It turns out that Kevin O’Leary wasn’t quite Mr. Wonderful for Canada’s Conservative Party.
Last week, on the brink of the final debate among the candidates to lead the party, the television star and businessman dropped out of the race. Arguing, oddly, that he didn’t think he could win enough votes in the French-speaking province of Quebec, O’Leary immediately endorsed Maxime Bernier.
O’Leary, the closest thing to a frontrunner in the Tory leadership race, has boosted Bernier to quasi-frontrunner status as Conservative party members begin casting ballots that will be counted by the end of May.
He’s bespectacled, he’s boring and he certainly fits a stereotype of a practical prairie square, campaigning across his province in a Chevy pickup truck.
In the era of Justin Trudeau selfies, Brad Wall doesn’t even have an Instagram profile. In a world that seems to have polarized into ideological extremes and eschews the ‘establishment,’ he is running on an avowed platform of ‘more of the same.’
With Liberals ascendant at the federal level and Liberal or leftist governments in power in each of Canada’s other provinces, he leads the only conservative government left across his country.
But on Monday, when Saskatchewan voters go to the polls, they are almost certainly reelect Wall and his ‘small-c’ conservative party, the provincial Saskatchewan Party, to a third term — probably by a nearly two-to-one margin over the nearest opponent, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). Polls give Wall’s party nearly 60% of the vote and with it a chance to retain or even increase its 49-member caucus in Saskatchewan’s 58-member Legislative Assembly.
Wall, who consistently ranks as Canada’s most popular premier, is in some ways a throwback to the pragmatic Progressive Conservative Party of the 20th century, a conservative focused squarely on business-friendly policies with a healthy share of humility about government’s ability to effect sweeping change. In his first term, Wall took pains to acknowledge that Saskatchewan’s boom had more to do with global commodity prices than with his own wizardry. Voters, facing the pinch of low oil and gas prices in a province that depends on natural resources, seem willing to give Wall the benefit of the doubt now that Saskatchewan’s economic fortunes are slumping though.
In his first two terms, Wall, personally and politically the personification of prudence, deployed $2 billion in revenues, on top of his government’s budget surpluses, into the province’s Growth and Financial Security Fund. Under Wall, Saskatchewan has reversed a population decline — so much so that it’s now attracting residents at some of the highest levels in the county. Wall has also been careful to place Saskatchewan’s priorities over ideological concerns, going out of his way to maintain official neutrality in the last federal election, though it must have been clear to anyone that Wall’s views aligned most naturally with then-prime minister Stephen Harper.
Among his peers, Wall is perhaps the most powerful defender of Canada’s oil interests, more so than even oil-rich Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley, elected last May. He’s defended Canada’s projected oil pipeline projects and promoted Canada’s energy economy with such vigour that Maclean’s last month dubbed him ‘Alberta’s other premier,’ acknowledging that Wall has become, and will be for some time, the most powerful and influential voice of the Canadian right in national or provincial government. That’s not to say that Wall is a climate change-denier, and he has even shown that’s he open to small steps toward reducing carbon emissions, if not the sweeping kind of carbon tax that Alberta’s Notley is implementing. (Wall is nonetheless careful to add that any tax measures on the largest carbon emitters should take effect only after Canada’s recession, not today.) Continue reading Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall is Canada’s unofficial opposition leader→
The headline across Newfoundland and Labrador is that it will, once again, have a center-left government after a widely anticipated Liberal rout led by the incoming premier Dwight Ball.
The headline across Canada, however, is that the Liberal Party (or provincial-level Liberal parties, some of which have greater or lesser affiliation with the national party) now controls every provincial government in Canada with two exceptions — Saskatchewan, where premier Brad Wall’s center-right Saskatchewan Party dominates politics and will likely return to a full third term after provincial elections in April; and Alberta, where premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party ousted a 44-year Progressive Conservative Party in May.
The November 30 provincial election leaves no Conservative or Progressive Conservative government in any of Canada’s provinces.
Ball’s Liberals won 57.2% of the vote to just 30.1% for the Progressive Conservatives, who even narrowly lost in the provincial capital of St. John’s, the Tory stronghold. It was the strongest Liberal victory in the province in 49 years (though not as strong as former premier Danny Williams’s Progressive Conservative rout in 2003), and it marked the most dramatic swing in the province’s electoral history.
