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Canadian Election: Paradigm Change for the Better?

Denis Bright invites discussion about the rise of inclusive politics in Canada with the formation of a majority Liberal government after nine long years in Opposition. Is the conservative political template which has dominated representative democracies for most of the last 50 years being finally challenged by voters with implications for election strategies in other representative democracies?

Is Justin Trudeau’s majority Liberal government in Canada part of a paradigm change in the politics of representative democracies?

For much of the past 50 years, the conservative template constructed by President Nixon in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Britain has been the political model for a succession of representative governments in economically developed countries.

Now Justin Trudeau has shattered the political template of the militarized low tax state with a commitment to a deficit budget to promote economic recovery and the withdrawal of CF-15 fighter jets from Iraq and bombing raids in Syria.

The extent of Justin Trudeau’s political landslide is quite incredible and perhaps only comparable to the Queensland state election result on 31 January 2015.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party has drawn its support from both the right and left of the political spectrum. The opposition Conservative Party has half its previous representation. On the cross-benches, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Greens are in a similar position. Only the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) has improved its representation.

Under the austere political template of Prime Minister Stephen Harper since 2006, Canada developed a neo-populist style of market-led economic development. Canada’s foreign and defence policies met all the requirements of NATO.

Writing in The Atlantic on 18 October 2015, Parker Donham notes the desperate measures used by Stephen Harper to cling onto government.

Stephen Harper wanted the electorate to focus on insignificant symbolic issues such as desire by one woman to wear a niqab veil during a citizenship oath ceremony. The Canadian Court of Appeal upheld her right as she was prepared to reveal her true identity in private before the ceremony.

The conservative populist strategy failed to strike a real rapport with the electorate.

Harper pounced on the decision; his deputies promised an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the prime minister hammered the issue during a September 24 French-language debate in Montreal, Quebec.

“When we join the Canadian family, we should not hide our identity,” Harper declared. “Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she’s a woman.” Mulcair, for his part, accused Harper of attempting to “hide his record”—particularly on the failing economy-behind a niqab” (Parker Dongham, The Atlantic 18 October 2015).

Another desperate measure noted in The Atlantic article was the recruitment of Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby to promote negative perceptions of recent Arab immigrants. This became a political diversionary issue to distract from Canada’s ailing economic growth and employment record.

Voters were canny enough to realise that the decline in commodity prices could not be concealed by the conservative political template with its emphasis on balanced budgets and market-led growth.

The Conservative Government could hardly run on its record despite a modest last-minute pre-election improvement in short-term economic growth, retail sales and housing starts.

Reflecting the conservatism of the prairie provinces, The Winnipeg Free Press cheered on the extent of the surplus in its federal budget coverage. The government’s budget graphics were carefully reproduced with the caveat that the important surplus should have been higher but for the collapse of oil and gas prices in November 2014.

The Harper government lived up to its promise Tuesday to eliminate the deficit, making use of billions of dollars in balance-sheet tweaks designed to cushion the blow of the oil-price shock.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver delivered a federal budget that boasted a narrow $1.4-billion surplus for 2015-16, scoring a politically critical goal just six months before a scheduled election in October (Winnipeg Free Press 21 April 2015).

To the last, the Harper Government had clung to its convictions about the value of a balanced budget during a period of rising unemployment to 7.1 per cent and falling commodity prices for oil, gas, coal and most other minerals.

The National Democratic Party (NDP) saw its vote and representation in the House of Commons halved with a -10.9% swing.

When the NDP was narrowly leading the opinion polls just one month before polling day, its finance spokesperson Andrew Thomson of Saskatchewan and a number of high profile NDP candidates made the error of promising more balanced budgets for the next four years with modest increases in corporate taxes and an end to family income splitting as introduced by Stephen Harper.

Opposing Canada’s overseas military commitments in Iraq and Syria (The Globe and Mail 10 September 2015)

Opposing Canada’s overseas military commitments in Iraq and Syria (The Globe and Mail 10 September 2015)

The commitment by Thomas Mulcair to withdraw all Canadian troops from both Iraq and the bombing of ISIL targets in Syria did not reverse the NDP’s decline in the last month of the campaign.

The NDP’s anti-war commitment came just one week after allegations surfaced of civilian deaths in Canada’s bombing raids on ISIL targets in Syria.

Justin Trudeau supported the NDP’s commitment to withdraw fighter jets from military operations in Iraq and Syria but offered an economic policy that was more daring in addressing the problems of economic stagnation and rising unemployment to 7.1 per cent of the workforce.

