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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 4.25.11: 100 Seats for the NDP?

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Yesterday, Pundit’s Guide posted a useful corrective to many of the seat projections that have been offered to this point in the campaign. I really recommend reading the whole thing but PG says in part:

This may surprise some people, but very few of the current amateur seat projection websites have even a single federal general election track record under their belts. And none of them has had to predict an election where so many assumptions have been upended, and so many tectonic shifts have been telegraphed in leading indicators whose full effect has yet to be seen in the horserace numbers.

Significantly, not one seat projection methodology over-predicted the Conservatives, and not one under-predicted the Liberals or Bloc Québécois, although there were predictions on either side of the NDP’s final total. Only one predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would win Central Nova, NS (she didn’t), while 4 of the 9 methodologies missed predicting both Independent candidate Bill Casey’s win in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, NS and André Arthur’s win in Portneuf-Jacques Cartier, QC.

The inherent bias in seat prediction methodologies to favour previous election results means they tend to overly favour parties set to lose seats, such as the Liberals and Bloc Québécois in the last election. They also tend to miss the likelihood of parties on the rise to gain seats, such as was the case with the Conservatives in the last election. Only the NDP, whose vote intention numbers showed little gain by the end of the 2008 campaign, saw seat count predictions on both sides of its eventual total.

Another problem for the seat projection methodologies is that they are backward-looking. They’re using days-old polling data at a time of incredible movement in the polls, and laying that on top of results from the last election when incumbency was a factor for some political parties’ votes that is no longer at play.

Moreover, they can’t account for turnout, in the sense that parties with momentum, or who have strong on-the-ground organization, will experience higher turnout of their own vote, than will parties who are organizationally weak and/or whose supporters are feeling demoralized.

The above problems were underlined in ThreeHundredEight.com’s projection/prediction for the 2010 New Brunswick general election, one that saw a one-term narrow Liberal majority turfed in favour of a massive Progressive Conservative majority government. His then-methodology over-predicted the Liberals by 10 seats (23 versus 13) out of 55.

Since then, ThreeHundredEight’s sensational projections have predicted doom and gloom for the NDP on the front page of the Hill Times (no, he’s not a “pollster” as they wrote) and the Globe and Mail. As recently as late January he claimed they would lose 13 seats, upped to 16 seats by early February, which emboldened some Liberals to predict they could gain 100 seats during an election campaign.

It took some peer review to examine his original methodology and determine that he had in fact placed a cap on the number of seats a party could be projected to win in any region (equivalent to the maximum it had even won plus those it came within 10% of winning), but put in place no comparable floor. Clearly the wrong assumption for the current election!

Apparently the methodology has since been changed, but not before it set the entire frame of coverage by the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the period leading up to and just following the federal budget vote (“NDP weakness sets up two-way race between Harper and Ignatieff”).

Indeed one could say that this one blog – without a single federal general election’s track record to its credit – was responsible for the mass failure of the Ottawa punditocracy to foresee either the NDP’s willingness to or interest in voting down the budget at the end of March, and for all we know the willingness of the Liberals to provoke an election dating from around that time.

So, what does all that mean for the current election?

It means that:

*the Liberals and Bloc are still likely being overly favoured by all these seat prediction methodologies,
*the projection methodologies are going to wind up missing NDP gains, particularly if the party continues to climb in the polls, and that
*projected seat counts for the Conservatives will likely fall on either side of their final tally.

It also means that the “strategic voting” websites, who are basing their recommendations on seat projection/seat prediction methodologies like 308’s are likely making a number of erroneous recommendations — another reason to be rid of those undemocratic and irresponsible projects once and for all — and that people voting in the Advance Polls shouldn’t put a lick of confidence in them, as a result.

On cue, there were a number of polls released today including one from Ekos who also provided a seat projection. Now I happen top like this seat projection because it gives the NDP 100 seats while the Conservatives are held to 131,far less than a majority. BTW, the Liberals and BQ get 62 1n3 14 respectively in this scenario. But just because I like the prediction, all of Pundit Guides caveats about seat projections apply to it as well.

