Bill C-51: How Trudeau's support of the anti-terror bill could help the NDP
Some pundits say the NDP's big Alberta win shows voter loyalty not what it used to be
"Bill C-51 has passed and you helped do that. My vote is now with the NDP," reads one of the hundreds of comments on the Liberal leader's page. "Too bad you sold us out to spying by supporting Bill C-51," says another, reflecting the tenor of most of the comments.
- Bill C-51 passes in House of Commons
- Bill C-51: Political battle lines drawn over anti-terror bill as election nears
The anger could easily be dismissed as typical netizen venting. But with the New Democrats' landmark win in the Alberta provincial election a day earlier — ousting the Conservatives from power for the first time in 44 years — it could be indicative of a larger overall shift in voter mood.
Some of the commenters said they had opted against "wasting" their votes on NDP candidates in previous federal elections because of the unlikelihood of the party gaining power. They're rethinking that strategy now that the big win in Alberta makes the unlikely seem possible.
"It's more real now," says Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president of polling organization Angus Reid Institute. NDP leader Tom Mulcair "could restyle himself as a viable national alternative."
Fading support for C-51
The public initially supported C-51, with a February poll by Angus Reid finding 82 per cent in favour. But then the opposition piled on — the NDP and Green Party pushed for a major overhaul while Canada's privacy commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association, business leaders and civil liberties groups warned of a lack of oversight.
The days are gone of party loyalty, that people can't move- Lorne Bozinoff, Forum Research
Trudeau indicated in March that his position on Bill C-51 was meant to counter potential Tory claims about his stance on terrorism, and said he would amend parts of the law should the Liberals win power.
According to a Huffington Post report, Trudeau told UBC students that he hoped the Conservative government, "realizes from public pressure that it is going to have to make significant amendments to this bill. But we know that, tactically, this government would be perfectly happy if the opposition completely voted against this bill because it fits into their fear narrative and [their desire to] … bash people on security."
"I do not want this government making political hay out of an issue … or trying to, out of an issue as important as security for Canadians," Trudeau added. "This conversation might be different if we weren't months from an election campaign, but we are."
On Wednesday, the Liberal party joined the Conservatives to pass the bill by a margin of 183 to 96, with the NDP and Green Party opposing.
Despite that, political pundits warn against giving the C-51 anger or Alberta results too much weight in the upcoming federal election, expected in October. Some say the opposition is coming mostly from individuals and groups that wouldn't vote Conservative anyway, and that the legislation doesn't matter to the general public.
'The Alberta effect'
"If the vote were held today, we have 34 seats and 33 of them would go Conservative," he says.
If the provincial election holds any lessons for the federal parties in the rest of Canada, he adds, it's that they need to listen to what voters are saying, which outgoing Premier Jim Prentice failed to do. He thinks the Harper government, which resisted making substantial modifications to C-51 despite widespread requests to do so, could find itself in a similar situation.
"If a government doesn't listen and is widely perceived to be untrustworthy, they're going to have trouble," Lightbody says. Bill C-51 is "a trigger or an explanation for why we don't like Conservatives."
- This story has been updated to provide more detail about what Justin Trudeau said when explaining to UBC students why he was supporting Bill C-51.May 08, 2015 3:59 PM ET