threatening violence. The brutal aftermath of an initially hopeful Arab Spring is a sorry example of this pattern at work. Though obviously not all Canadians are pleased with the results of this election, our country is nevertheless at peace and that is a genuine blessing.
Let us wish Stephen Harper well as he moves into the post-prime ministerial phase of his life. And let us pray that God will use Justin Trudeau and his government to advance the cause of justice here in Canada and abroad.