Except that, Ekos does have a track record and not a bad one at that.

But starting tomorrow, there are there are more polls coming, including fresh ones form Ekos and Nanos and who knows who else. There will also be more seat projections until the end of the week at least. The pressure is on the pollsters and projectors in a contest to see who can be most accurate. It will be difficult for them because they are shooting at a moving target. A poll is supposed to be a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment in time. In the next week before the campaign there will be movement, how much and in what direction I cannot foresee from my little homestead in the Land of Lincoln.

I will suggest though that just as there has been bleeding of NDP votes to the Liberals in past elections, there could be movement this time from the Liberals to the NDP. It may be that the Orange Wave has not crested yet but will carry Jack Layton and his party to 30% on election day and x number of seats.

Canadian Election Update 4.22.11: Wow, Just…Wow!

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A flurry of new polls are out in the last couple of days showing the NDP in first place in Quebec or in the case of Nanos with continuing and rising strength in that province.
here’s a link to a Wikipedia site that provides the latest Opinion polling in the Canadian federal election, 2011. From there you can link to the individual polls to get regional breakdowns and whatever other info the pollsters publish.

West of Ontario the NDP is the main opposition to the Harpists. This is also true in Northern Ontario and increasingly in parts of Southwestern Ontario. As already mentioned, Quebec has turned upside down, with the NDP ahead of all other parties and the Liberals at the bottom, drifting slowly down into Green Party territory.

A lot of chickens are coming home to roost. The Liberal party has grown increasingly dysfunctional in recent decades. Before the laws were changed they never had to work raise money (large corporations and wealthy individuals threw donations at the Grits to gain and maintain access) and they have not been good at grass roots organizing for a long time (something the NDP continued to work at even during their nadir in the 90’s).

Then there are the policy betrayals, like NAFTA and the GST, which Chretien promised to do away with and then strengthened. Furthermore, and as Jack Layton never tires of repeating, the Liberal record on health care funding in the last decade (especially under Martin) is far from stellar.

Finally the sponsorship scandals in Quebec may have finished the Liberals as a national party. it is no wonder the Liberals have had leadership problems since the departure of Trudeau. Dion was a compromise that did not work out (too bad, he had a lot of good qualities) and Ignatieff was a convenient but desperate choice who has never inspired much trust, let alone affection.

Progressive Liberals may be thinking hard right now about what they can do to advance their ideals.

Having said all this, what are the various parties doing to either encourage or mitigate the latest trends?

As I have written previously, the Conservatives have for the entire campaign to this point been satisfied to play a Republican game of maximizing turnout by their base and suppressing turnout for anyone else. The rhetorical weapon the Tories have flourished has been an atempt to get Canadian voters to fear a “coalition” of Liberals and “socialists” supported by “separatists.” Had they asked me and if I had been able to answer honestly I would have advised against such a strategy, because it would have been easier to get the last few seats needed for a majority by going after soft centrist, so called “blue Liberal” voters. But they chose to listen to Karl Rove instead and now they are stuck on a questionable course.

The rise of the NDP in Quebec, largely at the expense of the Bloc, dramatizes the weakness of the conservative strategy. they’ve been demonizing the Bloc while attacking the Liberals both of whom at this point are drifting out of the picture. Should they start attacking Layton? They might as well shoot the Easter Bunny while they’re at it. don’t get me wrong, the NDP is not immune to criticism from the Right, but it wouldn’t help the Conservatives very much to talk about the “socialists” and their lovable leader at this point. So I expect them to continue going after Iggy and the Liberals, while some Tory candidates avoid all-candidates meetings and Harper refuses to answer questions.

Updatye: 4/22/2011 8:56 pm CDT: Correction: The Conservatives released an attack ad against Layton and the NDP this morning.

