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Canadian Federal Election: Wrap Up

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First things first: How did my predictions pan out. Let’s have a look at what I said would happen:

And what really happened (pending four recounts) was the Conservatives won with 166 seats, a majority, the NDP came second with 102 seats. Then came the Liberals with 35, the Bloc Quebecois with 4 and the Elizabeth May – oops! I mean the Green Party took 1.

I thought the NDP would do a little better in Western Canada vs. the CPC and I did not see the Liberals doing so poorly in Ontario. I had no clue the Bloc would suffer as much as it did.

I strongly predicted throughout the campaign that the CPC would fall short of a majority. I was wrong. I feel like it’s all my fault but really, it was the Blue Liberals who abandoned their own party in order to facilitate a Conservative majority.

Overall, the Harpists got the result they wanted and worked hard to get. Mind you, there were some disturbing echoes of U.S. GOP tactics here and there before and on E-Day. Robocalls at late night hours claiming to be on behalf of Liberal candidates; Robocalls on E-Day falsely telling voters that polling locations had moved; a nasty and slanderous robocall whisper campaign against Liberal Glen Pearson in London North Centre (whisper campaigns are nothing new but automated slander is a tactic new to Canadian politics).

But it doesn’t seem like any serious investigation of these tactics will occur (I could be wrong) so it’s time to move on and consider what happened and what it will mean for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

The shock of election night was of course the Orange wave that swamped the Liberals, Conservatives and BQ in Quebec. t was stunning when polls showed a post debate surge for the social democrats into first place in Quebec, but as late as a few days before the election, pundits were predicting just a small increase of seats for the NPD. They were wrong too.

In Atlantic Canada, the NDP improved, the Liberals held steady and the Conservatives exceeded expectations, except in Newfoundland and Labrador where they were only able to take the Labrador seat.

Things went pretty much as expected in the West, with the Conservatives dominating, and the NDP gaining some new seats. The Liberals were reduced to 4 MPs.

In the North, the one Liberal seat was lost to the Tories, and the NDP and Conservatives split the other two.

The Conservatives really won their majority with a dramatic improvement in their position in Ontario. Here again, the Liberals gave ground to both of the other two parties, with then Conservatives doing most of the damage. At this point it looks like this result was a product of right wing Liberal voters (not an oxymoron) voting Conservative to stop the NDP.

So that’s a brief thumbnail sketch of the election results. Tomorrow I will look at what this all means for the immediate future of Canadian politics.

Canadian Election Update: Strange Days

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One of the differences between U.S. and Canadian politics is that American voters seem to identify much more closely with a political party than do Canadians (this is not my original observation; I read it in an academic paper many years ago. No I don’t recall either the author or title, but Mr. Google might be able to assist).

Consider the way Americans are almost equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, with a third of the electorate calling themselves independents. Even many of those independents lean toward one or the other of the major parties.

In Canada, there has traditionally been much more fluidity in the way political support is allocated. This was the case back in the “good old days”, when there were only three major parties: the Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats. Since then we have seen the new parties like Reform and the Bloc Quebecois, and now the Greens, achieving measurable levels of support.

For the past few days, American pundits have been stating that the polls are “hardening”, becoming less likely to change. This means, of course, that Obama’s lead is becoming more difficult for McCain to overcome.

In the current Canadian election, four and one quarter parties are competing seriously (I count the Bloc as 1/4 of a party for obvious reasons). In contrast with the U.S. situation, we also see what appears to me to be an astonishing fluidity in the polls.

A week ago I thought that the Conservatives would win with either a majority or a strengthened minority. This conviction was strengthened by the polls following the English debate that said that a plurality thought Harper had won. “Not so fast.” say the voters now. In a number of polls over the last few days, support for the Harper Conservatives have been drifting downward (see the Toronto Star Poll Tracker for confirmation).

The Liberals have seen a modest rise in the polls since the debates, possibly extending their lead over the NDP, depending on which pollster one consults. This embryonic comeback for the Liberal seems to be result from increased support in Ontario and Quebec, which of course is where a majority of the seats are. In Quebec, the Libs are in second, according to the most recent Ekos daily tracking poll while the Conservatives have fallen to third, just two points above the still gaining NPD (Nouveau Parti Democratique. The Bloc still leads, but some of their support was strategic. Many Quebec voters have been planning to vote for the BQ to block a Conservative majority. With that seeming to be off the table, will some Bloc support drift to the Liberals or NDP?

