Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canada's Election - What Does it Mean?

A few random thoughts on yesterday's Canadian election, which returned Stephen Harper's Conservatives to Ottawa with another minority government:

  • Canada is by and large a centre-progressive country according to the popular vote. The nation's centre-left, however, now finds itself in the same electoral predicament that daunted the fractured right during the Chr├ętien era. During that time, vote splitting between the Reform/Alliance and old Tory party (along with the Bloc in Quebec) virtually locked the Liberals into power.

  • As the NDP and Greens have now done well at the polls, and the Liberals less well, the sole beneficiary has been the Harper Tories. This is likely to continue until such time as one of the parties implodes (as did the old PC's previously), and merger fever is thus ignited. Until then, absent a defining and polarizing election issue (such as free trade in 1988), the centre-left may find itself permanently sidelined.

  • Canadians seem to like minority government. While a Harper majority might scare many, if not most, popular sentiment seems to be that a minority will keep the Prime Minister mostly in check. If not, another election may happen sooner than later.

  • In that event, the Prime Minister will have to hope his sense of timing has improved. This election call proved to be a massive misfire for Mr. Harper.

  • For me, the headline of this election is Voters Deny Harper Majority. Given the numbers at the outset and the trend until about ten days ago, this was quite an accomplishment by opposition parties.

  • The demands for Stephane Dion's head will nonetheless continue, which is unfortunate. I think he hit a good stride in the last weeks of the election, and could continue to mature into quite a formidable leader, given adequate time to grow into the job (which he might not get). I personally am quite a bit more impressed with him after this election than I was before it.

  • The Canadian election had a great deal of trouble getting noticed in a non-stop news cycle dominated by Presidential debates, crashing markets and pit bulls with lipstick. This was for the most part Canada's invisible election, featuring very little that was compelling. In fact, the only issue that seemed to create any durable water-cooler talk was Green Party leader Elizabeth May's ultimately-successful quest to be included in the leadership debates. Beyond that, yawn.

  • On balance, very little has changed. Politically, Canada is in a stable, holding pattern. According to the popular vote, most Canadians would have preferred a different outcome, but in the absence of any truly inspiring leadership option, the country as a whole has opted for business as usual.

  • The net result? Stephen Harper is still Prime Minister. Soon there will be snow. And, it is now hockey season.*

(* One eye, of course, will remain firmly fixed on that other election that's still ongoing and rapidly moving toward its own November 4 crescendo).

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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