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.

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Alison Brewin currently works as a non-profit management consultant for a range of clients, writes fiction and non-fiction and raises a family with a network of co-parents in Vancouver, Canada. Her family has a long history of involvement in Canadian politics. Here career in law, politics and non-profits has been focused on women-serving organizations. For more info see