Canada's Election Outcome
By David Henderson
Co-blogger Scott Sumner writes:
Yesterday’s win for the Canadian Liberals was a huge win for libertarian policies in North America:
If Scott had simply inserted the word “some” before “libertarian,” I would agree with him. He has correctly identified the most libertarian part of Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform: the call for legalizing marijuana.
But I think we need to look at more details to judge whether this was “a huge win for libertarian policies in North America.” In measuring freedom, it is always hard to judge a government that has many policy proposals because some proposals go in favor of freedom and some go against. Justin Trudeau has advocated both kinds.
But I don’t want to get to those issues until a later post, when I’ve had time to look at details. For now, I want to explain what I think happened in the election, specifically why Harper lost so many seats and Trudeau gained so many.
So here’s some background. I’m giving it because I was just on the phone with an American friend who follows politics closely but knew nothing about the players in Canada or some of the history. And I’ve been watching U.S. news channels and seeing that there’s a lot they’ve missed. I follow Canadian politics somewhat closely because I grew up in Canada and lived there until I was almost 22, and still have Canadian citizenship as well as American.
Start with Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister. When he became Prime Minister in 2006, a number of my Canadian libertarian friends and I were excited. He seemed like almost one of us. He had earned his Masters in Economics and read and understood people like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. He also had had a huge role, on the outside, pushing for cuts in the federal budget in the mid to late-1990s. (See footnote 18 of my Mercatus study.) But, over time, he became less and less libertarian. He also seems to have perfected micro politics: thinking about policy changes that will appeal to this or that voting bloc independent of whether the policies fit with an overall philosophy.
Take the niqab. Here’s what Zack Beauchamp wrote early in October:
Unlike a standard headscarf, a niqab covers both a wearer’s hair and face, excluding the eyes (this BBC illustrated guide is helpful if you’re confused). It’s not especially common among Muslims in North America — but one woman, named Zunera Ishaq, wanted to wear it to her Canadian citizenship ceremony in January 2014.
She wasn’t allowed. Back in 2011, Harper’s government had banned the wearing of niqabs during such ceremonies, and Ishaq couldn’t become a citizen until she underwent the ceremony. That forced her to choose between wearing clothes she saw as a religious obligation and becoming a citizen in her adoptive country. Ishaq sued the government, arguing that this policy violated her rights — and this February, she won. That was the beginning of the 2015 niqab controversy in Canada.
By the way, she was willing to identify herself privately by taking off the niqab, but insisted on wearing the niqab to the ceremony.
Beauchamp tells about it in more detail. Harper made this a campaign issue and it seems to have backfired on him, especially when, as Beauchamp writes, “A few days ago, Harper’s government proposed a specialized tip line for reporting “barbaric cultural practices,” which it said included honor killings.” My impression is that many Canadians saw this as going too far in an anti-Muslim direction. And Justin Trudeau made political hay over the niqab issue.
Also, after the man who murdered a Canadian soldier went into the Parliament building and started shooting before he was killed by an heroic government official, Harper went on TV and said, “We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.” His being unintimidated lasted only a short time because his government put together a bill, C-51, kind of Canada’s version of parts of the USA PATRIOT Act. Justin Trudeau argued for amendments in Parliament and the Conservative government made enough amendments to get Trudeau’s support. But he says he would like to alter it further. According to the Canadian magazine Maclean’s:
He [Trudeau] went on to offer some examples of changes he would make if he becomes prime minister by winning the election slated for Oct. 19, including “narrowing and limiting the kinds of new powers that CSIS and national security agencies would have.” Trudeau also said the Liberals would bring in mandatory review of the Anti-Terrorism Act every three years, and introduce oversight of CSIS by a committee of MPs.
One other piece of context is that Stephen Harper has further centralized an already centralized government. Here’s how conservative Canadian Conrad Black put it:
Harper has gagged Parliament (and probably misled it in the Mike Duffy affair), and garrotted his own cabinet and caucus, but has sat as silent and inert as a suet pudding while the courts of the country, incited by the jurisdictionally putschist chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, have steadily assumed the rights of the federal and provincial legislatures under the authority of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Pierre Trudeau promoted the charter as an antidote to endless dispute over the federal-provincial division of powers, not as a matrix for the emasculation of legislators.
Finally, Harper became totally unhinged when discussing marijuana legalization, saying, two weeks before the election, that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco.
So that’s the setting for this election. My own view is that if Harper had resigned, say a year ago, his replacement would either have won a majority or have won a plurality of seats in Parliament.That’s how much it appears that this election was personal. Many people, even his otherwise allies like Conrad Black, dislike Harper.
In a few days, I’ll write about other Trudeau policy views besides his views on marijuana, both good (of which there are a few) and bad (of which there are probably more than a few.)