Let’s hope that advocates of political change are taking note of the Canadian election on 19 October 2015. Only time will tell if it is indeed a watershed in democratic politics.


denis-bright-150x150 Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). He has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing progressive public policies that are compatible with commitments to a social market model within contemporary globalization.



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  1. New Paradigms: University of Sydney

    Like Canada, Australia is not really a conservative country: Toronto, like Sydney, is quite a radical city, in lifestyle, at least. Many of the LNP’s leaders were or still are Sydney-based.

    The LNP has caught onto the need for symbolic changes but rejects more substantial changes on issues such as low income superannuation assistance and family benefits which are important to the electors in Sydney’s West.

    Canada’s new politics are very significant for Australia.

    David Cameron was the last of the true believers in the Old Politics to get across the line before the Paradigm Change became fully established.

    Even his government showed an unusual degree of flexibility on some issues but remained rock solid on more fundamental issues.

    Times have changed for the better and advocates of the Old Politics need to work hard to save their careers on both sides of politics.

    Great coverage of the Big Picture! The Old Style could not last forever but change has been a long time coming.

  2. diannaart

    Hmmmm, new Prime Minister of Canada young, white male – 1 out of 3 not exactly a pass.

    Waitin’ ‘n seein’.

  3. RosemaryJ36

    A strong message here for Australia’s ALP.

  4. brickbob

    Yes lets hope this election is catching all round the world,well at least some countries round the world.
    PM Trudeau has promised to run defecits for 3 years to bolster spending and build infrastructure,can you imagine any leader in Australia pomising to do that?they would be howled down by the Murdoch press and others as Corbynites and Socialist hell bent on destroying the country.” This country lacks politicans with courage and a bi partisan media.

  5. Möbius Ecko

    Lesson for Australia?

    If you support Turnbull maybe. Justin Trudeau is being described as being similar to Turnbull in style and politics. So this may be a better omen for Turnbull rather than Shorten.

    By the way Canada has just cancelled its full order of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters adding about $100 million to the cost of ours. Turnbull has stated we won’t follow suit, so I guess in that Turnbull is not like Trudeau .

  6. Maria

    Great insight as always Denis. Canadians like Queenslanders are showing that the politics of fear and greed are punishable at the ballot box.

  7. Glenn K

    I suggest that if you want to get a better understanding for Justin Trudeau, you should research the politics of his father. US President Nixon was caught out on the Watergate tapes referring to Pierre Trudeau as that “socialist asshole”. 🙂 Definitely a compliment. Justin, I suspect, has a lot of his father in him – particularly when it comes to a belief in the social contract. Let’s hope so.

  8. Felicitas

    I wonder if Justin has to contend with a Merd-och led press? Oh how I wish my parents had opted for Canada instead of Oz. I could be tri-lingual AND living in a country of thinkers!

  9. helvityni

    Felicitas, who says that you can’t move to Canada, if I were ten years younger, I’d be outta here in a flash…the Abbott years were hard, and Mal has kept his policies. Sigh and cry.

  10. engineer -social OZ

    In my opinion withdrawal of CF-15 fighter jets from Iraq and bombing raids in Syria was good move. Interesting thing is how they are going to tackle unemployment rate !? which is always more then 7% and unemployment in some state is >14-15% .Canadian 14 % of youth are unemployed. falling commodity on Gas and Oil may not be issue in current condition but after few months when Russia will take more command over ISIS Territory, then again lots of political drama will takes place. Canadian central bank always rise interest rate soon after every election …so lets see whats their plan .

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    How is he like Turnbull?

    Can’t imagine him saying as Turnbull did this week, all the money spent of stimulation during GFC was completely wasted, that we got nothing for it.

    IMHO, the biggest PM’s lie of the week. There were many.

  12. Maire Kelly

    Lived in Toronto Canada 30 yrs ago, called the no crime city then, very far advanced, as opposed to Europe. The oil belongs to the people – emigrants from all parts of the world- and they all gone on together, had to leave due to my parents at home, in Europe, was sad leaving. Canada had a good standard of living, good modern health care. Yeah ! Canada rocks!

  13. Cheers for New Canada

    Like Mairie Kelly and the author, I welcome the changes in Canada’s one dull politics. Stephen Harper had no real concern for Canadians. He was only interested in ruling from the top down. Pity that democracy became old and tired in Canada as elsewhere!

  14. Florence nee Fedup

    Felicitas, I believe in Canada, there is a law that says press have to tell the truth. Seems Murdoch no interested in that country. I might be wrong?

  15. DC

    dianna art I don’t mean to sound so blunt but that would have to be one of the dumbest comments written on this site apart from something written by an obvious troll.

