The Other Election

On June 28, Canada had a federal election and nobody in the US noticed.

The election was the closest race in over twenty years. The Liberals (a centrist party), who have been in power since 1993, were well in the lead in the polls when the called the election. The new Liberal leader, Paul Martin, wanted a mandate to govern and to hold an election before the newly formed Conservative Party (which was a merger of two rightwing parties) had its act together.

Well, just after he called the election the Liberal's support fell about 10 percent. The entire election campaign was a neck-in-neck race between the Liberals and Conservatives - both at about 33%. The (loosely social-democratic) New Democrats (NDP) were hoping to make some gains as they were polling at their highest levels (around 16%) in any national election campaign since 1988. The seperatist (and somewhat progressive) Bloc Quebecois was set to win an overwhelming majority of the seats in Quebec. And the Greens (at 3-5%) actually stood a chance at winning their first ever seat.

The end result went down to the wire. In the last ten days of the campaign, the Liberals gained momentum - perhaps as people shied away from supporting the Conservatives who have questionable views on issues like abortion, gay rights, health care, and were a bit too pro-US.

The Liberals won a minority government. To govern, they are going to have to gain support from other parties to pass their bills. Interestingly, the combined Liberal/NDP seats are exactly half of those in parliament. There is currently one recount going on which could give the NDP an extra seat which would allow for a Liberal/NDP coalition (which happenned previously for a year or so in the early Seventies). Otherwise if the NDP doesn't get the seat, the Liberals have to form a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois - which is their arch-rivals for popular support in Quebec (Quebec is a two-party state), or with the Conservatives (which is extremely unlikely).

This minority government may not last long.

A Liberal/NDP government could generate some excellent policies. For instance, the NDP has said that it will only support a government that would implement proportional representation - which would help the NDP, but even more so it could help the Green Party which got 4% but no seats.

The Canadian Green Party

I am very concerned about the Canadian Greens. They are constantly moving to the political center, before they have even managed to win a single seat in any provincial assembly. For instance, in British Columbia they moved from an innovative collective leadership (three people shared the leadership) to a single leader. The current Green federal leader is a former conservative and wrote a book on the fifty best businesses to work for!

In practice, the Greens are dividing the left vote while only winning a handful seats on the municipal level. In the past federal election, I'm not sure if the Greens even managed to come in third place in any district.

The problem is that the Greens have a middle class base that is far less likely to adhere to progressive values on issues other than the environment, than a working class which is the base of the New Democrats.

While the NDP is very far from perfect, it recently elected the more leftist of the major leadership canidates and it has a history that is better than any other Canadian or American political party.

Canada Does NOT Have Proportional Representation

Somehow most Americans I talk to assume that Canada has proportional representation or instant-run-off voting.

Well Canada does not.

In these days when many progressives are saying that we must support Kerry, I find it especially important to examine why Canada has 4-5 parties. American progressives say that the US political system means that only 2 parties can thrive, but the Canadian example has proved different.

Canadian Political Parties

  • Liberals
  • Conservatives
  • NDP
  • Bloc Quebecois
  • Greens

    And that isn't even getting into all of the provincial and municipal parties! Some provinces have very different political party systems from the federal level, as do some cities.

    I haven't totally figured it out but here are some

    Reasons for Multiple Parties

  • Regional differences (ex. Quebec, and the West)
  • Popularity of incumbents who are able to gain support based on personal appeal and establish a strong local base of suport.
  • Smaller districts - you are more likely to have an intensely working class district.
  • Stronger labour movement - not as strong as Europe, but stronger than the US. The labor movement supports the NDP.
  • Periodic intense disastisfaction at incumbents that results in the creation of new parties (Reform Party, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party), or the total destruction of parties in power (Social Credit in BC, Progressive Conservatives in Canada)

    I believe it behooves US progressives to get their heads out of the sand, start analyzing politics in Canada, Europe, Mexico, and other countries so as to learn how to create a significant progressive party in the US.