America’s neighbor to the north had a political reversal in its latest federal election. Will a conservative minority change the fabric of Canadian society?
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After four national elections in eight years, Canadians have voted for change. In a country that has been ruled by the Liberal party for the last 13 years, such a political shift has been a long time in coming. And if you believe some prominent American voices, the new government is unlike anything Canada has ever seen!
On January 23, 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative party (often called the Tories) won a minority government (in which a party wins the most seats in an election, but does not hold at least 50% of the House of Commons).
A brief examination of his ideology demonstrates great differences from former Prime Minister Paul Martin—so much so that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called Mr. Harper an “ultra-conservative leader.”
Considering that Canada is one of the first Western nations to allow homosexual marriage and to introducing marijuana decriminalization legislation, among endorsing many other liberal philosophies, it is a striking shift to bring an “ultra-conservative leader” to national leadership.
Former daytime talk show host Rosie O’Donnell stated, “It’s a very sad day for Canada when the Liberal government has been ousted by the Republican Right” (FrontPage Magazine).
But is Canada leaning toward conservative thinking? If so, what will this mean for the Bush White House—and for U.S.-Canadian relations?
The timing of this election is also significant because, like the United States, a seat on Canada’s Supreme Court (see the article “Tipping the Scales – The Changing U.S. Supreme Court” from this issue) has been vacated by a retiring judge, which means that the new government will be able to select the replacement.
While there has been much talk regarding possible changes, minority governments tend to be unstable, and can quickly be ousted in another election.
In an effort to improve popular opinion for the new government, the new prime minister’s first order of business is a 1% reduction of the federal sales tax (GST) to 6%. (In Canada, nearly all goods and services are taxed at the federal level. This is in addition to any provincial sales taxes, often meaning a total of 15% tax on all purchases.) Due to these extremely high taxes, any reduction is welcomed with open arms.
Mr. Harper also wants to reform the justice system and toughen sentencing for violent criminals. Recent shootings in large cities such as Toronto have given Canadians pause regarding sentencing guidelines.
Some of Mr. Harper’s other popular agendas include reducing bureaucracy in the welfare system, and granting more autonomy to provinces and territories (similar to the often-touted “States Rights” issues in the U.S.).
These programs will allow him to usher in some of his more controversial legislation. While most Canadians generally do not support sending troops for active combat, such as in Iraq, 685 Canadian troops have been deployed to Afghanistan, with another 2,200 deployed in February 2006. Some of these troops are scheduled to be used in combat.
Polls show that Canadians are in favor of closer ties with America—a viewpoint that Prime Minister Harper strongly supports. Much of his social policy is in line with President George W. Bush, which could prove to warm relations between the two nations. When Mr. Harper’s original political party (Canada Alliance) joined with the Progressive Conservatives (PC) in December 2003, it was a combination of a much more conservative party with the slightly right-of-center PC. Many voices in the Harper camp will want to see action taken to reverse a particularly controversial ruling—the legalization of same-sex marriage—in 2006 or early 2007. With polls showing that the public is nearly split on the issue—with approximately 52% against it—it is as much a hot button issue in Canada as it has become in the U.S.
Another contentious issue appearing on the horizon is the appointment of a Canadian Supreme Court justice. Like America, the Supreme Court of Canada can, at times, change the direction of the country. With a seat recently vacated, Mr. Harper, who has already announced his cabinet, will be able to help shape the direction of the most powerful court in the country. It is well understood that the newly-appointed minister of justice, Vic Toews—who is in charge of all the courts—is a strong social conservative who will play an extensive role in the final appointment of the Supreme Court justice.
In any case, the new government, with its minority standing, could have a difficult time pushing anything but the most popular legislation. However, if popular opinion grows toward such legislation, a new election may be called in hopes that the Tories could shore up a majority, allowing much more of their agenda to be advanced.
The recent election revealed that a noticeable chasm has formed among Canadians. While holding fewer seats than the Liberals in Ontario and Quebec, the Conservatives basically swept the Western and Prairie provinces.
For those familiar with only the United States’ electoral system, the Canadian system will in certain ways seem dramatically different. However, readers from many of the British Commonwealth nations will notice similarities to their governments. Still, there are aspects that are uniquely Canadian—many of which have solidified over its 150-year history.
The legislative branch consists of a Senate and House of Commons. The Senate is normally made up of 105 senators who are appointed by the governor general through recommendation of the sitting prime minister. Once approved, a senator holds office until age 75. While the Senate does wield some power in the legislative process, it seldom blocks any legislation passed by the House. Mr. Harper’s promise of moving to an elected Senate could change this power balance.
The House of Commons consists of 308 seats. Members are elected by popular vote, and represent their local constituents.
