Politics in Canada: A Multi-Faced Crisis

Canadian Dimension, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview

Politics in Canada: A Multi-Faced Crisis


IN CANADA, the political system has long been based upon the illusion of choice provided by a ruling party in power and an opposition party waiting in the wings. However, the Liberal corruption crisis in Quebec, together with the failure of the Liberals to make significant head-way in the West, has stripped the ability of the Liberal Party to form a majority government.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Liberals are embroiled in the worst scandal of the past half-century, the Harperled Conservatives have not been able to get beyond 35 per cent of popular support. The defection of Belinda Stronach, the Conservatives' most visible moderate and urban member, together with the successful efforts of the religious right to win Conservative nominations throughout the country, confirms widely held suspicions that this party harbours a socially conservative agenda of intolerance. Harper's Conservatives are thus condemned to their rural, small-town western base.

In consequence, with neither a viable ruling party, nor a viable opposition party, Canada sits in the midst of a political crisis with no end in sight.

The crisis has many dimensions, some of which have long histories.

One important reason for the present weakness of the existing Canadian state goes back to the first stirrings for a redefinition of the meaning of sovereignty within Canada. With the advent of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, Anglo-Canadian elites took the decision to devolve power to the provinces in order to avoid special status for Quebec. Far from undermining the movement for Quebec independence, however, this strategic move has led to the emaciation of the Canadian state and forward to the emergence of wreckers like Ralph Klein, Firewall Harper, the liar Peter MacKay, Gordon Campbell and Mike Harris.

Another dimension of the crisis lies in Canada's nineteenth-century Constitution, which is silent on the issue of cities and which gives most of the important powers to the provinces--resources, health and education, to name a few--while allocating most revenue sources to Ottawa. At the same time, this disparity between Ottawa's revenue capacity and the provinces' revenue needs--the so-called fiscal imbalance--ignores large wealth and revenue disparities among provinces.

Beginning in the 1980s, Alberta won the battle to keep all of its resource revenue rather than sharing it with the rest of Canada. Now, Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan have claimed the same right while continuing to receive equalization payments. Paul Martin has acquiesced in these demands. He has also caved in to Ontario's demands that it be compensated for the revenue it has transferred to have-not provinces over the years. As a consequence, the regime of equalization payments, a major component of Liberal-style social democracy, based upon the popular premise that all Canadians should enjoy comparable public services, is in grave trouble.

A third strand to the political crisis is the patronage/kickback system that has long dominated Canadian politics. Through Gomery, this system has been revealed in all its sordid detail, producing a level of public cynicism unmatched in recent times. Widespread dissatisfaction with the unrepresentative legislatures and parliaments produced by our first-past-the-post electoral system adds further to rampant public cynicism.

A fourth strand is the disconnect between the corporate elite and their political henchmen--who demand tax cuts and spending restraint--as against the preferences of a large majority of Canadians, who want the kind of social investments Jack Layton's deft intervention wrestled from fat-cat corporations. Scientific polls have long been recording public rejection of Liberal and Conservative neoliberal economic policies.

Unfulfilled Demands for Sovereignty

A fifth dimension of the crisis is the continued refusal to accommodate the sovereigntist aspirations of the peoples of Quebec and of First Nations. …

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