Canada returns to discontinuous tyranny

Climate change activists in Canada are understandably depressed by the results of Monday’s federal election, which produced a majority Conservative government run by a party with zero interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are shards of good news lying in the rubble, although they only hint at the possibility of progress in the far-off future.

The fact that the new Official Opposition, the New Democrats, support cap-and-trade legislation isn’t as positive a development as it could be, considering that they have no chance of influencing government.

More interesting is the election of the first Green member of a national legislative body in North America. Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party and a supporter of aggressive carbon taxation, managed to handily defeat a government cabinet minister in her hippy-heavy constituency on the Left Coast. She too will have zero parliamentary sway, and her party received only half the popular vote it got three years ago (in part a consequence of the Green’s strategy of focusing almost entirely on getting their leader elected rather than running a serious national campaign).

However, this means that May will be included in the next federal leaders televised election debate four years from now, and May is a formidable debater. Given that the New Democrats’ historic showing this time round is being tied to their leader’s debate performance, this could prove critical to the Green’s future electoral success. Of course, the notion that the Greens were excluded from this year’s debate but will be included in the next one despite losing half their voting base only proves how silly are both Canada’s electoral system and the criteria used by the television networks to determine debate inclusion.

Meanwhile, Quebec has finally gotten over its fetish for separatist politics, booting out all but a rump of Bloc Quebecois MPs in favor of New Democrats. From an environmentalist’s point of view, this is marginally a good thing, in that the Bloc, while ostensibly progressive ideologically, had little real interest in anything that didn’t enhance Quebec’s ability to do its own thing. This strategy is increasingly at odds with the growing realization that intergovernmental cooperation is essential to solve the real problems facing civilization. Not that Quebecers thought about that consciously when they went to the polls Monday.

Canada had a chance to move on climate change in 2008 when the Liberal Party embraced a carbon tax and was soundly defeated in the polls. This time around they more or less ignored energy and climate policy and lost even more support, ending up with the smallest share of the popular vote in history. Not that anyone took that into account when they went to the polls on Monday.

All of which means, the real lesson for all the losing parties and their supporters is that radical change is required. Existing strategies have failed. Even the New Democrats, which saw their best showing ever, now have less influence than that they did last week, thanks to the return of Canada’s traditional form of government, which can best be described discontinuous tyranny. It’s as if the country agrees to grant the winning party leader absolute dictatorial power, although only for a few years at a time. This is no way to run a country. In a sensible world, Canada would rise up and demand electoral reform. But it won’t. And even if did, the majority government that the country just elected would pay no attention. Why should it?