The Conservatives are also suddenly doing a fair bit of damage control. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Harper’s spokesman had to call a press conference in the middle of the night to refute an incumbent’s boast that he had provoked the government into blocking funding for Planned Parenthood International. Another scandal involves a more traditional example of possible corruption:

A series of recordings posted on YouTube are raising fresh questions about the role Stephen Harper’s key spokesman and former Quebec adviser may have played – and who he was dealing with – in an unsuccessful attempt to influence in 2007 the choice of who would be the new president of the Montreal Port Authority.

Allegations that Dimitri Soudas intervened in a bid to help Montreal engineer Robert Abdallah secure the plum post took a strange twist Thursday when Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe distributed transcripts of conversations in which men identified as Montreal construction boss Tony Accurso and businessman Bernard Poulin discuss the job and who they think should have it.

Incidentally, thoughtful conservative Andrew Coyne has written a Macleans column in which he speculates about what Harper may do should he be defeated in the new House of Commons:

Indeed, so unyielding and dogmatic have his statements become, against the views of every constitutional scholar, that I have to wonder whether there is something else going on. That is, I wonder whether he is preparing the ground, not just to prevent the opposition from electing enough members to be in a position to bring his government down, but to thwart them should they make the attempt.

What he may have in mind is this: that after losing a vote of non-confidence, he would advise the Governor General to dissolve the House and call new elections — rather than call upon someone else to form a government. He would then dare the Governor General to overrule his first minister’s advice, something that Governors General are quite properly extremely reluctant to do.

He would, in short, be doing another King-Byng, provoking a constitutional crisis rather than yield power, hoping to intimidate the Governor General and/or rally public opinion to his side. If so this would be extremely disturbing, though not alas unprecedented.

If the Conservatives are a prisoner of their chosen strategy, imagine the dilemmas Liberal strategists are facing right now. The plan was,as in numerous previous elections, to move left at the beginning of the campaign, thereby marginalizing the NDP, and then to pivot and attack the Conservatives following the debates. The trouble with that plan was that the voters did not cooperate. Who could have foreseen such a thing? The plan has always worked before – except that it has been less and less effective with each succeeding election. Paul Martin in 2006 Stephane Dion in 2008 and now Ignatieff have all followed the same pattern and in each campaign’s final stages, asked NDP voters for strategic votes to stop the Conservatives.

And they would have gotten away with it this time too if it weren’t for that meddling Jack Layton who it turns out won both the French and the English debates. Never mind what the flash polls said. It was the debates that gave voters the material with which they could fashion the narrative of the campaign.

And so, the Liberals are stuck repeating what is surely a tired old line about how the NDP has no chance so why waste your vote. Today’s variation on that theme is that Liberals have that New Democrats lack. By the way, Ignatieff made these remarks in Westmount Ville Marie, a Montreal riding the Liberals have had since Noah docked on Ararat.

Montreal is where the NDP surge in Quebec has reached its high point to date. A Crop survey has the NDP at 36% in Quebec but at 40% in Montreal. No wonder Ignatieff feels compelled to defend what should be safe Liberal turf.

A trend is not a final result. Polls do not vote. Polls are for dogs. There are thousands of expressions that all amount to the same thing. Don’t count your chickens, etc. The election is not over and the trends and the narrative could still change. But Ignatieff and the Liberals have some difficult days ahead. Victory seems out of reach, and the best they can hope for is to drag the NDP down to their level or lower. I do not expect to see Ignatieff spend much time west of Ontario between now and May 2.

The leader who appeared to have the easiest task in the campaign was Gilles Duceppe. After all, the Bloc only runs candidates in Quebec’s 75 ridings, so Duceppe would be spared the rigors of touring facing the other leaders. Furthermore, Quebec voters seemed comfortable with both Duceppe and his party, even if many opposed his nominal goal of sovereignty for Quebec. Then he phoned in his performance in the English debate before appearing to rally and dominate the French one the following night.

