Canada elects: the alternative North America goes to the polls.

Author:Jones, David T.
 
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Editor's Note: Our Canada expert and frequent contributor David Jones follows up his forecast analysis of the Canadian election (http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/item/2008/0709/comm/jones_elections.html) with this thorough exposition of its results and implications for U.S.-Canada relations.--Ed.

In case you hadn't noticed, the election is over. To be sure, not the U.S. national federal election that the world has been watching to the extent that it is virtually a global election.

But on Tuesday, October 14, the Canadian electorate returned its incumbent Tory (conservative) government with an enhanced, albeit still minority, mandate. The outcome, of course, is of great significance to Canadians, but will not be irrelevant to Americans as there are potential scenarios that can be played against possible outcomes in the U.S. presidential election.

The final confirmed figures boost the Tories to 143 (up from 127) of a 308 seat Parliament; increase the socialist NDP to 37 (from 30); nudge the separatist Bloc Quebecois to 49 (from 48); retain two independents--and drop the Liberals to 77 (from 95). While the Tory results were a "kissing your sister" victory, the Liberal defeat marks their lowest seat total since 1984 and their lowest share of the popular vote in history-26.24 percent--amidst the lowest percentage of registered voters participating (59.1 percent) ever. It left the Liberal party leader trying to fend off a group of contenders eager to rip out the plug of his life support system--and then he tore it out himself.

Background

Canada's election as representing an "alternative North America" deserves U.S. attention--its election issues (the economy, energy, environment, health care, national security) were either ours already or will be in the future. Additionally, it was fascinating to observe an election in quick-step; one that was called, campaigned, and concluded within 37 days--hardly a "lap" in our national marathon.

Of course it wasn't quite that simple. The Canadian government had been operating as a minority since its election in January 2006. In this instance, the 34-month Canadian minority federal government set a record for longevity. That was not necessarily a good thing since most observers anticipated an election within 12-18 months, the norm for such governments. In that initial period, the Conservative government passed most of its 2006 campaign platform and spent much of the past year in highly contentious parliamentary hissy fits during which "your mother wears combat boots" was countered by "at least I know who my father is" type exchanges.

Thus Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper sought approval from the Governor General (a technical but necessary legal requirement) to call an election, arguing that Parliament had become dysfunctional. That was an argument both true and untrue; the Opposition correctly responded that the Parliament was "functioning" although clearly past its "best before" date, with the Opposition doing little other than seeking devices to embarrass the government. What was true is that Harper believed he could win an election--and the Opposition feared that he was correct. An early election avoided the lunch bucket issues associated with an anticipated (and now all but certain) economic decline in 2009 as well as a possible "bounce" for the Canadian left that some analysts anticipated would come with a Democratic victory in the United States.

Best of Times for Conservatives

Canada's electorate stands at least two steps to the left of the U.S. electorate; thus in any election, political conservatives must fight uphill. There is no equivalent in Canada of a U.S. "right wing conservative" outside of facilities restraining aberrant behavior; and Tories in major urban areas (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) are politicians that barely mention their labels. Consequently, when approximately two thirds of the Canadian electorate normally supports parties to the left of the Tory/conservatives, it takes a masterly Tory campaign combined with auspicious economic/social circumstances to win. Essentially, the Tories must unite their base and pull approximately 5 percent of the rest of the electorate--while hoping that the multiple parties to their left (Liberals, New Democrats [socialists], Greens, and the Quebec sovereignist Bloc Quebecois) remain disunited, run vigorous campaigns against each other to split the left, and allow Tory victories with pluralities.)

And in October 2008, circumstances were about as good for the Tories as they were going to be. Canada's economy is very sound with no sub-prime crisis or...

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