Promoting a Flourishing Society

At Long Last Politics will Yield to Policy

From the Archived "Cardus Policy in Public" Series

May 3, 2011

Once again, after far too long, policy, not puerile politics, will be paramount in Canada's parliament.

Once again, after far too long, policy, not puerile politics, will be paramount in Canada's parliament.

Prime Minister Harper promised to begin the shift back to policy-driven government starting today, even as Canadians absorbed his Conservative party's crushing win on election night.

With all the light and noise around the NDP's historic vault into official opposition status, it was easy to lose sight of just how monumental a victory Harper and his MPs won. With 99 per cent of votes counted, the Conservatives are 65 seats ahead of the second-place party in the Commons, and have a 26-seat margin over the combined opposition.

As the Toronto Star's Chantal Hebert commented on CBC while the results rolled in, Stephen Harper is now in Jean Chrétien country in terms of having been able to ride vote splits to a massive majority.

It is, indeed, a long, long way from the minority government status to which, only weeks ago, it looked like the Tories might be perpetually condemned. It is across the known universe from the two seats to which its predecessor party was reduced in the 1993 election, ironically the year Stephen Harper was elected as an opposition Reform MP.

The long, slow, often-painful rebuild to full and effective government is over, and the imperative to measure every government utterance, never mind policy initiative, against the prospect of defeat is gone with it. We will hear no more fear of losing confidence votes at the hands of proto-coalitionists.

What Canadians should expect to hear is the kind of policy contest—not political nattering—that comes in a parliament with a broad range of ideas and differing voices articulating them. In political terms, that will be much easier with a starkly defined ideological contrast between the government and the official opposition. It took Jack Layton little time at all on election night to make clear his New Democrats will oppose as only socialists can: that is from the premise that no amount of government spending is ever enough.

Stephen Harper ran a five-week election campaign doggedly insisting that premise is deeply flawed. We can expect him to run a four-year government with similar singularity of mind and purpose.

In his gracious acceptance of defeat, Michael Ignatieff insisted that a centrist Liberal party is still essential to bridge the gap between Conservative and social democrat. He was wrong. After almost a decade muddying about in the political middle, Canada needs clarity of policy choices and, for that matter, specific oppositional alternatives.

On defence spending, on health and demographic issues, on immigration, above all on deficit and the size/role of government, we must have action that comes from commitment to a particular set of policies, and policies that arise from a clear set of ideas.

The majority mandate won by the Harper Conservatives on Monday night, and the gaining by the NDP of a firm footing, makes such decisiveness not only possible, but inevitable.

Whether the Liberals will choose to rebuild or melt away into the two leading parties is, of course, an open question. But there is no doubt they will spend much of the immediate future resolving that very issue. As for the obstructionist-by-design Bloc Québécois, through their campaign failures and refusal to heed that Québecers don't want to talk about sovereignty, they are no longer part of the Canadian federal scene.

The result is that the Conservative majority victory has given us some short-term political and economic stability, and set the stage for the much deeper and more honest policy conversation we need as a nation.