Fear, politics and a Conservative majority

Two years ago, at a conference on families, social policy and work-life balance, I was asked to write an op-ed piece about my research on the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

I agreed, but hesitated when it came time to submit.

The more I read about the tactics used against public servants, about the kinds of organizations funding various Conservative candidates (including at least one with ties to the U.S. National Rifle Association), and about the climate of disdain for political process, the more I began to wonder: what might be the retribution for publicly admonishing the ideas and policies of Prime Minister Harper's government? I was embarrassed to tell my colleagues that I was scared to criticize the Conservatives in a popular forum. I feared that the organized anti-choice movement might confront me, or worse, my kids. I feared that the deep divisions fostered by the Conservatives between rural and urban Canadians about gun control would elicit a response from someone confrontational, and in my imagination, potentially violent. I worried that my reputation would be attacked. I worried that my government would not tolerate dissent.

Monday's election showed that Canada in 2011 is very different than Canada in 2006. Take, for example, the federal leaders' debate. In 2006, the key issues were childcare, same-sex marriage and abortion. In 2011, the only time women were mentioned was in reference to their being killed by guns. While we did not see massive legislative changes in Ottawa over these five years, the institutions of governance are profoundly altered. The way judicial nominees are vetted has been changed because of Conservative mistrust of judges and their interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedom's equality provisions. The Court Challenges Program was axed. The organized voice for women in federal government was all but axed, and the word equality has been removed from its mandate. The prime minister has made the most senate appointments in Canadian history, entrenching a Conservative vision of the country. Government agencies such as Statistics Canada have had their methods questioned and changed on ideological grounds. The removal of the long-form census and its questions on unpaid work guarantees that women's work in caring for people is made invisible when services are cut. On questions of democracy (prorogation or contempt of parliament), we continually heard "Canadians don't care about that." Five years of electioneering seem to have made us so cynical that we expect little and are shocked by nothing.

I am more fearful than ever of the path ahead, and for its implications for critical voices. The next four year will bring huge changes. First: the Conservative vision for Canada --"open federalism" -- will remake the Canadian state. "Open federalism" is one way of saying: no national welfare state infrastructure, no national standards for social programs, and provinces/territories should just figure it out. In the U.S., this has worked out roughly as: my state competes with your state for the lowest wages, lowest taxes and "best" workfare or prison labour. It is a race to the bottom for workers, public services and quality of life, and it begins with the kind of decentralization a majority Conservative government will enact.

Second: socially conservative visions of family forms and morality will play a starring role. The Reform-Alliance-Conservative vision of family life does not support gender equality, child care or pay equity. Most families have two earners, and the poorest families are mothers with children; wishing we could go back to June Cleaver's time leaves the most vulnerable at risk for poverty and violence.

Third, recalling the 2006 leaders' debate: women's reproductive freedom will be limited. Seventy-five per cent of the conservative caucus are members of the parliamentary pro-life caucus. They have and will introduce private members bills limiting abortion. They have not yet been able to legislate on the issue here, but they made sure that our international maternal health initiative didn't let a woman in the developing world talk to a doctor about abortion. While the prime minister says the issue is not going to come up, under a majority, women's reproductive rights are not safe.

Kate Bezanson is a small business owner, a mother of two, and a professor of Sociology at Brock University, in St. Catharines, Ontario. She works in the areas of social and labour market policy, comparative and Canadian political economy, feminist and welfare state theory and international development.

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.