The Canadian Example

Knowing next to nothing about American politics has never stopped me from writing about that subject, so I don’t see why it should stop me from writing about Canadian politics, about which I know even less. Those of you who live in the Great White North elected a conservative government last night — bearing in mind that what passes for “conservative” in the lands above Minnesota would be generally described as “screaming pinko socialists” here in the US — and now the blogosphere is alight with folks speculating about this sea change in Canuck politics (naturally Instapundit has a wrap-up).

My thought about it: Yeah, don’t get too excited, folks. First, the Canadian conservatives have a minority government, which makes it pretty clear they’re not going to get to do anything truly radical since all the opposition is on their left and they have to work with at least some of them to get anything done at all. Second, from all I’ve read about the election and recent Canadian politics, this election was less about Canadians pulling over to the right than it was Canadians punishing the now-former ruling party, which had been acting corrupt, idiotic and arrogant. Possibly that party, now humbled, will get its act together and return to its philosophical and political roots while in exile.

Naturally, if this is indeed the case, I’m delighted for the Canadians and hope that some of their good sense will filter south. As it happens we also have corrupt, idiotic and arrogant ruling party down here that needs a good kick in the ass and a return to some of its more admirable philosophical and political tenents, very few of which have been in exhibition recently. Perhaps a few years wandering in the desert is exactly what it needs as well.

In all countries I believe it is a positive thing when those who lead are reminded that they lead only as long as they are worthy of being followed, and I think it’s a fine thing that our northern neighbors let their former leaders know they were no longer worthy. So good on ya, Canadians, for sending that memo. I’m hoping a little later in the year we’ll follow your fine example.

41 Comments on “The Canadian Example”

  1. I realize that a lot of people voted for Harper and the Conservatives because they wanted to send him a message, but I’m actually kind of scared that he’s and his party now ‘in power.’ I’m just hoping that they’re not for long. The last government was a minority Liberal government, and the Conservatives have less seats than the Liberals did last time. Which, I guess is a good thing. I really hope that Harper doesn’t try to push through any of his crackerbrained election ‘promises.’ I mean really. Child care payments of ~$25 a day? Like that’ll happen.

  2. We have a nominally Conservative minority government. I was swearing at the screen last night as the eastern Liberal lead flipped over to the Tories after an hour, and I strategically voted Liberal last night, but I’m fine with this outcome if the hard right of the party doesn’t get to exert any power for the next 12-18 months. I could happily vote for and support a Red Tory government — I never thought I would miss Joe Clark so much — but I cannot support a party that still includes the hard-right Alliance.

    Martin stpped down — as he should — and we’re now trying to figure out who the next Liberal leader (and highly probable next PM) will be. The current short list includes former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, parachuted public intellectual Michael Ignatieff, right wing Liberal John Manley and Ambassador to the U.S. Frank McKenna.

    For some reason, Québec’s talking about former Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae. Forner Tory Belinda Stronach is being talked about but she’s a lighweight who couldn’t even win the Conservative leadership a few years ago.

  3. Wandering in the metaphorical political dessert of minority party/out of power hasn’t seemed to do the Democrats much good. As far as I can tell Truman and Kennedy are still spinning like tops.

  4. The nice thing about a minority government is that they can’t make any major changes – they tweak things a little here, a little there, depending on which other party they can get onboard at the time. So they make a lot of people a little bit happy, instead of making one group really happy at the expense of another.

    It’ll be interesting to watch what happens within the parties over the next year or so, especially since the Liberals are going to have to find themselves a new leader.

  5. A minority government can make major changes on which it can get cooperation from another party.

    The most likely instance in this case would be electoral reform, which is definitely likely to be popular with the NDP as well as the Conservatives, and which could have far-reaching consequences.

  6. I’m with you Amanda. I think it’s really a shame when you have to elect the greater of two evils just to give the lesser a little kick in the bum. It was a kick well needed, though.

