As a Canadian, going to school in the United States can present difficulties—besides my struggle to incorrectly say “pasta,” I often wrestle with the lack of awareness about Canadian politics. As I sat on my couch last week eagerly awaiting the results of the Canadian federal election, I watched as the political dynamic of my country changed substantially and historically. The right-leaning Conservative Party led by our prime minister, Stephen Harper, won a majority government, while for the first time in Canadian history the left-leaning New Democratic Party became the Official Opposition. This majority ensures that the next election may not be until 2015. The question begged by this election, however, is one of a fading Canadian distinctiveness as we have quite apparently become willing to compromise our values for the sake of our economy, and to bid adieu (see, we are bilingual) to our conventionally centrist political identity.
Perhaps the most relevant impact of this election for students of Harvard is the defeat of Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of the Liberal Party and the former leader of the Opposition. Ignatieff’s most trying test during his time as Liberal leader was to reconcile his American education at Harvard and elsewhere abroad with his identity as a true Canadian. Crafted as “elitist,” “insincere,” and “just visiting,” Ignatieff not only had to argue for broad political ideals regarding open democracy—which were oftentimes compromised by Harper’s politics, but he was also forced by his opponents and the media to prove himself as a legitimate candidate. Instead, Ignatieff ought to be thought of as the real icon of what a Canadian looks like; born to a Russian immigrant father and Canadian mother, he worked hard to achieve a world-class education and now stands as a prominent figure in both political thought and academia. Additionally, in his defense of human rights and the protection of democracy, Ignatieff represents the very ideals that Canada prides herself on in the first place.
The defeat of Ignatieff and his Liberal Party is, indeed, a sad moment in Canada’s narrative not only for what it signifies politically, but also because it shows a widespread fear of progress. The close-mindedness that grips Canadian politics is manifest in the Opposition that maneuvered itself against Ignatieff for fear that he had spent too much time abroad and learned too much from the world around him. For a country that is stereotyped here in the U.S. as a country that is accepting of everyone and everything, this federal election depicts a Canada that is moving in a steadily more exclusive and narrow direction.
For Canadian politics at large, it appears that the defeat of the Liberal Party might also represent the demise of Canadian liberalism. The new Official Opposition, the NDP, has no experience holding the government accountable as it has never before had this responsibility, and could instead act as a left-wing fringe party. Moreover, as difficult as it was for the NDP to get the Government to listen when the Government was in a minority position, it will be even more difficult for leftist politics to have its voice heard in a Conservative majority government. In all reality, the increased number of seats in Parliament for the NDP means nothing if they have come at the expense of the Liberal Party. Furthermore, the majority of the NDP caucus is from Quebec and has close to no political experience. The NDP will form the new Opposition for the first time and in doing so will paint an image of a polarized Canada as centrist policies fall in the dust of a liberal Canadian past. Farewell to Iggy, but also farewell to Canada as we know it.
Shalini K. Rao ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.