Reflecting on Canada’s 2019 National Election
Writing this reflection one week after our national election, I must admit to being sick of election analysis. I have overdosed not only on the political problems of Canada, but also on the political struggles of our American neighbours, and the British Brexit
How will our 338 elected members of parliament work together to solve Canada’s many problems? Perhaps a review of how MPs in Canada’s 1867 Confederation parliament solved their problems may be useful.
n 1867 Canada consisted of 3.4 million people. We were a group of British colonies: the Atlantic colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Prince Edward Island did not join Canada until 1873. Newfoundland and Labrador did not join until 1949), Quebec, and Ontario. The massive western and northern areas of present-day Canada were ruled mainly by Britain and the Hudson Bay Company.
In 1867 Canada’s MPs, as in 2019, faced many challenges from our American neighbours. The USA had just finished fighting a terrible Civil War that took the lives of more than 500,000 people. Because Britain was accused of supporting the South during the war, some Americans wanted to attack Britain’s North American colonies, ie) Canada.
Other Americans believed that they had a “manifest destiny” to rule the New World, including the sparsely populated areas of western and northern Canada. Further, a number of Irish Americans Civil War veterans, the Fenians, actually did invade Canada several times. Our defender, Britain, tired of the expense of defending their Canadian colonies, wanted to resume peaceful trade with the USA. Britain thus pressured her colonial politicians to unite into some form of confederation.
This confederation of the colonies took more than 3 years of conferences and compromises and was not achieved easily. World trading Maritimers were leery of tariff protectionists in Ontario and Quebec. In 1867 many French-speaking Quebeckers still had vivid memories of the 1837 Rebellion when Les Patriots fought British soldiers for self-government.
Quebeckers also feared they would be numerically swamped in a confederation of predominantly Protestant-English speaking people. Metis people and their leader Louis Riel (Manitoba’s Father of Confederation 1869-70) similarly worried about their land, their Catholic schools, and their French language.
In 2019 our politicians will again have to convince not only the Bloc Quebecois to stay within Canada, but also some of the people in Alberta and Saskatchewan who are toying with the concept of a Wexit. Further, since there were no indigenous “Fathers of Confederation” in 1867( or Mothers of Confederation since women did not get the right to vote nationally until 1918), our 2019 politicians must continue to remedy the many injustices suffered by indigenous people because of our deeply rooted “colonial attitude” towards them.
In 1867, aside from a smattering of independents, there were only 2 major political parties. The “first past the post” method of deciding who won the election in a constituency seemed to work. However by 2019, with 3 major political parties, the Bloc Quebecois and a fledgling Green Party, our old election rules have produced a number of unjust electoral anomalies. Will our MPs work towards a more just system of representation?
Will our MPs listen to the cry of the poor and work for affordable housing and for universal pharmicare and dental plans? Will our MPs listen to the cry of immigrants and refugees who want to live in our land of plenty? Will our MPs listen to the advice of scientists and prophets such as 16 year old Swedish school girl Greta Thunberg, who warn of pending disasters unless we rapidly become much better stewards of God’s world?
Finally, with only 37.6 million people, Canada in 2019 is the world’s second-largest country by total area. We have been blessed. Will today’s Canadian people and MPs continue to “love God and your neighbour as yourself” and thus help build the kingdom of God?
PS Interestingly, the name of our country was to have been “the Kingdom of Canada”, to emphasize our monarchial ties with Britain. But this short phrase in the British North America Act had to be revised. This act, uniting our colonies (yet passed in the British parliament) was thought to give our country a name that would be antagonistic to American republican ideals. Queen Victoria would continue to be our monarch but our country’s official name was changed to the “Dominion of Canada”. The word “dominion “ was taken from Psalm 72:8 :“He shall have dominion from sea to sea…”ie) from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.