Then the perfect storm struck the Bloc. The NDP had been working hard in Quebec for years and finally gained a foothold with Thomas Mulcair’s election in 2008. In the moths leading up to the election writ, the NDP had begun rising in the polls, but no one seriously saw them as a threat to anyone, and especially not the Bloc.

Then, with feisty performances in both debates, Jack Layton moved ahead of the other federalist parties in the minds of many Quebec voters. Suddenly, Duceppe had a rival who posed a serious threat to his entire project. Duceppe began attacking the NDP and Layton, so far to no apparent effect. The Bloc has little choice now but to attack the NDP while trying to limit the damage in selected priority ridings.

But does he attack the NDP for being too centralist, driving federalist social democrats into Layton’s waiting arms, or does he appeal to strategic voters whose priority is to stop a Tory majority?

So far, predictions have been fo modest NDP gains in Quebec, partly because there is not a lot of NDP organization on the ground there. We shall see how true that is or how much difference it makes on the eve ning of May2. A problem for the Bloc on election day is that if the polls arfe correct, many Bloc voters are now supporting the NDP but may not have told the Bloc. The Bloc will do their best to get their supporters to the polls, but may inadvertently be helping the NDP as they do so.

The NDP’s challenge in the last week or so of the campaign is to consolidate their new found strength in Quebec and elsewhere, while identifying this ridings where they have a real opportunity to make gains. Of course, they will need to do this while countering the suddenly vicious attacks from the other parties.

Early this week, Le Devoir, a Quebec nationalist newspaper that supports the Bloc, published a story about a New Democratic candidate, Francoise Boisvin in Gatineau, alleging she had been thrown out of the Liberal P arty for breaking House of Commons rules while serving as a Liberal MP. The allegation was that she had given a job to her lesbian partner.

This was an attack that (it appears to me) was coordinated between the Bloc and the Liberals who together agree that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, the attack came too soon and gave Boisvin and her party time to repair any damage.

But the NDP should expect attacks like this and worse in the final days of the campaign.

Canadian Election Update 4.7.11

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We are at day 13 of the Canadian Federal Election Campaign and it seems possible at this point to describe a few trends, though the parties hopes and fortunes remain ever shifting.
To begin at the to p of the food chain, I think I will depart from the conventional wisdom by asserting the Harper and the Conservatives are in a spot of trouble. The Harpists have big problems if they don’t get a majority but they act like they are satisfied with the status quo. They have done nothing to attract support from outside their base and as a result the public horse race polls are showing their support softening just a little. I invite you to check out the latest from Environics and Angus Reid.

I think its a mugs game to try and explain poll results without doing some follow up research, but her I go anyway. If the Cons are slipping a little, it may have something to do with the way they are conducting the campaign. For example kicking people out of Harper rallies (and using RCMP resources to do it) just reminds people of why they haven’t yet given Harper a majority.

At the same time maybe the Karl Rove tactics the Cons are using are causing the Liberals problems. The Conservative campaign has observed that Ignatieff’s wife is not a Canadian citizen. Conservatives have tried with some success to make a big deal out of an Alberta Liberal candidate’s observation that not all sexual assault cases are the same. Clearly this man is objectively pro rape.

The Liberals also got caught with a rural Quebec candidate with a history of racist comments (to go with the unfortunate comments by Romeo Saganashes Incumbent Bloc opponent).

The Angus Reid and Environics polls out today both showed improved numbers for the NDP but with a healthy Con lead over the Liberals. Both polls were also notable for what they found in Quebec, namely the Bloc and Liberals dropping a little and with the NDP in 2nd place. Layton has given credit for much of the NDP’s tentative success in Quebec to Thomas Mulcair, his Quebec lieutenant and MP for the Montreal riding of Outrement. Since his election to the House of Commons, Mulcair has spent much time and effort to building up the Quebec wing of his adopted the party.

In the current campaign it seems like the Bloc and NDP are circling each other warily, afraid to attack because they’re targeting a lot of the same voters, voters who like both leaders and may not respond well to negative campaigning.