    I voted for the man with the moustache – always a good policy.(That’s Jack Layton, Americans)

    And John, I think you’d be surprised how many Canadians are more comfortable talking yankee politics than they are talking canuk. Your crackpot theories are as good as ours. Personally I think Harper looks like a cult leader. I’ll have handed over all my worldy possessions to him by 2007. Why fight it?

  7. 1)The parallels to the 1956 election are eery.

    First, you have a corrupt arrogant liberal government being defeated by a western conservative who wins a minority. In 1956 the issue around the liberals wasn’t necessarily corruption, but was the arrogance of invoking closure on the pipeline debate. The western conservative was John Deifenbaker; this time it is Stephen Harper.

    What is eery is the aftermath is likely to be the same. Louis St. Laurent resigned as leader of the Liberal party and was replaced by Lester B. Pearson. In 1957 another election was held and John Deifenbaker won a majority government in a landslide.

    My feeling is that this is likely to be repeated. Being the Prime Minister in a minority government means that Stephen Harper can’t really implement the radical right-wing agenda that he, and his party, want. Instead they will look reasonable until the next election; the fear of an right wing prime minister will dissipate and you will see Stephen Harper being returned to power after the next election with a majority government.

    Get used to Tory rule for the next 5 years.

    2) Decrease in the Bloc Quebecois

    For our American friends, the Bloc Quebecois is the sovreigntist Quebec party whose only goal is to advocate for the separation of Quebec from Canada.

    They went into this election with 54 seats; in the last election they got 48% of the popular vote in Quebec. In this election they got 51 seats and only 42% of the popular vote: tee hee! They are one of the unexpected losers in this election, and I am glad for this.

    One note, during the final days of the Campaign the Bloc Quebecois ran ads in Quebec saying that the people of quebec would not want folks from Alberta in Cowboy hats running the country (Stephen Harper and a good chunk of his cabinet are from Alberta).

    Two (or three) elections ago the Reform party (a predecessor to this conservative party) ran ads that basically asked why should the Prime Ministers always be from Quebec. They were rightly criticized as being racists. Why is it that the sovereigntist can run essentially the same ad, and not be criticize. Could the Quebecois have a double standard on these things.

    3) Odd endorsements

    Under the politics make strange bedfellows file comes the endorsement of Liberal Belinda Stronach by Buzz Hargrove.

    Before entering parliament, Belinda Stronach was the CEO of Magna; they are a notoriously anti-union autoparts manufacturer. Buzz Hargrove is the president of the Canadian Autoworkers Union.



  8. Andrew: I seem to remember some mention sometime during this years campaign about all the PM’s from Quebec and why should that keep continuing? Maybe I’m just cracked, though.

    Oh yeah, and the ‘him’ I was referring to in the message sending was, obviously, Paul Martin & the Liberals.

    (That sounds like a cheesy band, doesn’t it?)

  9. Minority governments can make huge changes: look at our national health plan. The reason this will be harder is that there is no easy coalition to be made, except possibly about electoral reform, more decentralisation of power, and fixed election dates. (I really don’t see how fixed election dates can work in a parliamentary system.) Electoral reform would, realistically, pull Canada back left, and I think the Tories realise that.

    Interestingly, there’s no Conservative representation in *any* of the biggest three cities. This will probably not be good for the cities.

  10. It’s not a happy day, to be sure, but thankfully, it could be much worse. And it’ll probably last a good couple of years, because the next time the government is brought down, we’re likely to vote the bringers right out of office, just for spite.

    We’re big spite voters up here. And we tend to lie to the pollsters. Which shouldn’t be cause for a faint sense of pride. And yet…

  11. If the Bush administration decides to read the tea leaves left by a furrin’ election, which is the message they’re more likely to embrace: “Voters dislike arrogance and corruption” or “Voters like conservatives”?

    Given their track record to date, I’m betting on “There was an election in Canada?”

  12. I can’t remember the last time the Republicans acted like real Republicans.

    Same for the Democrats. I wish the Cannucks good luck! We could stand to learn a few things.

