Over the past six weeks, Canada was rife with a verbal war while a federal general election was in progress. The results are now known. The liberal party under the leadership of Jean Chretien is forming a majority government with 173 of 301 seats, 100 of which were won in Ontario. This, in itself, is not so terrible. What is is the way the campain was conducted.
There are five parties in Canada that are really worth considering. These are the Liberal Party, the Canadian Alliance, the Progressive Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Quebecois. Canada also has several identifiable regions. The maritime provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the arctic, and “the west”. Note that I am from “the west” and as such, this opinion is biased in that direction.
This election campaign was the dirtiest one in recent memory. It did not concentrate on issues of interest to Canadians. It concentrated on personal and political attacks on party leaders and candidates. It consisted also of fearmongering. The campaign as a whole was a disgrace to every Canadian citizen. However, the ramifications of this behaviour may be deeper than profound embarassment caused by otherwise mature adults behaving like children.
Since the majority of the 301 seats in the house of commons are located in Ontario and Quebec (a total of 175), all that is necessary in order for a party to form the government is to take almost all of those two provinces and a reasonable number of seats in one other region of the country. The liberals therefore concentrated on those two provinces to ensure they had the bulk of the seats there. The Canadian Alliance, the only real challenger, has its power base in “the west”. Obviously in order to form the government they would have to get a number of seats in Ontario and Quebec. What tactic do you suppose the liberals used to prevent this? They portrayed the Canadian Alliance as “western” and “against Canada” and bigotted. They portrayed “westerners” as bigotted, selfish, and divisive. In fact, Jean Chretien said he prefers to do politics with “easterners” because “westerners” are different.
In all fairness, the Canadian Alliance dropped the ball in responding to these tactics and the other parties in the running were, without doubt, also part of the reason that the liberals were returned to power with a large majority. There was a significant amount of vote splitting between Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative candidates where if there had been only one or the other the liberal candidate would have been defeated. However, the vote splitting issue is present in any election on all sides.
However, the campaign has left “the west” feeling somewhat disenfranchised. There is a fairly strong feeling of alienation and frustration. Frustration toward the established liberal machine which continually picks on “the west” yet allows similar things to go on in “the east” without comment. Frustration with the continued use of “westerners” as the boogeyman to scare any dissenters in the “east” into submission. Frustration with the apparent contentedness the “east” has shown with corruption in government. Indeed, many folks in “the west” are starting to think that being “different” is a good thing.
All signs seem to indicate that this constant bullying of “the west” by “the east” is going to get more pronounced over time, thereby increasing the tensions in the already frayed rope used for this battle. What happens when the rope finally breaks under the tension? What will the backlash do as both ends of the rope whip back at the respective combatants? It seems extremely unsettled times are looming just over the horizon of the future.
I see several possible outcomes. One is that “the west” knuckles under and puts up with “the east”. Another is that “the west” and “the east” go to war in Canada’s first civil war. Yet another is that the backlash brings “westerners” into power and the “easterners” start to feel disenfranchised. Yet another is that “the west” and “the east” peacefully part ways and go on as separate countries. There are other possibilities as this is a very complex situation with some thirty million people involved in it. What will happen? Only time will tell.
November 28, 2000 CE… UTC