I don’t envy the position Canada’s opposition parties are in with regards to Bill C51, which has already received enough votes in the House of Commons to become law.
For those of you living under a rock, and by ‘rock’ I mean increased government surveillance, Bill C51’s supposed function is to increase the Harper government’s capacity to communicate with CSIS and the RCMP to collect information that could result in preventing a terrorist attack.
But C51 isn’t just about the race-baiting that is so often inherent in the politics of ‘safety’. It’s about fracturing the left and ensuring a vote split in October (if the election happens in October at all).
The Liberals had to vote for Bill C51, I think, because their hand was forced politically. Voting against C51 would have played right into the “Soft on terror” narrative that Conservatives have been pelting Trudeau with. Trudeau can now get away with having select policies be similar to Harper’s, just more “effective”.
The Catch-22 for the Libs was that voting against C51 would lose them precious votes from the centre in Ontario, and that voting for it loses them a lot of the left. The NDP are already hammering them on C51 in order to differentiate themselves from Trudeau.
I guarantee you, Harper LOVES this.
Why? Well, the narrative can now go from “Who more easily defeats Harper in my riding” to “Which left leaning party is better in general”, which erases vote-splitting as the most pressing concern in the minds of voters. That could be the death knell for the anti-Harper movement. Love it or hate it, the sad fact is that with the Conservative’s repositioning of the electoral map, ABC is now the ONLY strategy that will actually defeat Harper.
The NDP was able to vote against C51 because Mulcair doesn’t have the “soft on terror” question hanging over his head to the same degree Trudeau does. They’ll appear more principled than the Liberals, though the more than half of Canadians who have an unfavourable view of Islam might now be knee-deep in confirmation bias with regards to the idea that New Democrat somehow equals soft on crime.
The NDP has to hope that on election day voters are NOT thinking about national security, even if their stance on it is correct. Terrorism being the #1 election issue is a win for Harper, no matter who is right. All opposition parties need to shift the narrative from national defence back to the economy & social issues, where Harper is weak.
The Catch-22 for the NDP was that voting for C51 would cause the far left to stay home on election day or switch their allegiance to Green.
Either way we’ve already seen how C51 has fractured the 67% of Canadians who don’t currently intend to vote Conservative. Even with 33% of voter support the Conservatives are currently projected to win a plurality of seats in the House of Commons and retain power. They only need a bit more to retain a majority.
It may feel like an affront to democracy. It may feel like an implicit vote for Justin Trudeau, a man who some feel has not convincingly separated himself from Harper. But, if we want to actually reform our broken electoral system and restore the balance of power, we must not allow the Conservatives to distract us from an ABC strategy as they have shrewdly done with Bill C51. We must pay close attention to the polls, show up in unprecedented numbers, and avoid a split vote in 2015.