Last year at this time everyone was talking about populism, the Alt-Right movement, authoritarianism and what seemed like the slide towards global anarchy. These were, and remain, significant enough to undo more enfeebled democracies around the world. While the outsized dealings of Donald Trump continue to sow confusion and alarm, other developed nations face their own challenges.
Looking through the entrails of the recent federal election in Canada, we are reminded again that our troubles and challenges remain manageable and hardly out of control. And the results made it obvious that Canadians used the ballot box to vent their mostly progressive leanings and values. It’s just that they spread their preferences around to other parties, having grown leery of Trudeau’s previous majority government.
The Conservatives have their own issues along the same lines, as other parts of the nation took a long look at Andrew Scheer’s policies and performance but placed their mark elsewhere.
The make-up of this new parliament, besides being more diverse, is nevertheless stubbornly regional, with the entrenched Conservative leanings of Alberta and Saskatchewan destined to make compromise a difficult thing to achieve.
But the ultimate challenge before the new parliament will be effectively responding to the growing disillusionment among Canadians in general. Millions of them voted but they weren’t particularly happy about it. Sunny ways have given way to partial clouds.
However this next government is crafted, if it fails to offer a better future, the danger of factionalism will inevitably gain the upper hand. Compromise among the parties surely won’t be easy, but there is no path forward without it. Failure to do so means losing the future and the Canadian ability to shape it.
What needs to be accomplished in the near future is hardly obscure or irrelevant. Climate change is merely the most obvious urgency to have come out of this past election. What has been accomplished in previous years has been insufficient to gain the approval of the electorate and remains high on the “to-do” list. The implications of climate change for the economy, for the regions, for Indigenous communities, our historically functional hegemony and the fate of the world are enormous and difficult to attain.
Recent decades have resulted in a politics of aspiration instead of effectiveness. How else to explain rising homelessness, troubling loss of political trust, declining investments in foreign aid and international development, the bottom line of the employment market and the erosion of democracy itself. These aren’t the fault of any one government but have been emerging for years without substantial remedy. Our tinkering has now landed us in trouble.
We are all intelligent enough to know that the lack of effective solutions on these issues will eventually drive citizens towards authoritarianism, as other nations have shown. This past election has provided Canada with something of a respite, however. A more diverse parliament gets one more chance to show its relevance before more extreme solutions are put on the table. The durable Canadian social contract that has survived for decades is now under suspicion and the governments meant to oversee it are losing the trust of voters.
Homeless must be reduced. Mental illness requires serious investment. More affordable housing is a must. Meaningful work with adequate wages and benefits is the only thing that can keep the middle from sliding into economic marginalization. Adequate universal healthcare must be maintained. And, above all, an effective national initiative for the reduction of carbon can wait no longer. Providing the odd boutique program to address such issues no longer works – Canadians are now seasoned enough to see through their lack of substance.
Ultimately, this is Justin Trudeau’s dilemma to solve. Much of the goodwill demonstrated by Canadians in 2015 has now eroded and he will have to prove far more adept at working with his opponents. Can he accomplish it? We should all hope he does, since the future of Canada in this age of skepticism could easily become something darker and meaner.
The one thing political progressives have lacked in recent years and which leaves us in this precarious state is the unwillingness to collaborate. The “our party, do or die” approach is killing politics as we know it and jeopardizing our collective future in the process. If western nations don’t undertake their due diligence in such matters, the insights of Eric Voegelin, the German-American philosopher who escaped Nazi forces in 1938 and ended up in America, might become a reality:
“The new absoluteness of evil is not introduced into the situation by the revolutionary; it is the reflex of the actual decline of the society from which the revolutionary emerges. The revolutionary crisis of our age is distinguished … by the fact that the moral substance of Western society has diminished to the vanishing point.”
Our modern democratic societies are at their most vigilant when they are the most effective at addressing the overriding problems of their citizens. This is what the new parliament must deliver, despite its many differences, because the darkening clouds on the horizon are reminding us of the more troubling alternatives.