Canada’s federal election came to a close this past Monday, October 19th, resulting in a landslide victory for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The event marks a large change for Canadian politics, which was run by a majority Conservative government for about the last decade.
For those unfamiliar with Canadian politics, the distinction between whether or not the governing party has a majority or a minority government can be foreign. In Canada, citizens vote on which local member of parliament (MP) they wish to represent them in their seat at parliament. After all the seats are filled, the party that claims the most seats wins and their head is appointed the Prime Minister of Canada. A majority government is formed when over half the seats in parliament belong to one party. On the other hand, a minority government is created when no party possesses over half of the seats.
Majority Government: a Double-edged Sword
It was to the joy of many Canadians, Albertans aside, to hear that the Liberals had won the majority vote. Change is in the air as the country goes from a Conservative majority to a Liberal majority –– it’s clear that a significant portion of Canadian political opinion has shifted. With a majority government, the power to effect change is often the largest benefit. Without a need to cater to other parties to receive votes on proposed bills, the Liberal government is in a better position to follow up on their platform promises and push Canada in the direction mandated by their voters. However, Canadians should be wary of the power that stems from a majority government, as Harper’s previously-held Conservative majority gives us a prime example of the pitfalls of an unchecked majority.
During his majority tenure, Stephen Harper was able to pass a variety a controversial bills, including C-24 and C-51. This bills’ claim to infamy is in the fact that Canadians felt the new laws would unjustly violate their rights, and many Canadians were downgraded to “second class” when the possibility of revoking citizenship became frighteningly possible. With regard to privacy rights, no bill impacted Canadians more or was more controversial than the conservative anti-terror bill, C-51. Many newspapers, bloggers, and online users voiced their opinions on, and often criticisms of, the bill (a detailed explanation of Bill C-51 can be found here). In April 2015, the Canadian Journalist for Free Expression (CJFE) posted an article outlining the top six ways that citizens would be affected. The top effects for citizens listed in the article consisted of the following:
- Your private information will no longer be private
- Innocent words can be interpreted as terrorism
- Online Posts will be censored
- Protesting could put you under Government watch
- Your Travel may be restricted without explanation
- Your material possessions may be seized
For those less familiar with Canadian laws and politics, many of these outcomes of the bill step on the rights guaranteed to Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Many people, including the staff at Privacy Shell, have been increasingly concerned with the violation of Canadians privacy rights arising from C-51. Hear Edward Snowden comment on bill C-51 below.
Although many argue on the grounds that this is a “Stephen Harper law” from a purely conservative government, it’s a bill that was voted for by Justin Trudeau also––a harping point for New Democratic Party Leader and Trudeau competitor, Thomas Mulcair. Trudeau defended himself saying that his job and the job of the Prime Minister is to balance the safety and security of the country, while trying to protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. In addition, Trudeau has promised to repeal certain sections of the bill. Many hope that Trudeau will deliver, and many have reason to believe that this will be the case, as according to the National Post a swift overhaul is already being planned. For now, Canadians will have to stay tuned and see to what extent their rights will be returned.
Only time will tell what the narrative of Justin Trudeau’s liberal tenure as Prime Minister will look like. For now, it remains to be seen whether his majority will strip and circumvent the privacy rights of Canadians, or dutifully uphold those rights. Either way, it will be important for the Canadian voting population to keep an eye on Trudeau after granting him the power that comes with a majority government, and hold him accountable for the promises he’s made. Until then, I can only conclude this article with a quote from Justin Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, that exemplifies the hopeful beliefs of all online privacy advocates: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.”
About Ryan Jeethan
Ryan is a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program.