In any event, though Newfoundlanders have been expecting a return to Liberal government for a while, it marks something of an apogee for the Canadian left just over a month since the country elected prime minister Justin Trudeau and a majority Liberal government. The most immediate post-election Forum poll from mid-November gave the Liberals a whopping 30-point lead — 55% of voters support Trudeau’s Liberals to just 25% for the Conservative Party and a staggering 12% for Thomas Mulcair’s New Democratic Party.
So the Trudeau honeymoon period is well underway, as he grapples with climate change in Paris with other world leaders and begins to implement a new policy direction for Canada.
Ball, a former pharmacist who lost his first attempt to win a seat in the General Assembly in 2003, subsequently won a by-election contest in 2007 by a margin of just 18 votes in the northern electoral district of Humber Valley. After the Liberals failed to win the 2011 provincial election, Ball was appointed as interim leader, and he won the permanent leadership in the December 2013 leadership race. Ball’s platform included a promise to end Davis’s plan to raise the provincial sales tax from 13% to 15%, even though revenues are set to decline with global oil prices and, accordingly, the province’s newly found oil wealth. Continue reading Liberals sweep Newfoundland and Labrador→
Among the new faces taking power today in Ottawa, perhaps none is more important to prime minister Justin Trudeau’s success or failure in office than his finance minister, the 53-year-old Bill Morneau, a Bay Street executive who was only just elected to parliament for the first time in 2015.
Morneau’s announcement as finance minister was the most consequential of many key personnel decisions announced this morning when Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, taking a job that his father, Pierre Trudeau, held from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984.
Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is smaller than the outgoing cabinet and, with 31 members, it is comprised of 16 men and 15 women and includes someone from every province (and the territory of Nunavut).
Finance Minister Bill Morneau
A rookie MP elected for the first time on October 19 from the Toronto Centre riding, Morneau comes to the finance ministry as the former head of Morneau Shepell, Canada’s largest human resources firm (and a firm founded by Morneau’s father) and as the former chair of the C.D. Howe Institute, a relatively centrist economics think tank based in Toronto. In 2014, he was part of a panel appointed by Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Liberal premier, to examine her plan to introduce an Ontario-based pension plan that supplements the federal pension plan.
Trudeau, whose Liberals were languishing in third place in most polls all summer long, gained traction among voters when he pledged in September that, in he face of a recession across the country, his government would pursue a more expansionary fiscal policy to develop infrastructure and boost demand for jobs — including taking on $25 billion in debt for three years before a return to balanced budgets in 2019-20. For a country where fiscal restraint has been gospel, not only for the past nine years of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, but throughout the preceding 13 years of Liberal rule under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, promising to engage openly in deficit spending might have been a risky move.
Instead, it galvanized centrist and left-of-center voters that had previously been split between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP). With NDP leader Thomas Mulcair pledging balanced budgets in what would have been Canada’s first NDP-led government, Trudeau’s bold policy stand in favor of deficit spending convinced voters that the Liberals represented the more convincing agents of change. Trudeau, earlier in the campaign, promised to implement a modest tax increase on Canadians who earn more than $200,000 annually and a modest tax cut for middle-class Canadians.
Morneau’s most important task as finance minister will be finding a way to translate Trudeau’s plan into an actionable budget. But as a former businessmen with ties to Bay Street, Morneau is a natural choice to assuage the fears of Canada’s business community, and his status as a novice politician brings an element of new blood to a cabinet that has both old and new faces.
Morneau’s selection is also a victory for Wynne, who was a vocal supporter of the federal Liberal Party and of Trudeau’s campaign. Wynne often clashed with Harper, who essentially instructed his government in Ottawa not to cooperate with the pension supplement plan that Wynne pushed through Ontario’s legislative assembly last year.
He joins a growing group of rookie finance minster with more experience in the private sector than in parliamentary or governmental circles, including Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babiš and Israel’s Yair Lapid.
Morneau will also have a hand in several hot-button issues that will affect the Canadian economy, including relations with the United States, a decision about whether the trans-Canadian Energy East pipeline should proceed and finalizing the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-country free trade pact linking North America, South America and East Asia.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison
One of those is Scott Brison, who will be the next president of the Treasury Board. In that role, Brison will work very closely with Morneau as a behind-the-scenes official in charge of running much of the Canadian government. If Morneau is tasked with selling the Trudeau government’s economic policy, it will be Brison who is largely responsible for carrying it all out– and then some.
