More than a year ago the Council of Canadians set twin objectives for this federal election: to get out the vote and to defeat the Harper government. Both were accomplished last night. More than 17.5 million people, about 68 per cent of all eligible voters, cast a ballot in this election. That's a dramatic increase of almost 3 million voters from the 14.8 million people, or 61.4 per cent of eligible voters, who voted in May 2011. And last night not only was Stephen Harper defeated as prime minister, he resigned as leader of the Conservative Party. We celebrate both of these accomplishments.
We had felt though that the best likely outcome of this election would be a minority government. And if we had a system of proportional representation that would have been the outcome last night. Under that system, the Liberals would have won a minority government of about 133 seats (rather than a majority with 184 seats), the NDP 67 seats and the Greens 12 seats. We could have had a stable minority government through a multi-party coalition or accord. Instead, the Liberals won 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons with just 39.5 per cent of the vote. We believe this is wrong.
While we welcome Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau's election night speech that focused on hope, inclusion and the end of the politics of division and fear evident under the Harper government, we are deeply concerned by his party's support for 'free trade' agreements like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And with about 40 days until the critical United Nations COP 21 climate talks begin in Paris, the Liberals have only pledged "real climate change solutions" rather than more concretely an end to export pipelines and no new approvals for the tar sands.
We are also disappointed that the Liberal commitment is only to ensure "that fracking is consistently meeting the most stringent environmental assessments and reviews", rather than to ban or implement a moratorium on this harmful practice. Nor did we see the Liberals promise the $4.7 billion needed to ensure that Indigenous peoples enjoy the right to water and sanitation through upgraded infrastructure in their communities. And we are very concerned that the new prime minister appears to see the private sector or public-private partnerships (P3) as a 'solution' to the water crisis for First Nations.
We also will have to see what the Liberal pledge to "negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories, including a long-term agreement on funding" truly means. If the new prime minister continues to support 'free trade' agreements that include longer patents for pharmaceutical corporations, as is the case with CETA and TPP, and doesn't explicitly commit to public solutions and oppose privatization, then we will have a real challenge ahead of us.
That all said, there could be some opportunities to move forward on these issues, much more so than would have been the case under another five years of Stephen Harper.
The prime minister-elect has promised to "negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories, including a long-term agreement on funding." We will mobilize in the lead-up to that conference to demand a 10-year accord annual 6 per cent increase in health care transfer payments to the provinces, at least 25 per cent federal funding of provincial health care costs, a prohibition on user fees and privatization, and a commitment to public solutions. We also believe that his promised "credible environmental assessments" that "respect the rights of those most affected, such as Indigenous communities" should mean that the National Energy Board process for the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines should begin from the start again.
We also look forward to participating in the "proper review and oversight" and "stringent environmental assessments" of fracking. We will be there to advocate for the full restoration of the protections to the Navigable Waters Protection Act as promised by the Liberals in their platform. The new prime minister has also promised "a full and open public debate" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to "defend Canadian interests during the TPP’s ratification process – which includes defending supply management, our auto sector, and Canadian manufacturers across the country." We hope to be a leading voice in that fight.
There is also a long check-list of Liberal promises made during this election, including:
- to "immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada"
- to enact all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations
- to fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides health care to refugees
- to ban oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast which would effectively kill the Northern Gateway pipeline project
- to protect the Great Lakes
- to "repeal the anti-democratic elements in Stephen Harper’s Fair Elections Act"
- to "restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification"
- to "give Elections Canada the resources it needs to investigate voter fraud and vote suppression"
- to "encourage more Canadians to vote, by removing restrictions on the ways in which the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada can communicate with voters"
- to "restore the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, so that they are accountable to Parliament and not the government of the day"
- to fund the federal portion of the construction of 'Freedom Road' for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
- to resettle no fewer than 25,000 Syrians by January 1, 2016
- to scrap Harper's plan to increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 by 2023 from the current 65
- to repeal Harper's Employment Insurance reforms
- to ensure that foreign workers have a realistic prospect of citizenship
- to end the practice of omnibus bills
- to end the Canadian Revenue Agency's harassment of charitable organizations
- to stop Harper's plan to end door-to-door mail delivery
- to repeal the problematic elements of C-51
- to re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard base
- to end the combat mission in Iraq
- to repeal the anti-union legislation C-377 and C-525
We will have to work hard to ensure that these measures are fully implemented in a meaningful way and that they were not just empty promises.
And given the current electoral system gave the prime minister a majority government with seats disproportionate to the popular vote, we will be on the watch for the electoral reform legislation - that must focus on changing our system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation - that the prime minister has promised by April 2017.
We should rightly celebrate the defeat of Stephen Harper, a significantly increased voter turnout, and an election apparently relatively free of the voter suppression evident in the last federal election, but we will have to campaign even harder now to ensure that the 70 per cent of Canadians who said "it was the time for change" in Ottawa this election, get the change they deserve.