  13. Ever since Captain’s Quarters broke the government imposed media silence of the canadian press on these scandals, there has been some pretty wide ranging speculation, theorizing, and general political navel gazing. At first (being a general ‘political junkie’) I tried to follow these threads, but it got rather tedious as time went on. After all, as U. S. citizen’s, we don’t have a dog in that fight.

    The most interesting theme that I discovered in those speculations, one which actually can be of concern to us in the U. S., is that if, as in fact it happened, the Tories win a minority victory they will be forced to form a coalition to establish a government. The most likely partner in that coalition will be Bloc Quebecois for the simple reason that, as Andrew stated above, they have only one issue so they are easy to satisfy. In short, Bloc Quebecois will probably agree to support a coalition government if that government guarantees to support a national referendum on the separation of Quebec from Canada.

    A referendum of that kind has happened twice before. The first time it didn’t even come close to passing, getting less than a third of the vote (if I remember correctly). The second time it damn near passed (I don’t remember exactly the figure, but it was within one or two percent of the magic 50%). The result was very surprising to the talking heads that covered the election results and Michael Barone wrote a follow up article attributing the unexpected good showing to a late breaking support effort amongst some of the western provinces (originating out of Alberta, I believe). The reason for this support is that some of the western provinces are considerably more conservative than the eastern provinces; however, every government is dominated by more liberal power centers of the eastern provinces (which are more heavily populated). Some of the western provinces would like to establish the precedent of separation so that they would be free to appeal to the U. S. for statehood.

    The long and short of this whole post is that yesterdays election could be the opening dominoe to the breakup of the nation of Canada. In the threads that followed after the scandals broke there were some wild discussions about which provinces (after Quebec became its own country) would stay with the new ‘Canada’. The consensus was that Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, and probably British Columbia would stay with the now entirely non-contiguous ‘Canada’, while Alberta and Saskatchewan would definitely try to become U. S. states. There was a lot of disagreement on the directions of Manitoba, Northwest Territories, and Yukon Territories.

    Keep in mind that all of the above is, IMHO, a hugely speculative look into a deep and foggy crystal ball, but it will be interesting to see what happens.


  14. “Knowing next to nothing about American politics has never stopped me from writing about that subject,”

    Now see, Scalzi, I KNEW you could make a political comment I would agree with….. :D

    BTW, I finally found a copy of OMW at a bookstore here in Portland, and I liked it a lot. You’ve heard enough from me to know I’m not an ass-kisser….

    Looking forward to reading TGB

  15. Tim:

    The most recent referendum on Quebec’s separation (usually just referred to as “The Referendum”) was voted on by ONLY the Quebecois. It was a very close thing: roughly 51-49, in favour of the No vote (meaning, ‘No, we don’t want to separate’).

    There was a lot of talk afterward that the people manning polling booths had deliberately discarded “No” votes. Hm. That sounds familiar…

  16. The most interesting theme that I discovered in those speculations, one which actually can be of concern to us in the U. S., is that if, as in fact it happened, the Tories win a minority victory they will be forced to form a coalition to establish a government. The most likely partner in that coalition will be Bloc Quebecois for the simple reason that, as Andrew stated above, they have only one issue so they are easy to satisfy. In short, Bloc Quebecois will probably agree to support a coalition government if that government guarantees to support a national referendum on the separation of Quebec from Canada.

    Nope, the Tories will not be forced to make a coalition just because they’re a minority government. There may get some support from the BQ or other parties on specific legislation. but that’s about it.

    In addition, they just gained seats in Quebec campaigning directly against the BQ and promising that they would do more for Québec. I don’t think they’d turn around and piss on those MPs and the people who voted for them by horse-trading their way to another expensive, divisive, frustrating and failed referendum. And as much as the RoC (rest of Canada) gets really frustrated with Québec sometimes, we don’t like to borrow trouble. If the government of this country were to deliberately make a deal to start a process that could end in separation, they would face a non-confidence vote — and a huge public upset, and a crashing Canadian dollar — pretty damn quickly.