To sum up, it looks to me that Layton is winning the campaign. he’s getting around well enough (despite recovering from a broken hip), staying on message, dealing in substance while the Libs and Cons scrap over side issues. The NDP platform delivery has been unfocussed, but in the valley of the blind etc.

Whatever the status of the campaign today, there is a long way to go, and well timed dirty tricks, mistakes and unforeseen events are not only possible but nearly certain to occur. Poll results are interesting, but what is happening on the ground? Also, the debates could be a game changer for somebody. If the Liberals want to do well enough to form a government Ignatieff had better have two good debates, one in each of the two languages. Harper might even show up to discuss rather than evade – one never knows.

Layton could have some real success in the debates. He has more charisma than any of the other three (except maybe Duceppe on home turf). If he can translate his popularity into seats this could be a really interesting election.

Canadian Federal Election Opening Bids Part II: Michael Ignatieff and the People in Red

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The CBC has a feature on its website called Vote Compass where people can answer a bunch of policy questions to find out which party they are closest to (btw I’ve heard and read a number of complaints about the accuracy and fairness of this little gimmick but anyway). Somewhere somebody blogged or tweeted that they answered every question with most disengaged possible answer, like “No Opinion” or whatever the equivalent is of “Don’t Care”, and found out that they were a Liberal.

This chameleonic, mercurial, kaleidoscopic quality has always been both the genius and the curse of the Liberal Party. St. Paul told early Christians to be all things to all people, and the Liberals have adapted this commandment to Canadian politics. To put it another way, the Liberals have been known to run from the left (frustrating the NDP) and govern from the right (infuriating the old PC Party).

It served them well for a long time. Then came 1984 and the Progressive Conservatives led by Brian Mulroney forged a coalition with soft Quebec nationalists and center right voters in the West, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. What really hurt the Libs at the time was the loss of most of its base in Quebec. Things have gotten worse for them in the QC since then with the rise of the Bloc and the lingering smell of the Chretien and Martin era scandals.

Ignatieff and his party face all kinds of challenges going into this election. They are blocked bu the Bloc in Quebec and will be lucky to keep what they have there. Even worse, the Liberals are bleeding support to the NDP in several regions, including Quebec.

In Ontario, the Liberals have maintained significant support up to now, but having a provincial Liberal government benefits the Conservatives. Meanwhile the NDP has turned Northern Ontario into a two way battleground between themselves and the Cons (the NDP also seems to be growing stronger in Southwest Ontario, but it is unclear whether that pays off much in this election).

In the West, the Liberals have been in decline since the days of Trudeau, leaving the Atlantic provinces as a region that still gives a lot of love to the Libs.

So what tactics and policy planks are the Liberals using to meet these challenges?

Once upon a time in the heat of an all candidates I mockingly said “You can always tell when the Liberals are in trouble. They start stealing NDP ideas.” Which seems to be part of what Team Red is up to at this moment.

For example, Ignatieff has been talking this week about a plan to strengthen Canada Pension Plan and GIS benefits for seniors. Which by some strange coincidence is what Layton tried to get the Conservatives to put in the budget that was tabled before the Government fell. The Globe and Mail also tells me that on Thursday (3/31) Ignatieff will unveil a national day care plan – again. Earlier this week, Iggy announced a “learning passport” plan to help students pay for post secondary education.

All of these platform planks are clearly designed to appeal to NDP/Liberal vote switchers. Furthermore, Ignatieff has spent a good part of the first week of the campaign in NDP held ridings, like Ottawa Centre and Trinity Spadina.

The Liberals have had a few harsh words for the Harpists (about expensive fighter jets for example) and there will be more as the campaign rolls on. But the first order of business for the Team Red/Rouge is to get some of that centre left mojo back from the New Democrats.

Now I will get to work on a post about the NDP, followed by a combined Bloq and Green piece (neither of then deserve a whole post to themselves since neither are running full campaigns).

