Waking up to Canada on May 3

You could feel it coming. Sometime last week, the election that “nobody wanted” got interesting. Last night we saw a complete realignment of Canada’s political landscape: the Bloc Quebecois and the “natural governing party of Canada” suffered terrible election defeats; the orange wave catapulted Jack Layton and the NDP to the official opposition and Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party secured their first ever majority government. It was a tremendous night to watch and live through – but what is this going to mean for Canada and for individuals and organizations fighting for progressive change?

I don’t believe that a Harper majority means that we are going to see debates like abortion, gay rights, or capital punishment reopened – at least not yet. However, I think that we will see continued (and most likely heightened) rejection of national programs that have the potential to lift people out of poverty – national housing strategy, women’s programming, national childcare.

Of particular concern to Pivot and other organizations working in neighbours affected by poverty and marginalization is the Harper Government’s push to further criminalize poverty and health issues like addiction. It is clear that we now have an even greater uphill battle to make sure that Federal drug policy reflects the best medical evidence available and takes into consideration the human rights and experiences of drug users.

The NDP as the official opposition provides more than a few new opportunities for change in Ottawa.  As Judy Rebick wrote on Rabble this morning, the NDP will certainly give more voice to community groups working for change across Canada. They are more tapped into social movements than the Liberals were and are much more sympathetic to making those voices heard.  The stark policy contrasts between the government and the opposition will also provide fodder for the media which will hopefully result in greater coverage of issues of substance and consequence for Canadians. Finally, Jack Layton and his new NDP team will have to work hard to deliver a voice for Quebec that balances national interests and Quebec’s distinct place in Canada.

At Pivot our work is clearer than ever.  We will continue to challenge unjust laws, to listen and empower marginalized communities, and build support for law reform and policy change that reflect the aspirations and hope of the communities we work with. The political landscape of Canada changed significantly yesterday and I have no doubt this change will bring new challenges and opportunities as we continue to build a just society where dignity, fairness, and compassion are firmly rooted in the law.