  17. First, the Bloc have other priorities than just separation as such.

    Second, the result was within a percent, in the 50.5/49.5. This result is, uh, debated by the “you cheated worse” factions. (Votes in No ridings were disproportionately discarded as invalid, vs totally cheating on the campaign spending laws (from the No campaign), which arguably had a negative effect (= more votes for Yes))

    Third, they need to get support from other parties for all legislation, essentially, so there’ll probably be a tit-for-tat, not a coalition. There are a few points of agreement between the NDP and the Conservatives.

    Fourth, hey, thanks for being an American in America who noticed the election and blogged about it.

  18. Scot S.

    When did “The Referendum” happen? I haven’t even heard about that since it took place (U.S. news normally doesn’t mention much about Canadian politics), but I can’t remember how many years ago that was. I was amazed at the degree of speculation that report of these scandals caused in the blogosphere.

  19. It’s been funny to see all the right-wing American pundits going on about how this will bring Canada into lock-step with the US. And yet, many of the Conservative’s freaky social conservative candidates couldn’t pull it off. Darrel Reid, former head of the Canadian arm of Focus on the Family, is one ket example. Of course, some other scary cats made it in, but the whole minority government thing will offset that.

    The jury is out. Harper will do a little damage, I suspect, but he won’t have the hammer to be able to really lay waste to things.


  20. and fixed election dates. (I really don’t see how fixed election dates can work in a parliamentary system.)

    It’s very easy. You have a fixed election date (say, 4 years after the previous election). If the government loses the confidence of the House before that date, you have an election as you would now. This is how Ontario now does things. Essentially, you’re taking away the power of the PM (or the premiere) to dissolve parliament. This, IMHO, is a Very Good Thing.

    As a regular reader and infrequent commenter here, let me tell you, there won’t be massive changes in Canada. The Liberals and NDP tried to stir up a lot of fear by claiming that the Conservatives will end gay marriage and destroy a woman’s right to choose. In fact, all Harper has said is that he won’t block a free cote on either issue. How might those votes turn out? Well, a Liberal attack as claimed that 70% of Harper’s MPs are against abortion. 70% of 124 = 87. That means that there would need to be 67 more votes to pass an abortion law (Canada currently has no abortion law at all). Those votes will not come from the NDP or Bloc, so for Canada to pass an abortion law, it would take almost the same percentage of the Liberal caucus to vote for it. And that is not going to happen.

    It is my opinion that Harper wants to have votes on those two issues fairly soon (within 6 months), and wants to lose by a comfortable margin. That way he satisfies the whackos on the right, while completely defusing those issues in future campaigns.

  21. As others have said, the Conservatives aren’t going to make a deal with the Bloc to form some kind of strong alliance—the Tories are a federalist party interested in keeping the country together and would get their asses handed to them by voters if they directly assisted the Bloc in their separatist goals. Things will almost certainly work on an issue by issue basis, and the Tories will get support from the Bloc on issues of decentralisation/provincial rights and fixing the “fiscal imbalance” (ie, sending more tax dollars back to the provinces). The Bloc won’t support them on issues such as gay marriage (they support it very strongly, and with likely 3/4 of the Liberals, all of the NDP and Bloc, and a small handful of Conservatives supporting it, that’s something that *should* survive this Conservative minority reasonably easily if it goes to a free vote as promised) and the Tory childcare assistance plan (the Tories want to give money directly to parents—ie., have a kid, get a tax cut ’til they turn five—but that would likely kill the current Quebec government funded childcare system that is considered a huge success and was going to be adopted nationally by the Liberals, whose plans to do so forced the Tories to come up with their “here, have some money” idea to counter it). Really, even ignoring national unity issues, the Bloc aren’t much closer to the Tories than they are to the soft-socialist NDP.

    As far as room for the Tories to work with the NDP, after ethics issues I’m not sure how much room there will be—even issues of electoral reform, which both parties say they support, aren’t very clear cut: the Tories have a funny idea of electoral reform that’d make Texas gerrymandering look tame.

