Faced with a faltering economy and deteriorating international relations, Canadians chose quite convincingly to elect Justin Trudeau of the Liberal party, thus denying Stephen Harper a historic fourth term for him and his Conservative party.
It’s impressive that Richard Nixon prophesied Trudeau’s election victory over 40 years ago, but you only have to go back 2 months to see the New Democratic Party (NDP) leading the polls and posing the greatest threat to Harper, with the Liberals languishing in 3ʳᵈ place. The result of this election was surprising to say the least.
A defining issue of the campaign (rather unexpectedly) was the subject of the niqab. The Canadian Supreme Court had decided to effectively veto a law passed by Harper’s Government which banned the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. The Prime Minister, however, was defiant that his government would seek to restore the ban.
This changed the election race dramatically.
The NDP, whose main support base is in the francophone region of Quebec, opposed the ban. This however backfired as most Quebecois, in line with traditional French values on secularity actually supported the ban. This meant the anti-Harper bloc of voters in Quebec shifted their votes from the NDP to the Bloc Quebecois (a regional party supporting the ban and pushing for independence), and more importantly, the Liberals, who were not supportive of the ban but seen as the lesser of two evils.
The outcome? Significant losses for the NDP and gains for the Bloc Quebecois and Liberals.
This leaves us with the demise of the Conservatives. It was not always substance, but style where Harper lost points to Trudeau. Even though most Canadians agreed that wearing a niqab for a citizenship photo was not appropriate, the decision by the Prime Minister to place an inordinate emphasis on his opposition to this and not to Liberal policy not only helped in making minorities feel targeted but also made many get the impression that he was trying thrive off the politics of division and fear. Trudeau on the other hand got plaudits for his stance on the subject in a speech where he said this:
You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.
Another factor that really helped in swinging to election in Trudeau’s favour was the absence of negative campaigning which Harper’s Conservatives used so frequently. One video derided the Liberal leader as being ‘Just not ready….nice hair though’. I think that these campaign attacks by the Harper came off as quite patronising and so it was no surprise my sentiments were mirrored by the public when it came to election day. Trudeau fired back, also in a video, which was simply entitled ‘Ready’.
Matthew Yglesias of Vox summates in his article on Harper’s loss that
The whole idea of winning an election with hard-edged cultural war wedge issues doesn’t sound very Canadian, so there’s something reassuring about knowing that it didn’t work.
In the end, this was a choice between a party using scare tactics and uninspiring campaign techniques and a fresh-faced Liberal party that offered a break from it all. This is the first time since 2000 that Mexico, Canada, and the USA all have centre-left Governments. With that, there is optimism for greater co-operation among these nations. Canada chose hope over fear. Let’s see if it works.