Written by slothropia

March 31st, 2011 at 10:31 am

Lib/Con Coalition in Ottawa

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

I meant to put up a reaction to the Liberal decision to support the Harper budget a few days ago, but I was abducted by aliens and they just now dropped me off. It’s OK though. My period of captivity gave me a chance to reflect on the situation in Ottawa, for the political dust to settle north of the border and for the Canadian version of the corporate media (incl the CBC) to bloviate itself into a tizzy about how wise is Ignatieff and how silly Jack Layton.

As Monk would say, here’s what happened.

1. The Conservatives won a plurality of seats in the last election. They then won a confidence vote on the Throne speech.

2. In late November, the Harper Finance Minister delivered a financial statement (a mini budget if you will) that included some mean spirited legislation but very little stimulus for an economy which was clearly going to soon be in trouble. There is an old saying; “When the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” The U.S. has a bad cold, and Canada can expect a case of economic pneumonia.

3. With Jack Layton as chief instigator, the three opposition parties declare themselves ready to vote against the Tories in a confidence vote and agree to form a Liberal/NDP coalition, with Bloc support (conditional upon the Governor General inviting the Leader of the Opposition to form a government after the Conservatives were defeated in the House).

4. Smelling defeat and the loss of power, Harper persuades the Governor General to prorogue (suspend) Parliament for a month while the Cons write a full budget.

5. The Liberal Caucus replaces outgoing Leader Stephane Dion with Michael Ignatieff. They did this for a number of reasons. In short it was awkward to have a lame duck leader when there was talk of forming a government and/or when there is an ongoing political and economic crisis in the land.

6. The Conservatives deliver their budget on schedule and on schedule the Liberals declare their willingness to support the budget and the Harper government.

7. The other two opposition parties, again with Layton and the NDP in the lead, attack Ignatieff and the Liberals for betraying the coalition and and all Canadians by supporting a budget that did not provide enough economic stimulus and which did not do enough to strengthen Employment Insurance (the Orwellian term for Unemployment Insurance).

8. Meanwhile, the Canadian corporate media mainly praises the budget and Ignatieff’s capitulation.

Here’s an example of the last point from Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff did the right thing in supporting the budget rather than trying to force an election or entering that ridiculous arrangement with the NDP and the separatists.

His demand as the price for his party’s support – periodic updates on how the budget is working – seems appropriate. Given the unknown ahead, chances are that six months from now, many of the budget’s assumptions, and at least some of the programs, are going to need serious adjustment.

And here is Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert:

Stephen Harper saved his job as prime minister but the Liberals are the net winners of the extraordinary parliamentary showdown that almost cost the Conservatives their minority government.

Less than four months after they were knocked down to a historical low in the popular vote in a general election, the just-concluded crisis has reset federal politics to their advantage.

Polling since the Tory budget shows little change from before. In Quebec the Libs are slightly behind the Bloc, with the NDP and Harpers in a virtual tie for third.

The Liberals may have gained in the short term, but there is time before the next election for them to regret Ignatieff’s choice. Since Ignatieff’s capitulation, the NDP has run a series of radio ads slamming the Liberal Leader for propping up the Tories as Dion had done.

The NDP’s strategy is now focused on courting progressive Liberals who had welcomed the Coalition. If that strategy works, the next election (to be held sometime this year, says the smart money) will see a strengthened Liberal Party and NDP with the Tories and Bloc dropping some seats. I would bet heavily against a Liberal majority, but a result like the one I described could lead to a Liberal/NDP working accord, if not a revived coalition that would not need Bloc support.

Canadian Update: Preview of the New Parliament

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Cross posted at Daily Kos.

Next Tuesday, Remembrance Day in Canada, will be one week from the Obama election and four weeks, 28 days or 1 lunar cycle since the Conservatives won their increased minority position in the Canadian federal election. It has been a quiet month in the Great White North. Yes, Steven Harper did name a new cabinet, who will be just as obedient to the PM as the previous one was.

But not much has happened politically, even though Canada faces many of the same economic problems as the United States. This is about to change as the House of Commons will be in session the day after Remembrance Day.