    In short, the NDP supports total electoral reform to turn Canada into a country that uses proportional representation, so if you get 30% of the votes you get 30% of the seats (or at least close to that, since it would be broken down on a province-by-province basis). On the surface this would seem bad for the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc, since all would lose seats and the Liberals and Conservatives would likely never again get the 51% of the vote required to form a majority. The NDP would love it, since it’d send their seat total from the high twenties into the high fifties, and I’m sure the greens would be rather pleased with a dozen seats rather than none, but it doesn’t seem like it would be a good thing for the two biggest parties or the Bloc.

    So why would the Conservatives be in favor of electoral reform? Because they only want to use proportional representation in the three provinces with the highest numbers of seats: Ontario, Quebec, and BC. The rest of Canada would stick to the current system of ridings where the winner of each riding, whether they get 38 or 68% of the vote, is elected. The Tories argue that the other provinces are too small from proportional representation to work, and that changing things wouldn’t help smaller parties find a voice there. Of course, it’s just a fluke that in the prairie provinces that would stick with the old system it’s a Conservative stronghold where they took 48 of a possible 56 seats, or 86% of the seats after receiving roughly 55% of the vote across that region. Also probably a fluke that in the provinces that *would* be changing, the conservatives would have picked up some extra seats if they had used proportional representation there.

    I realise that’s probably rather messy to figure out, so: in the US, for the sake of electoral reform, what if it was decided that most of the red states would continue under the current electoral college system, while most of the blue states would be changed to a system where each state’s electoral votes were divided between each candidate based on the results in that state?

    Still, all things considered the Conservatives almost had to win at this point, even if it’s just down to voter fatigue with the Liberals after so long, and though I wish the NDP could have gotten a handful more seats, on the whole things still could have been a lot worse. After all, it’s a weak minority, the Liberals have a surprisingly strong base to rebuild from, the NDP is finally starting to show they can play a legitimate roll, and the seperatist Bloc lost a few seats and some popular support. My biggest concern is one pointed out by Andrew higher up in here: that a muzzled Conservative minority will lull people into thinking they’re entirely mainstream, and that could easilly lead to a majority for them next time.

  22. … the Tories are …

    The Tories aren’t. Tories that is. The Progressive Conservative party is dead, may it rest in peace. The Conservative party may be a federalist party, but if they stick to their Reform Party roots they’re a federalist party that doesn’t see much role for the federal government[1] (which would make the Bloc happy). As for Mike Harris’s “wiz kids”, now finding a happy home in the Conservative party, that’s a curious case. In Ontario they tried passing responsibilities down to the municipalities, but they were also rather authoritarian, giving a great deal of power to provincial ministers.

    [1] Outside the bedrooms of the nation that is. I’ll say this for Mike Harris’s Tories: they weren’t social conservatives. They may have been authoritarian assholes, but when it came to social matters they were indifferent. They were indifferent to the poor, but neither did they care what people did with their genitals, or the number of Mommies per family. The federal Conservatives are social conservatives. :shudder:. The Bloc should keep a rein on the Conservatives in that regard, but I fear they may sell out for greater independence for Quebec.

  23. Forget his potentially scary politics. Dude has monumentally frightening hair.

    He looks ready to kill a little girl and then get lynched by the villagers.

  24. The Bloc won’t support them on issues such as gay marriage (they support it very strongly, and with likely 3/4 of the Liberals, all of the NDP and Bloc, and a small handful of Conservatives supporting it, that’s something that *should* survive this Conservative minority reasonably easily if it goes to a free vote as promised)

    I don’t think the percentage of Liberals will be quite that high: they are a big tent party. On the other hand, support has been growing.
    Of course there are other hurdles for a bill to become law and to stay law. But I can believe the Conservatives will try and outlaw SSM. It would cost them seats then next election if they did so though.

  25. Well, they were at 74% in favor of it last time around, and while I realise a few people in the cabinet may have voted for it who otherwise wouldn’t have, they had the choice to sit in the backbenches if it was truly important to them to oppose it. I really don’t see too many people switching their votes this time, all things considered, especially not with close to 70% of Canadians saying it’s time to move on and that they don’t want the debate reopened.

