Canada changed last night. It was a change which voters made consciously and deliberately. In doing so, they ignored the warning of one of Canada's best known constitutional scholars. A week before the election, Peter Russell appeared in what will become a seminal video. "This is the most important federal election in my lifetime," he declared:
What is at stake is nothing less than parliamentary democracy. If the electorate rewards Mr. Harper with a majority, it will mean that he will be able to operate as a presidential prime minister without the check and balance of Congress. It will also mean that two out of five Canadians think very little of the need to hold government accountable to Parliament. Mr. Harper has reduced parliamentary debate to "bickering" and the role of parliament in the formation of government to irrelevant constitutional stuff. I hope and pray that the parties of parliamentarians win a majority next Monday.
Russell warned Canadians that Stephen Harper has absolutely no respect for Canada's constitutional conventions. Retiring Speaker of the House Peter Milliken made the same point when he found the Harper government in contempt of Parliament.
A significant number of Canadians have forgotten that it was respect for those conventions which helped us through some of our most trying times. When Quebec separatists chose the Algerian terrorist model as the way to independence, Rene Levesque moved the cause from planting bombs in mailboxes to seeking legitimacy through ballot boxes. When he lost the 1980 Quebec Referendum, it was Levesque's respect for those conventions which was behind his pledge, "A la prochaine!"
And the next time, when Quebecers voted again on Quebec Independence -- and lost the vote by one half of one percentage point -- they returned to their homes, secure in the knowledge that they still had a voice in the House of Commons through Gilles Duceppe. Respect for those conventions allowed for a party dedicated to the breakup of the country -- a party which, for awhile, served as the Loyal Opposition. It was those conventions which have allowed Canadians, despite their differences, to talk through their problems.
Last night Canadians elected a man who does not talk to his opponents. He demonizes them. He demonized the Bloc Quebecois in 2008, when his decision to cancel vote subsidies -- a decision he made without consulting his caucus -- almost cost him his government. He belittled Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, a man whose international reputation will survive, even in defeat.
Canadians now have the government they deserve. Only a little more than 61% of us cast our ballots -- a result foreshadowed in an earlier Angus Reid Poll. I suspect that -- like voters in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan -- it won't be long until voter remorse sets in. But the nightmare has just begun.
This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.