Archive for the ‘Canadian politics’ Category

As a neighboring, wealthy country of 35 million people, about as many as live in California, Canada certainly gets less attention from Americans than it deserves. Here are a few of my thoughts on the historic results of yesterday’s Canadian election and their broader significance.

  1. The results help point up the perversities inherent in single member district plurality electoral systems. The Conservatives won well over 50% of the seats with a touch under 40% of the vote, as the left-wing NDP’s surge confounded tactical voting for the candidates of the center-left Liberal Party in ridings where the latter was better placed to win. I would not be surprised to see attempts to unify the left in a single party, as eventually happened on the right between the Alliance and the Prog Cons.
  2. The secessionist Bloc Québécois was thrashed, losing 40% of its vote from 2008 (already a down year for the party) and over 90% of its seats. Apparently left-wing nationalists deserted the BQ in droves for the NDP. NDP leader Jack Layton successfully made the case that it was “safe” for left-wing Quebec nationalists to support an anti-nationalist party on ideological grounds. The BQ has tried to remain centrist in the Quebec context (slightly left of center in the Canadian context), but this attempt to appeal to Quebec’s left-right median opens them up to flank attacks.
  3. Some of my research shows that secessionist parties lose ground when the countrywide economy does badly, presumably because under such circumstances traditional left-right economic policy concerns take precedence with voters over constitutional questions. The effect is small and somewhat uncertain, but this may be part of what is going on. (It wouldn’t, however, explain the SNP’s approaching triumph.)
  4. A stronger reason for the decline in salience of the independence-unity spectrum in Quebec politics is the moribund nature of the sovereignty question. Another referendum is not on the cards for a long time to come, nor is any kind of comprehensive new-federalist settlement, so it is natural that at a certain point many moderate Quebec nationalists would stop voting purely on expressive grounds and start to try to exercise some influence over policy-making at the center. The BQ (and its provincial counterpart, the Parti Quebecois) will need to give voters reasons to expend their votes on them, when the other federal parties have essentially ruled out giving them a say in policy, either as part of a formal coalition or as part of a confidence-and-supply agreement. And the sovereignty question will not rise again until Quebec’s long-term relative economic decline (and growing dependence on federal equalization payments) is sorted.

Update: For further thoughts about what this election means for Quebec, check out Saideman’s Semi-Spew.

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Today a no-confidence motion toppled Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority government in Canada. Canada has not had a majority government since 2004, when the so-called “sponsorship scandal” rocked the incumbent Liberal government and wrecked their majority in that year’s election. Since 2006 Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister atop Conservative minority governments. Today’s vote means that there will be an election this year, the fourth in the last seven years.

Canada’s political instability is a result of the strength of the “sovereignist” Bloc Québécois, which generally wins roughly half of the seats in Canada’s second-largest province. None of the other parties are willing to enter a coalition with a party they call “separatist,” and the Liberals and NDP, both parties of the left, have been unable to win a majority between them. The Conservatives have thus entered government after the 2006 and 2008 elections by default as the largest party in parliament but have had to compromise with other parties in order to pass legislation. Opinion polls suggest that they will again be the largest party after an election this year, while again failing to reach a majority.

So you see why I always say that Canadian politics are more interesting than American politics. Of course, living under interesting politics may be as undesirable to some as living in interesting times, but I would argue that Canada’s gridlock has actually served the country fairly well. For one thing, Canada came out of the global recession in much better shape than their southern neighbor. Perhaps perpetual political crisis is good for something after all.

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