    I’m sure I might be missing something obvious, though (and a p.s.: your link seems to be missing)

  26. That link was supposed to be, thanks Noel.

    I’m sure I might be missing something obvious, though

    Hrrm, I can’t think of anything obvious. It looks like that 26% percent of the Liberal party has hung on while the rest have been losing seats. I’m not sure why that would be though.

  27. For another persepctive on how things will break down by party check out:

    Hrrm, that’s interesting. The Reform/Alliance party was pretty much unanimously against SSM, and the Conservative party has had very few exceptions (some of which then crossed the floor to the Liberals). Colour me skeptical.
    On the other hand, SSM is indeed the status quo now. That may very well change a few votes; as Noel noted above Canadians on both sides of the debate would like the issue dropped.

  28. Thanks to both of you for those lists… though it probably says something about me that I actually wanted to go digging through it all.

    Andrew’s one looks fairly convincing, and as though if everybody votes as expected it would be a close loss. And while I’m certainly a little skeptical about some of the data used in Dave’s link (ie., counting eight “no comment” Con MPs and the nine from Quebec towards those who will vote to support gay marriage), that site does list five who are known to support it, and I also wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of their Quebec MPs did come out in support of it (though I think it would be foolish to assume they all would). So, at a guess, I’d be inclined to switch about five votes into the for column. In any case things look a lot worse to me than they did yesterday.

  29. … I also wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of their Quebec MPs did come out in support of it …

    I’ve done a little digging with Google and the truth does appear to be somewhere between the two lists. So who knows how things would turn out?

  30. Someone beat me to “A few years out of power hasn’t helped the Democrats any”. Frankly, they’re getting worse.

    I’m hoping some of these scandals the R’s are going through will get them into shape some… there’s a bit of hope in the race to replace DeLay as House majority leader. Though in the end it will probably turn out to be business as usual, and we won’t get anywhere.

    I wish I had your hope that a Democrat Congress would be better, but unless there’s a lot of turnover in leadership, it’d probably be even worse (and that’s hard to do).

    A D president could help, if they’re a good one… though of course a good R president would help a lot too. No luck in recent elections on either of those fronts, but we can always hope. I’ll probably just continue my campaign to get my state to add a “None of the above” option on presidential ballots.

    I wish I could just be a rabid partisan. Caring about national politics but seeing hardly anyone good at all in the national arena really sucks. :P There must seriously be people out there who truly like Bush and DeLay, or Reid and Dean and Kerry, though I can’t imagine why.

  31. Hi John,
    I linked to your post here on my livejournal as I found it’s content interesting as a Canadian who has a few friends who may feel different politically about the recent election. You might be interested to hear that some Canadians feel that the election of the conservatives is a little of a “crossing to the dark side”

    I do, however, make no secret of my fandom in the post, so if you read it, I may blush.

    Keep up the good work!


  32. I find it interesting that punishment of the prior ruling party is also being pointed at as a big factor in the Hamas win in Palestine. Perhaps “liberals” (obviously in different places on the spectrum depending on the country involved) are getting a kick in the pants all over the world?

    (And no, I’m not trying to compare Harper to Hamas :p.)

  33. Andrew I’m not Suprise that Buzz Hargrove is supporting Belinda Stronach. Before Belinda Stronach was CEO of Magna. Magna under Frank Stronach and Don Walker was Anti-Union. But ones Belinda Stronach become CEO things change for the better. Belinda supported the CAW and the UAW. Some of the Magna plants are unionized. Fact is she made a deal with the UAW with 3 plants in michigan because she witness Disorganized labour. Yes Belinda help unionized the plans in the US. Also a win-win contract with the CAW a first for Magna that was in windser Ontario. The turth is Belinda is Pro-Union. Buzz and Belinda know each outher for many years under great terms. This is the Turth about Belinda Stronach.