Canada Headed for a Stormy Ride

North of the 49th parallel, four more years of Stephen Harper’s Conservative rule has begun. On May 2nd, Canadians went to the polls and gave Harper the majority of seats in the House of Commons–the majority he has eagerly and unsuccessfully sought in two previous elections–and thus gave the Conservatives unshakable federal decision-making power. The result also did exactly what many predicted: polarized Canadian politics by decimating the centrist Liberal Party and almost eliminating Quebec’s separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois.

Instead, the left-wing New Democrats (NDP) became the official opposition for the first time in the nation’s history, bringing with them a record number of women members of parliament. What will this mean for Canada? Despite the exciting result of having a strong, progressive party take center stage in parliament (official opposition status gives the previously marginalized NDP access to huge research budgets and staff support they’ve never had before), the prospect of a Bush-like governing party that won’t go away for at least four years is frightening to those of us committed to women’s rights.

I am not naturally an alarmist, but there is little doubt in my mind that the world is going to see Canada take on a decidedly Republican-like politic. In the coming years, here are just a few things we are likely to see in this once “welfare state”:

  1. Decreasing (and possibly eliminated) funding to organizations working on women’s issues in Canada and overseas
  2. De-funding of organizations engaged in any critical analysis of government
  3. Increase in funding for faith-based groups, especially right-wing Christians
  4. The elimination or delegation to minor departmental status of the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women
  5. Increase in the language of “crime and punishment” in legislation and funding changes to reflect that agenda
  6. A decrease in reporting of incidents of domestic violence and reduced funding for organizations raising awareness of systemic issues related to that abuse
  7. Possible rolling back of marriage rights for same-sex couples
  8. An increase in employment, but a dramatic decrease in full-time, living-wage jobs with benefits
  9. Growth in the divide between rich and poor, including extensive cuts to taxes for corporations

Harper will also be in a position to appoint four out of nine Supreme Court Judges during his term. He has always shown a distaste for the judicial system and a lack of respect for the role of the judiciary in Canada’s constitutional democracy. Minorities and women in Canada have often relied on the courts to adjudicate equality rights, but Harper might shut down the progressive possibilities of a non-partisan court.

It’s going to be a rough ride. There will be some celebration of the marriage between Quebec’s progressive voters (who, in the past, have tended to vote largely for the Bloc Quebecois) with those in Anglo-Canada–the historic phenomena that gave the NDP such success in this election. But the future looks grim for women’s rights in Canada.

Photo of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at a Town Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Elisabeth Geller says:

    Thanks for this analysis Alison. I agree we are in for a rough ride, and not just women but a wide swath of vulnerable groups all over Canada. I hope that the newly minted MPs in the NDP can muster a strong opposition. Fingers crossed.

  2. Frances says:

    Thanks Alison. I feel a sense of foreboding for what might happen in the next four years. I hope that I am wrong but I don’t think I am going to be.

  3. James Wood says:

    I moved to the US the first time Harper was elected…I guess I’m staying south. Same thing happened when Gordon Campbell got elected year after year in BC = alot of the smart people moved out as the scene was not condusive to employment that made a difference to the general well being of the local public.

  4. Natalia says:

    I have always voted NDP ever since I was 18. It’s ridiculous how Harper got a majority government when most of Canada does NOT want him (put the NDP and Liberal voters together AND the people who didn’t vote). Also, I live in a conservative neighborhood, which means my vote means nothing when it comes to giving NDP more seats in parliament.

  5. I was young enough to be mortified when Mulroney won the 2nd time in a situation eerily similar to the May 2, 2011 debacle (in the late ’80s). So I’m not as dumbfounded – nor as embarrassed to be Canadian – as I was then!

    I am holding onto the fact that the political landscape of Canada has dramatically changed and a belief that something interesting (dare I say ‘transformational’?) may happen because of that change!

    With the NDP as the Official Opposition in the House we have the opportunity to leverage a new reality: more women MPs, more youthful MPs, a decidedly more partnership-community-diversity oriented Opposition – now with finances to embolden research and initiatives that may truly make the difference the true majority of Canadians want.

    For years, I’ve been resigned about our voting system: I vote, but I know that the results of our elections are not representative of what we intended when we cast our votes (see http://FairVote.Ca).

    I continue to believe that when I take care of my corners of the earth it makes a national/global “spiritual” difference.

  6. Thanks for the post and the comments that followed.

    Another thing that worries me about this government is a leaning toward privatizing healthcare. I worry that as the US tries to reform healthcare for the better, Canada just might regress.

    I sure hope my “nightmare” doesn’t come true while I’m off to the US for the next couple years!

  7. Michael says:

    There is not one fact stated in this article.

  8. Since the Liberals have just defeated the Conservatives – I will put my two cents in: Harper under the Conservative party put forward the most progressive policies for women: zero tolerance for barbaric cultural practices (although there will be difficulty for non-Muslim women to be protected under this bill); anti-prostitution Bill C-36 modelled after Finland’s model. I am not a supporter of Harper’s economic or refugee policies. Instead of bringing in refugees, the Conservatives brought in “immigrants” which encourage low wages; however, Harper made no anti-abortion motions and neither did his Conservative party.

    With the United States full of crack houses; no health care program; late-term abortions being banned; homeless animals (more cats and dogs are spayed/neutered in Canada, thus lowering the birth rate); mass shootings; and an international policy of war, rape (literal rape during war) and bombings to protect their security , I find it offensive that Canada is criticized.

    Have you seen any Canadian politicians trying to overthrow the Cuban government? Just last month, I remember seeing Republicans on television advocating this. After all, Cuba is a dictatorship and the United States has the right to impose democracy.

    It is true that Canada’s left parties (NDP and the Quebec BLOC) are not as strong as they used to be, but I don’t see any social democratic parties in the United States. People in glass houses should not throw stones.

Speak Your Mind


Error, no Ad ID set! Check your syntax!