While the world was captivated with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan and enthralled as one Middle Eastern country after another was being swept up in the Arab Spring, what was going on in Canada?
What do you think was the most significant story that made headlines in Canada in 2011? Was it the Nobel Prize in medicine earned by Montreal immunologist Ralph Steinman, or possibly the continued rise in international prominence of 17 year-old London, Ontario singer Justin Bieber in the entertainment world?
The riots in Vancouver when fickle hockey fans there trashed the downtown area after their Canucks lost the Stanley Cup was a close second, but it was a year of a watershed federal election and we think the events following from that had the greatest long-term impact and captured the interest of Canadians more than all else.
That big story in Canadian politics is beyond the victory of the federal Conservatives, who finally attained their long-sought majority government; it was not just the NDP becoming the official opposition in Parliament for the first time; nor was it the NDP sweep of Quebec that overwhelmed and rent asunder the Bloc Quebecois as a party, perhaps forever; and it was neither the emasculating of the once mighty federal Liberal Party, ending its decades-long reign as “the natural governing party” of Canada. It was not even the death of Jack Layton that left his surging NDP rudderless and adrift. We think the story of the year is the culmination of all that, raising Stephen Harper to the pinnacle of success. He is now positioned to achieve his ultimate goal, to move Canada to the political right and imbue our country with conservative values.
The happiest man in Canada in 2011 was Stephen Harper. He got his majority government, and then all opposition simply evaporated. The Canadian political stage was suddenly his and his alone. He did not deserve it due to performance, but winning in politics involves luck, and he was handed more than his fair share. That is the most significant story of 2011.
The New Democratic Party went silent with the passing of Jack Layton. The Liberal Party stepped off a cliff. Harper was voted in by fewer than 40 per cent of Canadians last May, but he now owns parliament, unopposed. He was given a free pass.
The fading of the NDP is bad for a united Canada. Its support continues to flag across the country but nowhere more so than in Quebec. Their unparalleled opportunity to provide a substantive and compatible alternative to the separatists on the federal stage is rapidly vanishing. Quebecois are now looking elsewhere for inspired leadership. Unfortunately, they may find it again in a new separatist party leader.
So why has the NDP failed so badly, allowing Harper free sailing and “temporary leader” Bob Rae to gain prominence and reconstitute federal Liberal Party when the Orange Wave had the momentum? Perhaps it is the fault of party insiders, those holding the reins of power in the backrooms. Those in a position of strength when Jack Layton was at the helm may not now want to relinquish power. That is what happened to former Prime Minister Paul Martin when Jean Chrétien stepped down as leader of the Liberal party in 2003. Those who had worked the levers of power behind Chrétien for so long did not want to let step aside with him. Two warring factions within the Liberal party resulted. That led to the party’s self-destruction.
The NDP need only peer across the 49th parallel to see what it should be doing. Its political opposite, the American Republican Party, similarly in second place in that country, is also having a leadership race, looking for one among them with charisma, the right dogma and a high acceptability rating among voters that translates into winning ways. The difference is that the Republicans have captured the full attention of the American public and are using that platform to effectively ply their values and agenda. Even though their assembly-line of caricature candidates keeps crashing and burning one after the other, like in a survival reality show, the Republicans have owned the spotlight for almost a year. They completely dominate all American media and it is their agenda, issues and ideology being discussed and considered by the American people. The successes of Barack Obama meanwhile are all but ignored. What the Republicans are doing in capturing and commanding the public agenda is masterful.