The first important event in the life of the new Parliament will be the Speech from the Throne, followed by a vote of confidence (or no confidence) in the Government. For non Canadians, the Speech from the Throne is a summary of the Government’s agenda, an outline of what the Government wants to achieve during the life of the Parliament. In Britain the Speech from the Throne is read by the Queen, but in Canada (and I presume other Commonwealth countries) it is read by the Governour General, the Queen’s viceroy.

The upcoming throne speech will carry more weight than most because it looks like hard times are just over the next hill.

At the start of the Great Depression, the Prime Minister of Canada was R.B. Bennett, like Stephen Harper a Conservative from Alberta. Bennett refused to act to stimulate the economy and provide relief to the Depressions victims until it was politically too latre for both him and his party. Harper is not stupid and he knows how to read. He will not repeat bennett’s blunders (though he ay devise some of his own).

Harper is also lucky. He did not choose his Liberal opponents, but the stupidity of both Paul Martin and Stephane Dion has been his secret weapon. Harper is also lucky in that Martin, as Finance Minister, robbed Employment Insurance and other social programs to pay down the debt left by Brian Mulroney. As a result, Harper has fiscal room to pay for some sort of economic stimulus, despite Conservative dogma about balanced budgets. Contrast the Canadian fiscal position with the monstrous debt and deficit President Obama will inherit from W, and give Harper credit for having even more good luck.

As with Obama, Harper’s first priority, which he shares with all parties in the House, is to stabilize the Canadian economy and limit the recession’s damage. It appears that Obama will try to build a consensus for whatever measures he proposes, and Harper might have to pursue a similar goal. No doubt there will be sufficient support from all corners of the house for spending on infrastructure. For over zealous fiscal restraint, not so much.

The Liberals in particular cannot afford to be seen as propping up the Tories, a perception which cost them dearly in the election. The NDP and the Bloc are much more able to support the Government when it behaves well and offer principled opposition when necessary. The Grits, on the other hand are broke and in the beginning stages of a leadership contest. An election in the near term would be very destructive for the Liberals, so they will not want to see an election forced by a vote of no confidence in the House.

Regarding External Affairs, Canada’s biggest foreign policy issue is perennially and always and forever the relationship with the United States. I would single out two policy areas to watch for both the near and mid terms.

Many Americans may not know this but one of the NATO countries with a military presence in Afghanistan is Canada. Despite the Conservatives’ win in October, they are against Canadian public opinion. Harper has responded by promising to end Canadian involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has talked about increasing the military effort in that country. This is one of the reasons he offers for withdrawing from Iraq. Will there be a debate on Afghanistan within the Obama administration and among the American public? I hope the new administration at least tries to find out if there are any military options in Afghanistan before making an enhanced commitment there. IOW, leaving aside the question of whether or not the United States has goals worth pursuing in Afghanistan, someone should ask whther or not such goals can be achieved through military means.

If the decision is ultimately made to escalate in Afghanistan, will the U.S. pressure Canada and other NATO allies to join in that effort? Is there a potential repeat of the Johnson v Pearson fight over Vietnam?

The other area to watch is trade. Canada and the U.S. remain each others largest trading partners, but the relationship has a few areas of conflict, such as softwood lumber. During the Democratic primaries, there was talk from both Clinton and Obama abut renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements. The left in Canada fought free trade with the U.S. and would also like to open up NAFTA. Globalization and so called free trade have hurt the manufacturing base of both countries. Will Obama and Harper cooperate in this portfolio in an effort to mitigate such damage, or will they promote the status quo.

I was encouraged in one of the debates by Obama’s response to a question about international trade, when he questioned the value of a trade deal with Colombia while labor leaders are routinely assassinated there (which got an eye roll from McCain, of course). We will see what policies proceed from President Obama’s approach to trade issues and how Prime Minister plays whatever hand he is holding at the time.

Coming soon: a look at the options now facing Canada’s federal parties.

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.