“Firewall Steve” is now “Captain Canada?” Who’s buying it?

By John Deverell

Nobody plays divide-and-conquer more relentlessly than Stephen Harper. The PM this week is selling himself as “Captain Canada,” the only guy to squelch a Quebec separatist revival.

This is the same Stephen Harper who, not long ago, was urging Albertans to build a firewall between Tar Sands Central and the rest of Canada. Then he was “Captain Conflict.”

His current game, not so different, is to get a majority government, based on a minority vote, to impose Alberta Conservative values (minus the oil royalties) everywhere in Canada.

The Canadian record for phony majority government – holding more than half the seats with less than half the popular vote – was set in the election of 1997. The Chretien Liberals commanded Parliament easily for nearly four years with just 37 per cent of the national popular vote.

Current polling suggests Harper is on the way to matching or beating the “phony majority” record. The Conservatives seem to have capped out around 38 per cent nationally, but the figure hides regional shifts likely to produce bizarre election results.


Popular vote projection:  38.7%
Seat projection (308 total):  147

Data courtesy ThreeHundredEight.com


A stiff fight among Liberals, New Democrats and Greens in many ridings outside Quebec will elect far more Harper Conservative MPs than the Conservative votes would warrant in a serious democracy. Similarly, vote-splitting in Quebec will elect almost twice as many Bloc Quebecois MPs as separatist votes would warrant in a system of equal votes and proportional representation.

Stephen Harper, instead of dividing the country by demonizing the Bloc to win votes and seats outside Quebec, could try to unify it by promising to fix the federal voting system. He could admit that winner-take- all voting wrongly misrepresents and silences about half the Canadian population . He could promise to replace it with party representation in direct proportion to votes cast.

As “Captain Democracy” the Prime Minister could also push Quebec Premier Jean Charest to enact long-promised democratic voting reform in Quebec. Stephen Harper could propose that the people of Quebec, with their votes counted properly, be allowed to shrink the Bloc Quebecois to its proper size and influence in the House of Commons. He could urge Charest to take parallel action in the Quebec National Assembly.

He hasn’t done it, and he won’t. Democratic federal voting in Quebec would entail democratic federal voting in Western Canada, and Ontario, and Atlantic Canada too. Horrors! If every voter were equally represented in Parliament, Canadians would elect more Liberal MPs, more New Democrat MPs, more Green MPs, fewer Bloquiste MPs—and fewer Conservative MPs.

In such a hypothetical Canadian democracy –a Canada of equal citizens equally represented – a 38 per cent Conservative vote would torpedo Stephen Harper’s dream of one-party phony majority government. To govern he’d have to find willing partners (Bloc Quebecois? Green? Liberal? NDP?) or – if there were none — sit in opposition.

In the meantime, the only realistic way to short-circuit the Stephen Harper phony majority on May 2 is tactical anti-Harper voting in target swing ridings. In Canada’s wonky system, those few Super-Voters in the swing ridings hold the fate of the Harper government in their hands.

Catch 22 has identified the most obvious target ridings and alternative-to-Harper candidates. Super-Voters in the target ridings who want to keep Harper humble – and keep the democracy option open – for the next two weeks should spread the Catch 22 message very actively.

Further readingPM’s cynical scare tactics: Toronto Star scolds Harper