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VANCOUVER, B.C. Nov 1, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Looking back now, it really did end on Monday night, Oct. 19. As soon as Stephen Harper walked off the stage at the Calgary Convention Centre, it was if a giant storm cell lifted and blew away.
Ten years of incremental dismantling of Liberal legislation and policy stopped in its tracks. Ten years of progressive muffling of Conservative caucus questioning – let alone dissent or critical thinking – dissipated completely.
Ten years of sequential media stifling, and forced cowing and fawning to Conservative aides collapsed. Ten years of the learned, and somehow presumed permanence, of the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) and its principal tenant required immediate unlearning. The reign of the wicked warlock of the west had come to an Oz-like end.
All week, journalists, assorted academics, and political pundits have been musing about the same set of questions: Why did we assume the Harper government was so disciplined? Why did so many play by its fundamentally flawed and undemocratic rules? And why did so many young and first time voters rally to the cause of hopeful change?
In the end, it was those young voters and not the so-called ‘strategic voters’, who engineered the Liberal win, based upon an historic 68.3 per cent voter turnout.
In the absence of the old PM and his PMO guard, the likes of Jason Kenney and Michelle Rempel are musing openly about the negative impact of a very negative campaign, the need for more experienced women in the Conservative Party leadership, and the role of young GenXers and Millennials in the political process.
The mainstream media have been having a field day with public criticisms of Jenni Byrne as Conservative campaign senior strategist. Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander have been vilified for their televised role as launchers of the Barbaric Cultural Practices hotline. Its appearance was immediately coincident with the fall of what initially seemed to be Conservative ‘niqab momentum’ in Quebec and the West. Only two weeks ago, the bickering and anger now openly expressed among Conservatives would have been an anathema.
It would appear that Stephen Harper’s leadership was central to party discipline because, in his absence, it barely exists. In his concession speech on election night, he said that the Conservative loss was his loss. He is probably correct. The sheer speed with which party discipline dissolved after he left is perhaps the best clue to his now unfortunate legacy: the decade long maintenance of what Conrad Black recently characterized as the dictatorial rule of a “sadistic Victorian schoolmaster.”
Canadians need to ask what it is in our political nature that enabled this behaviour. Why did we put up with it?
Perhaps the clues lie in the voters who ended the rule, and the prime beneficiary of the change: youth and Justin Trudeau. The young who voted in such large numbers have the most recent experience of school and teachers, and the new PM is, in fact, a teacher by profession. Perhaps, to them, he represents teachers who were motivational and who stood for the possibility of positive change. It doesn’t hurt that he is supremely fit, urbane, easy to look at, and that his family lives his values.
Could it be that the Stephen Harper decade was enabled by fear? Certainly, our ‘first past the post’ electoral system enables a minority to act as if it were a majority. In this way a 30 per cent hard core of Conservative Canadian voters have long had their way over the rest of us.
This conservative base yearns for the ‘old stock’ pleasures and certainties of their youth: the family farm, occasional work in the oil patch, Caucasian neighbours, old time religion, F-150s with big internal combustion engines, and print media.
Unfortunately, for them and the Conservative party, their days are coming to an end.
The politics of division and fear will follow them down the same road.
Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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