    Why is the fact that Justin Trudeau is white and male a problem to you? Attitudes like you are showing are damaging to all regardless of their genders and/or race. When people like yourself misrepresent the real issues of gender inequity (to which I achknowledge there are still MANY) with crap like this, you actually damage the cause and give conservatives a point to attack your logic (or lack there of).

    Your comment was racist and sexist and I am sure if you repeated it enough times you would convert a few otherwise fence sitters into sympathysers of rabid conservative shock jocks and I’m sure we can both agree that that is not a good outcome

  16. diannaart

    I fully understand your POV – I wrote the comment after thinking how young and energetic Justin looked, I wondered how long before he turned into another old white man who holds power – it is not sexist to point that the overwhelming bulk of power across the planet is held by older white men. The next tier down – power is held by males of other races, coming in at a very minimal third are women of any race, age or creed holding a tiny percentage of power.

    I am not interested in replying further to you if you just want to start gender war games – men hold the bulk of power and, yes, I and many, many women are fed up to the gills with it.

    This is no individual judgement on Justin, he may be the best leader the world has ever seen – I would really like to see that. However, from where I am sitting ‘another man wins leadership’, which is a very cynical thing to say and I hope young Justin proves to be the exception.

  17. DC

    I apologise for my tone earlier but stand by my point. I am a white male who does try understand the fact that there are many subtle and not so subtle forms of gender discrimination women have to deal with (including even sexual harrassment in the workplace and manymany others), I also think gender inequity is often very complex and is effected by both past and present discrimination. This needs to be addressed but discrimination is not always in the favor of white males although you are correct in saying that males still hold the overwhelming bulk of power.

    Itmight not be sexist for you to point that out, but it is sexist as well as racist to judge an individual based on the fact that they were born a white male. You could have made a comment about the fact that he was born into a family that was already part of the political elite, or judged him on his policy announcements or past behaviour but instead you pointed out he is a young white male and therefore ‘only ticked 1 of 3 boxes’ for you.

    If you are “are fed up to the gills” with the fact that the 0.001% of humans that make up our ruling elite are old white males, You might take some comfort from the fact that 99.99% of us white males are just as excluded from that elite circle as you are, and with no ‘talent programs’ to help fasttrack our careers many of us will be overlooked. The worst case scenario for young men today is when a lot of the good jobs in an organisation go to the ‘old boys network’ of the private school elite, and the girls who show enough talent to be picked up by the company under a ‘women in leadership mentor program’ (in a band-aid solution to counter discriminatory policies of the past and present) and the remaining non-private school elite don’t even get a look in.

    Then there is the issue of sexual politics. For right or wrong, as a generalisation, our culture evolves very slowly and women still have a higher tendency to want to marry for wealth and status while Men in general still have a higher tendency to focus more on physical attributes and less on wealth and status. This is a generalisation but it makes Men feel more pressure to validate themselves with status, power, and income than women do. Again this is a generalisation and there are of course many exceptions but this is one of many reasons why an imbalance in gender at the top of an organisation is not always a function of direct discrimination. Either way, trying to counter sexism with reverse sexism is counter-productive. Quotas may have their place when nothing else can to break a ‘boys club’ culture at the top but that should only be a means to an end and should only remain a policy if the ‘boys network’ remains. Either way, if a white male or anayone else is fit for a job or position and earns it fairly, they should be judged by their actions not because of what they was born as.

  18. DC

    I also honestly think Julia Gillard was our best PM in my living memory, and can absolutely acknowledge that she suffered terrible sexist treatment by the media/opposition/general public

  19. diannaart


    I have posted here for a long time.

    I am neither a troll nor stupid.

    I try not to judge a person completely on just a single post.

    I admitted that I was feeling very cynical about another white male being placed in power and have written on other occasions (when feeling less cynical) that the majority of men are exploited by their own peers. No doubt about that.

    I was not denigrating anyone in particular, nor am I sexist or any kind of ‘ist’, I was simply pointing out that while Justin Trudeau looks wonderful, so too did Obama – yet racism is alive and well in the USA, so too Julia Gillard – so badly pilloried how long will we wait for another female PM?

    All I am guilty of is cynicism – so shoot me.

    As you said yourself, change is slow. If you believe that I should just remain silent rather than point out that the new leadership in Canada is not really all that new – tough. I will continue to speak out. Too many women and men have been silenced for aeons, told not to rock the boat, told to accept the status quo.

    What does remaining in the background, all quiet and demure achieved for those less powerful?

  20. mars08

    @diannaart… er… so that makes you a cynicist! Right?

  21. Matters Not

    diannaart said:

    change is slow

    Beg to disagree. It’s not ‘change’ that’s slow but ‘progress’. ‘Change’ to halt or slow ‘progress’ is in fact quite rapid.