In Ontario, the race between the Liberals and Conservatives for first place has tightened considerably, with the NDP well placed to come up the middle in a number of ridings.

In British Columbia, the Conservatives still lead, or are tied with the NDP, depending on which poll you believe. The Libs are third, barely ahead of the Greens.

In the Atlantic provinces, the polls differ and change from day to day. The Liberals should be ahead, but if they are it is not by much. The Conservatives have pockets of Atlantic strength, but will be shut out of Newfoundland. The NDP is doing well but we don’t know if their support is concentrated enough to result in more than a handful of seats.

The latest polls still show the Conservatives well in front in the prairies, although both the Liberals and NDP will win seats in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The NDP especially is coming on just a little stronger as the campaign winds down.

Alberta remains the Tory fortress, but it looks very likely that the NDP will win at least one seat in Edmonton.

Grit Leader Stephane Dion should not celebrate just yet, however, since his party is still below their traditional floor of support. In fact, the Liberal Leaders tour is apparent focusing on protecting seats they now hold, rather than seeking to conquer new territory.

On the the other hand, the NDP is still above their usual ceiling of support, and apparently still rising, albeit slowly. In recent days NDP Leader Jack Layton has been visiting ridings held by Liberals and Conservatives in an effort to add to his caucus. Indeed, the NDP already can expect victory in some surprising places, such as St. Johns East in Newfoundland.

One of the NDP’s greates assets is Lyton’s popularity and favorables. In most polls, Layton is the second choicce, behind Harper as best choice for Prime Minister. Dion’s personal popularity has improved since the debates.

I have never seen a Canadian election campaign like this one. So far, there is no winner, and no party is moving very quickly toward winner territory. It looks like the new House of Commons will be more equally divided between the four parties that now have seats there. There still does not seem to be any district where the Greens have concentrated enough support to win a seat. Still, everybody likes their Leader, Elizabeth May. And what Canadian does not care about the environment, with the ice caps melting and the Northwest passage becoming open water?

Green support will probably drift to other parties on election day, but which party will benefit the most? The answer to that question may determine the winner of this election.

Almost Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Canadian Election

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The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call for an election to be held on October 14. My intention here is to offer an overview of the Canadian landscape and explore the current state of the five Canadian parties that will compete in the election. Before we begin, here are some online places to go for those who want to follow the Canadian election:

One of the major differences (and there are many) between Canadian and American politics is the fact that Canada’s system produces multiparty parliaments and, whereas the American two party system is so entrenched it might as well be mandated by law. The House of Commons that was just dissolved included Members of Parliament from four parties: The governing Conservatives, the centrist Liberal party, The Quebec sovereignist Bloc Quebecois and the center left New Democratic Party (NDP). The Green Party is also competing in most of the federal ridings but has never elected a Member of Parliament.

Since the last federal election in early 2006, the Conservatives have lead a minority government, meaning that they have not had a majority of the seats in the House of Commons and consequently needed cooperation from one or more opposition parties to pass legislation and thereby retain the confidence of the House.

The Conservatives are a centre right party, formed in 2004 from a merger of the Progressive Conservatives, a true Center right party, and the more right wing Canadian Alliance. Harper comes from the more right wing faction of his party but has not been able to pursue a truly hard right agenda because of his minority position. His goal is in the election is to achieve a majority and begin to enact the Conservative agenda – whatever that is.

Harper became Prime Minister when he and the Conservatives defeated the Liberal Party, lead at the time by Paul martin, in early 2006. The night of his defeat, Martin announced his resignation as Leader of his party, and in December, 2006 the Liberals elected Stephane Dion of Quebec as their new Leader and candidate for Prime minister.

Dion’s leadership of the Liberals has been troubled to say the least. Some of the candidates he defeated are still ambitious and hungry for his job. The Liberal Party’s fundraising has been spectacularly unsuccessful during Dion’s reign, in part because of residual anger generated during their years in government by a series of scandals. To make matters worse, Dion has difficulty communicating in spoken English.