While a House and Senate sound similar to the U.S. system, how the leader of the government is chosen differs greatly. In Canada, the head of the party with the most MPs (Members of Parliament in the House of Commons) is assigned the role of prime minister. He has the prerogative to appoint his cabinet and is much more directly involved in the legislative process than his American counterpart.
By tradition, the time between general elections is approximately four years. However, like most parliamentary systems, elections can be called at nearly any time; therefore, up to five years can pass before one is called. The government in power may call for an election, or, in a minority government, the opposition party may call a no-confidence vote. This is what spurred the most recent election. A no-confidence vote, or motion of non-confidence, can be called against most pieces of standard legislation. If the governing party receives less than 50% of the vote, dissolution of the government follows, with a general election shortly thereafter.
While it may seem that such a system is counterproductive, it means that an issue does not come to a halt because of partisan fighting. For instance, in the United States, the president could push forward an agenda, but not have enough supporting votes in either the Senate or House of Representatives. In such circumstances, matters often come to a gridlock, with Congress blocking what the president wants and the president vetoing what Congress puts forward.
This does not happen in a parliamentary system. However, in a minority government, pushing legislation through can be a matter of debate and compromise.
As it currently stands, the Conservative party has a minority government, with 124 seats in the Commons. This will make furthering the Conservative agenda difficult for Prime Minister Harper.
But the Canadian people elected for change, and the Liberal opposition (with 103 seats) may find it difficult to stop the Conservatives. Some of the items promised during the election will actually see the light of day before the next election.
The same comparison can be made between the rural and metropolitan areas of the country. The Conservatives had a strong showing in rural areas, but failed to win any seats in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.
American elections typically follow similar lines. The rural parts of the U.S. (the “red” states or regions) typically vote Republican, with the metro “blue” regions voting Democrat. American media has likened this to a cultural war being waged in the United States.
Is this what is happening in Canada? Is there an undercurrent of a cultural war forming in America’s greatest trading partner? Would this explain the apparent conservative shift?
The United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have much closer ties than one might first imagine. The Bible and history record that these Western peoples share a common ancestor.
Many thousands of years ago, a series of promises were made to the biblical patriarch Abraham. Those same promises were passed through his son, and on to his great-grandson Joseph. Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are the fathers of these modern Western nations. (To learn much more, including a fascinating historic record proving this, read our book America and Britain in Prophecy.)
Those promises can be witnessed through the amazing blessings experienced by these same countries. However, these nations have rejected their God—the Source of blessings and prosperity.
With the introduction of a conservative prime minister, Canada is now more closely aligning itself with its American brother. This has not gone unnoticed by certain policy makers. “I see them moving a lot closer to the Bush government,” a senior policy adviser for the Sierra Club of Canada said (The Calgary Herald). He and many others can readily see that Mr. Harper is much closer ideologically to President Bush than was the former prime minister.
The reason for this tightening of relations may be explained through a proverb: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
God is beginning to align these brothers for a coming “adversity” upon both of their nations—and upon all the nations that have forsaken God and have not shown gratitude for the great blessings He has given them.
Their decline has already become evident in both economic and social circles. Canada has become a nation full of sin—spiritual lawbreaking (I John 3:4). Whether it is the breaking of God’s laws or the support of things completely contrary to those laws, this nation has moved farther and farther away from its Creator.
A “great shift” is not coming to Canada—it has already taken place. Canada and all the Western nations have shifted away from the God of the Bible. They are not swinging right in some kind of way that will bring back morality and the “good old days,” as some claim. The new government will bring the country more in line with its British and American brothers—and, in turn, the rest of the world will see it as part of the problem. (Much as America is viewed today.)
As such, this new government will not, in the long-term, change Canada in any exceptional way. It will be business as usual—and that means corruption and mismanagement of the country’s problems.
Only God’s government—the kingdom of God—can solve all the ills and troubles that the nations of the world face. Since man’s problems are ultimately spiritual in nature, no great policymaker, educator or leader can solve these with human effort alone.
There is a solution to the problems facing liberals and conservatives in Canada: the development and implementation of a new government—one not only ruling over individual nations, but all nations. A global government!
But such a government will never work under men; human beings cannot be trusted with such power. This coming system will not be ruled by men, but by Jesus Christ. At His Return, He will establish a world-ruling government that will take a completely different approach than governments led by men!
In the meantime, Canada will experience certain small changes under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper. However, these changes will be nothing more than a “holding pattern” before the arrival of a final government—God’s soon-coming kingdom! This Christ-led system will stop all bickering, debating, fighting, corruption and greed. Peace and calm will literally “break out” all around the world, and mankind will truly experience the most positive “great shift” imaginable!