Canada 2008: winter of (mild) discontent.

Author:Jones, David T.
 
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Editor's Note: Following a recent visit to Canada, a retired senior U.S. diplomat and longtime observer of the Canadian scene provides an overview of current politics and political issues as well as Canadians' view of the electoral process in their neighbor to the south: They are fascinated.

Winter largely defines Canada--and Canadians both revel in and deplore their climate. The winter of 2006-07 was indisputably mild, and instead of enjoying their reduced heating bills, Canadians complained, invoking "global warming" as the Great Satan of the twenty-first century. The current weather across the country, however, has been described as a "pre-global warming winter," and a visitor to Ottawa noted drifts and piles of snow head-high at curbsides and was told that 18 of the first 20 days of February delivered precipitation on the capital.

Thus this good, old-fashioned winter has left Canadians with political cabin fever regarding their domestic politics and envy over the warmer political climate south of the border.

Maneuvers of a Minority A minority government is a rather rare occurrence in Canada. Prior to the Liberal minority in 2004, there had not been a minority government since the short-lived Tory government in 1979-80, which lasted about six months. This Liberal government fell in February 2006, succeeded by a Conservative (Tory) minority government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that now has endured a rather surprising two years. And, although it would be modern era unprecedented on the federal level, it is no longer inconceivable that the Tory minority could persist until the next mandated election in autumn 2009.

The curious endurance of the Harper government, which originally programmed for a sprint but now has settled into a long distance run, is partly explained by the presence of three significant opposition parties. Cooperation by all three is necessary to defeat the Tories and force an election. Thus finding an issue on which all three can agree is just the starting point; finding an issue that each perceives will benefit it in the resulting election is key. So "just say no" will defeat the government, but it must be sung in three-part harmony.

-On the government side, there is no purpose in manipulating a defeat unless it can secure a majority in the resulting election. Currently, it is a best-of-times moment for Canada. There is no federal deficit; federal debt is declining; inflation is low; taxes are declining; unemployment is at a...

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