One result of Liberal weakness has been the willingness of the party to vote for Conservative legislation to avoid defeating the Tories and forcing an early election. This has encouraged the center left NDP to be more aggressive during the pre election period and during the still young campaign. The NDP has attacked the Liberals for not standing up to the Conservatives and the Conservatives for, well for being Conservatives.
The Bloc Quebecois has been the most successful federal party in Quebec for the last decade and a half but now seem to be fading along with the sovereignist or independence movement. The Liberals have traditionally been strong in Quebec but have been hurt there in recent years because of their strong anti-independence program. Scandals have also damaged Liberal popularity in Quebec.

Last and almost certainly least among Canadian federal parties, the Greens are still hoping to win their first seat in Parliament, but there don’t seem to be any ridings where they have any realistic hopes. The Leader of the Greens, Elizabeth May, is a former Conservative but has struck a bargain with the Liberals. The Liberals are not running a candidate in the Nova Scotia riding that May is contesting. In return, May has said that she would like to see Dion become Prime Minister.

At this point, the Liberal/Green alliance does not seem to have had the desired effect. May is running a distant third behind Tory cabinet minister Peter Mackay and the NDP candidate. (Mackay, by the way, was once linked by celebrity gossip to Condi Rice).

Those are the main parties contesting the Canadian election, and to assess the prospects of each one, we need to look ate each of the regions.

The Atlantic provinces have traditionally been a Liberal v Conservative battle ground, and both of those parties currently have some strength there and so does the NDP. The New Democrats look to increase their representation in Nova Scotia and could win a seat or two in Newfoundland, thanks largely to a feud that is raging between the Steven Harper and the Conservative Premier of that province. There are 32 seats at stake in the four Atlantic Provinces and a three way split is more than possible. However, the Liberals face organizational and fund raising challenges that could hurt them in the East as well as in other parts of Canada. They need a good campaign to keep up with the NDP and Tories but have not shown they are capable of producing one.

In Quebec for example, the Liberals have had trouble raising money and recruiting top tier candidates and Dion is widely unpopular. Their fortunes in Quebec are fading, as are those of the Bloc Quebecois. The big question in Quebec is who will benefit from the decline of the Bloc (it will not be the Liberals). Right now it appears that the Conservatives will gain outside of Montreal, especially in the Quebec City area, and to a lesser extent, the NDP.

Incidentally, the NDP made history last year by winning a by-election to take what was thought to be a safe Liberal seat in Montreal.

If the Conservatives get the majority they so desperately want, it will be largely because they made significant gains in Quebec. The Liberals will be lucky to keep the seats they have. The NDP may win another Quebec seat or three or five, and they may not. At this point, it looks like they at least will keep the one seat they have now. The Bloc will send a reduced delegation to the House of Commons.
In the West, Alberta will probably elect nothing but Conservatives, though the NDP has hopes in one Edmonton riding. Manitoba and Saskatchewan will send a majority of Conservative MPs to Ottawa, with the Liberals and NDP splitting the rest.

The Northern Territories will elect either one New Democrat and two Liberals or vice versa.
In British Columbia, the Conservatives and NDP will duke it out, while a fading Liberal Party will struggle to keep what it has.

That leaves Ontario, the largest province with about a third of all the seats in parliament. Ontario is where the election will be decided. If the Conservatives can take enough Ontario seats from the Liberals, they will have their majority. The question is how far the Liberals will fall. The NDP has also targeted a number of Liberal (as well as Tory) seats.

So far, the campaign has not really heated up. In the first week there were stories about matters marginal to the election, like the controversy in the media was about the Greens being kept out of and then included in a debate. The Conservatives and NDP were sharply criticized over their initial exclusion of the Greens. There have also been stories about how the Liberal Leader’s difficulties and the future of the Bloc Quebecois.
Eventually the parties will get around to focusing on issues. There will be a debate will be in early October with 5 – count ‘em – 5 party leaders speaking over each other. That’s a lot of podiums.

The issues appear to include environment and climate change, and Afghanistan. Canada is one of the NATO countries with troops there and has lost nearly 100 soldiers.

Whoever wins the election, the Prime Minister of whatever party will try to have a positive relationship with either President Obama or the other one. Harper would no doubt like to see a GOP win, but he will get along fine with the winner. Dion and Layton would like to see Obama win, but would not be rude to McCain if he wins.