Nearly a decade of Conservative rule in Canada has come to an end with the dramatic election victory of the centrist Liberal Party.
The message wasn’t complicated: Canadians demanded change and an end to the “politics of fear,” as the young and charismatic Liberal leader Justin Trudeau put it. Polls consistently backed up these claims throughout the long (by Canadian standards) 78-day campaign.
The question, up until the vote itself, was which of the main opposition parties—the centrist Liberals or the more left-leaning New Democratic Party—could provide that change by defeating the Conservatives.
An Opening for Liberals
The NDP entered the election campaign in the lead. But an overly cautious campaign by leader Thomas Mulcair, once Quebec’s Liberal environment minister, failed to excite undecided voters, while turning off the party’s base.
Mulcair was criticized for running to Trudeau’s right on some issues, despite having a more progressive platform overall. Instead of highlighting the party’s plans for a badly needed national pharmacare program, for example, he chose to front cuts to small-business taxes. On climate change he was timid, endorsing an ineffective carbon-trading scheme and wobbling between support and opposition to a controversial oil pipeline that would carry Alberta bitumen to Atlantic ports.
To be sure, there were important promises in the NDP platform to create thousands of new childcare spaces and—in a cry increasingly echoed south of the border—to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. But the party ended up fighting media skepticism about the costs of its proposals. Frustratingly for NDP supporters, Mulcair’s subsequent promise to balance the budget was then ridiculed by some of the very same journalists after Liberals announced a plan to run deficits, profiting from historically low interest rates.
Liberal and NDP support in the polls reversed around this point, giving Trudeau the freedom to embrace using public debt to stimulate a stagnant Canadian economy through badly needed infrastructure investments and other job-creation interventions—staples of progressive domestic policy on both sides of the US-Canada border.
However, it would be wrong to say that Canadians voted en masse for stimulus spending on October 19. They voted against Stephen Harper.
Harper’s War on Canada
After winning a majority government in 2011, Harper’s Conservative government waged an all-out war on civil society, parliamentary democracy, the environment, organized labor, indigenous First Nations, and anyone else that posed an obstacle to the government’s priorities.