    Examples abound. Take the current nonsense about why the mining and exporting of coal is a ‘moral’ imperative. That attempt to slow ‘progress’ is quite recent. And emerged quite quickly.

    Then there was poker machines and how they were ‘good’ for the community. No! ‘Change’ can be quite rapid when it’s designed to slow ‘progress’. (Just jokin …)

  22. DC

    I know you have every reason to be cynical and meant no harm, progress is frustrating on many fronts. I shouldn’t have tried to read into the comment so much & got offended. I was having a bad day too to be honest, been going through a really hard time with a condition known as topical steroid withdrawal or tsw (I got made very sick from dermatologists overprescribing me corticosteroids) which makes me sleepless and irritable at times. I do get alittle annoyed the oversimplified representation of gender inequality sometimes. This really hit home when I saw Peta Credlin was speaking at The Women of the Future Awards claiming that all the backlash against her in her own party was mostly because of her gender and chanting “You will want to have women like me in politics” – um no. We don’t need any women OR men that are anything like Peta Credlin. But the audience gave her a standing ovation like she was some kind of freedom fighter

  23. Stephen

    diannart you forgot to judge him based on religion.

  24. diannaart


    I don’t hate cynicism at all – maybe that makes me a cynipro?

  25. diannaart

    Thanks DC

    Not having a great time either – happy to continue on a more accepting foundation – particularly after reading your POV on nuclear – having reached virtually identical views myself after much research.

    I get just as fed up with women as I do men – maybe I’m just a misanthrope? People like Peta Credlin, Julie Bishop, the late Maggie Thatcher – have you listened to Abbott’s inchoate speech at the M. Thatcher talk-fest? Probably better if you do not, sounds like a fascist primer.

    Now must have first cuppa of day before I become further irascible.

  26. diannaart


    How do atheists make a judgement based on religion?

  27. Stephen

    Not sure but you have no problem judging him negatively based on his race and sex. I think the terms racist and sexist are overused so I won’t use them. You are in the same boat with those who didn’t like Gillard because she is a woman and those who judge Obama based on his race. Sad really.

  28. Paul

    Denis, excellent and refreshing overview of the Canadian election. Some great lessons there for Australia and the rest of the world to have more faith in the public and educate them about Policy decisions so that they can vote for a team that will change the status quo for the better. It is natural to fear change but great politicians must educate why it is needed and reassure the people.

    Thanks so much for the insight into Canada – I had no idea this was going on. It is certainly refreshing to see that a party can take the people on the journey and educate them as to why a deficit at certain periods in the economic cycle can be benefical for the country.

    Have a great weekend readers.

  29. Patricia Ryan

    I agree that Australia has become locked into a template model of conservative politics. Best wishes to the new government in Canada with its fresh approach under a charismatic Justin Trudeau.

  30. brisbanej

    Hope returns to Canada. Interesting article.

  31. adriko555

    It is always a great pleasure to read articles from Denis.I live in Toronto and I have to say right from the start that these elections were about 1) Harper should not win and 2) who is doing wrong!!! What about who is doing right? I feel to be a bit pessimistic on believing that things will have a drastic positive change to our economy and our foreign affairs politics. There was no plan in place introduced by all the political party leaders. They all attacked each other for wrong doings and wrong ideas and suggestions… Nothing was offered. Justin won because people had enough of the very troubling administration of Harper (poor management to say for now!), and because his father still have a positive influence on millions of voters across Canada while the NDP leader made the mistake of attacking him… And that was the end of his election race too. There was nothing left to vote but Justin Trudeau. I hope he has a good team around him to lead this country while building up his own leadership skills and charisma without the need to be covered by his father’s shadow… We have already learned the lesson that we can’t be disconnected from the world when it comes to prevent global crises by simply saying “we will bring back our planes and soldiers”. No one wants wars but we should not forget that when the war knocks at your door its already too late. We should prevent crises by contributing where the source is in fully peaceful manners. I still like how Jean Chretien defined the proof… Enough to understand we want to contribute but when necessary.

    To answer Denis’s question about the paradigm change…, I think it is too early to predict on this. After all, Justin wan because the other ones simply did bad on their presentations. Which takes us back to “Welcome to politics”!

    I also noticed something funny during these elections. Harper (PC) and Mulcair (NDP) used their last name in any commercial or meetings while calling the leader of LP as Justin (avoiding using his last name), making sure no connection was there between the legacy of his father and his current political career.

    Looking forward to more articles Denis. Thanks!!

  32. Mary

    Good reading Denis, have family in Canada, will watch ongoing developments with interest.

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