Whatever one may think of Brian Leiter as a philosopher (and I have no strong opinions, not having read any of his books), he has to be commended for having what may be the best philosopher’s blog for conversations on yesterday’s Canadian election.

Canadian election, you ask? The comments on his brief post on The Canadian Election: What the Heck Happened? have been extremely perceptive.

The election showed the limitations (yet again) of a first-past-the-post multi-party parliamentary system, where less than 40% of the popular vote has resulted in a majority government by the Conservatives, even though the majority of the country dislikes and/or disagrees with them, often strongly. A united right has beat a divided center-left.

What is lifting the spirits of many on the left are the remarkable gains made by the traditional third party, the social-democratic NDP (New Democratic Party), as well as the first win of a Parliamentary seat by a Green party candidate, party leader Elizabeth May. But then if this were Germany (i.e. if Canada had proportional representation), the Greens would have been in Ottawa long ago, and by now could have easily been in several ruling coalitions. And the NDP would have had their chance to lead the country long ago, too.

A few of the less sanguine comments:

And for what it’s worth: look out for cuts to humanities and social sciences. You can bet the Cons have been examining their British cousins carefully.

That can absolutely be expected, unfortunately. To what extent the Conservatives will try to alter the single-payer medical system in unclear, since most voters want to maintain things as they are. But they are almost certain to cut funding for the arts, public broadcasting, research in the social sciences and humanities, and a range of other social programs.

So much for my forty-year-old belief that if things ever got really bad here there would always be a relatively sane country to the north to which I could run.

My misgivings aside about Canada’s ruling party, and about Canadian politics in general in recent years, I wouldn’t go as far to say that Canadians have lost their (relative) sanity. Political systems that have been built up over decades can be difficult to change. The Conservatives (who are not the Progressive Conservatives of old) have taken advantage of the system over the last fifteen years or so to build up a highly disciplined machine with strong grassroots support. (As in the US, the right wing is about a third of the country, though it’s never been nearly as driven, focused, powerful, or wacky as their coutnerparts below the border. But as with American television shows, American ideas have a way of penetrating borders, especially in places like Alberta where those borders are less well defended.)

The liberal-left, meanwhile, has been divided (as it perhaps should be) and lacking in leadership (as it shouldn’t).

The same sort of thing has happened in France, the UK, Italy, and other countries, for all manner of reasons. So we weather the pendulum swings and work toward more fundamental change. In this case, that change should include electoral change, but even though the NDP has always strongly backed it (especially proportional representation), as the second party now they are likely to pursue their new-found interest in the status quo by not trying to get it implemented. So it goes.

One thing the election means, however, is that suddenly there will be teachers, union leaders, aboriginals, students (all among the NDP’s rookie parliamentarians), a very visible environmentalist (May), and other non-politicos in Ottawa. So maybe they will bring some kind of change. It should at least be fun to watch them fight what comes their way.

An afterthought: It’s not philosophers but anthropologists (of the American kind) who I would expect to pay at least a little attention to what’s happening in Canada, especially the sea-change in Quebec, since that (Montreal) is where the next American Anthropology Association meeting will be held. I will be there.

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