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It was neither the election we wanted nor the one we deserved. Despite the mid-race surge in support for the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, Canadians chose the devil they knew. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals managed to “snatch a stalemate from the jaws of defeat,” to quote Hamilton, the Broadway musical about the American revolution.
It’s an outcome that matches the mood of the moment for many of us left standing amid the carnage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scorched wreckage of this summer’s heat wave-fuelled wildfires, and the unearthed unmarked graves of Indigenous children. There is no real triumph to be found, but at least we’re still here to fight another day.
While the dust is still settling on a number of too-close-to-call election battles, the terrain doesn’t appear to have shifted too much since 2019. One area of lost ground worth mentioning is environmental justice. In addition to stymieing the progress of Bill C-230 to address environmental racism by calling the election, the Liberals lost Lenore Zann, the MP who pushed for the bill after working with Black Nova Scotian communities.
The good news is that several LeadNow and 350 Canada’s climate champions—Winnipeg Centre’s Leah Gazan, Victoria’s Laurel Collins, Saanich-Gulf Island’s Elizabeth May and Hamilton Centre’s Matthew Green, for example — have been re-elected so far, keeping powerful voices for climate justice around for at least one more term. The big piece of ground won comes from the Greens, who picked up their first Ontario seat via Kitchener’s Mike Morrice. All eyes are also on the Vancouver-Granville race, where another climate champion (Anjali Appadurai) is neck-and-neck with a rival Liberal for Jody Wilson-Raybould’s former riding.
Perhaps the best that can be said about this $610-million vanity project for Justin Trudeau is that the majority of Canadians once again voted for parties with stronger climate and equity measures than the Conservatives, whose 2021 platform demonstrated a telling refusal to acknowledge systemic racism, alarming plans to expand fossil fuel infrastructure, and an ill-advised eagerness to axe the national child-care program proposed by the Liberals.
I watched the election results come in with my friend, Kathryn Colby, a community development worker who cut her teeth in social work in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. For her, the status quo is simply a relief. Having witnessed the harm done by Harper-era Conservative policies near the start of the opioid overdose epidemic, Colby told me she’s reassured to not lose recent momentum toward decriminalizing drug use or see climate policies walked back.
It’s an understandable feeling from a front-line worker who helped distribute harm-reduction supplies to a nearby Indigenous community under lockdown last year and who also helped make sure cooling centres were made available to people with inadequate housing during this summer’s sweltering heat. Our care systems are grappling with a many-headed hydra of systemic crises. Many of the people worst impacted by this were largely ignored by party leaders on the campaign trail, such as Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples, and the LGBTQ2i+ community. They’re also the people leading movements and pushing for needed policy solutions.
This election was a signal to the prime minister to step up or step aside. With their series of “first 100 days” promises, the Liberals have given us an easy litmus test to evaluate their sincerity on a few issues, such as legislation to ban conversion therapy, combat online hate, and institute paid sick leave. On keeping fossil fuels in the ground, reconciliation and defunding the police, movement voices will remain critical levers for mobilizing public accountability.
Political leaders don’t just need to get back to work, they need to get back to work together. This election wasn’t a powerful example or test of our democracy. That will come today and every day afterward as people (including opposition parties) hold cabinet accountable — not just to election promises but to the rights our government is duty-bound to uphold and the climate action needed to keep us safe.
But what happens in Ottawa is not the be-all and end-all. As Janelle Lapointe, Afro-Indigenous climate justice and Indigenous rights organizer from the Stellat’en First Nation, told me, voting is just one tool in the toolbox.
The election is over and not much has changed. "There is no real triumph to be found, but at least we’re still here to fight another day," writes @jessafia for @natobserver
Lapointe wants people to look beyond the ballot box and “see their stake in Indigenous sovereignty.” That means spending time unlearning white supremacy as well as building relationships with Indigenous Peoples and supporting their assertion of sovereignty, including against harmful oil and gas infrastructure.
“Being an Indigenous person, I know that my ancestors and people prioritized collectivism,” Lapointe says. “We exist amongst peoples that have knowledge and experience and intergenerational memories of community care and respect and reciprocity and sustainability.”
Canada’s been around for 150 years — “a blip in time,” she says, so she’s optimistic about Canadians being able to learn from the systems Indigenous communities sustained for centuries.
We’re not starting from square one and there’s a quiet kind of optimism in that. As American writer Alexandra Rowland put it during the Trump years, “Whether the glass is half full or half empty, what matters is that there’s water in that glass. And that’s something worth defending.”