Brison, born and raised in Nova Scotia, has been an MP since 1997, is openly gay, began his career as an investment banker, and he started off in politics as a rising star in the center-right Progressive Conservative Party. He’s only 48 years old, is known to be a close personal friend of Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada who, in 2013, became the governor of the Bank of England.
Brison was one of five candidates in the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership race, though he was eliminated on the second ballot when Jim Prentice (a short-lived Alberta premier, former environmental minister and Harper consigliere) outpaced him by three votes. Just days after the Progressive Conservatives voted to merge themselves into Harper’s more dominant, western-based Canadian Alliance to form the Conservative Party of Canada, Brison switched parties. Within months, then-prime minister Paul Martin had already appointed Brison to the cabinet as public works minister. Brison, who ran for and lost the Liberal leadership election in 2006, has served as the Liberal’s chief finance critic, a role he’s often used to attack Conservative budgets with caustic energy, and he heartily supported Trudeau’s near-coronation to the leadership in 2013.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion
Stéphane Dion, who authored the Clarity Act in 2000 that sets forth the terms of any future secession referendum in Canada, and who garnered international headlines as Canada’s activist environmental minister (who once named his dog Kyoto), led the Liberals to disastrous result in the 2008 election after a merciless campaign that saw his professorial manner dismissed as not “prime ministerial enough” and his English language skills savaged in the media.
But Dion is a serious parliamentarian who has much to offer the next government and, as a former leader, he follows in the footsteps of former British Conservative leader William Hague, former French prime minister Alain Juppé and even US secretary of state John Kerry as a foreign affairs minister. His first test will come later this month at the Paris climate change conference, where he will join a Canadian government now much more engaged than the previous Harper government on climate change. Dion is suited like a glove for the event, but he will also bring thoughtful and diligent experience of nearly 20 years of government service to Trudeau’s cabinet.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan
Harjit Sajjan, the newly elected MP for Vancouver South is, like Morneau, a newcomer to the House of Commons, to say nothing of ministerial service. But the Punjab-born Sajjan, who moved to Canada as a five-year-old, will serve as Canada’s first Sikh defence minister after three tours of duty in Afghanistan and a military career as a highly decorated veteran.
Sajjan defeated Conservative incumbent Wai Young to take the riding in October, a riding once held by former British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh and home to one of the largest immigration populations in the country, including many Indian Canadians and Chinese Canadians. After his military career, where he reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Sajjan served as a Vancouver police officer.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau
Marc Garneau, a Montreal-based MP since 2008, was once himself considered leadership material, and he waged his own campaign in 2013 (stepped down as Trudeau’s inevitability became apparent). The first canadian in outerspace, Garneau served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006 before turning to politics. As transport minister, he will face more policy issues about trains and highways than about space shuttles, but with infrastructure spending tops on the Trudeau agenda, Garneau could play an important role in choosing the projects to prioritize and administering those projects.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale
Ralph Goodale, who last served as Liberal finance minister in Paul Martin’s government between 2003 and 2006, was first elected as prime minister in 1974 when Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, was prime minister. He lost his bid for reelection in 1989 and turned to provincial politics as the leader of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party, a venture that saw little success. Returning to parliament in 1993, he served as one of the Liberal’s most prominent westerners in government as agriculture minister, natural resources minister and public works minister before his elevation to the finance ministry. At age 66, Goodale joins Dion as one of the most experienced members of the Trudeau cabinet. LIke Garneau, the incoming public works minister will work to identity and administer the infrastructure spending that Trudeau wants to use to juice the Canadian economy back out of recession.
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland
A writer, former deputy editor of The Globe and Mail and a former managing director and editor of Thomson Reuters, Chrystia Freeland returned from a promising journalistic career in New York to run in a by-election in Toronto to replace Bob Rae two years ago, the retiring interim leader of the Liberal Party. Freeland, who easily won reelection in October, is a proponent of free trade and, presumably, as minister of international trade, will work with Trudeau to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership just weeks after Harper’s government signed the landmark trade accord. Though Trudeau hasn’t fully endorsed the TPP, he made it very clear throughout the campaign that the Liberal government would be friendly to free-trade accords.
Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna
Nowhere does Liberal policy shift more fully from the Harper era than on the environment and climate change. Beyond the Paris conference, the next Canadian government will have a handful of decisions to make about a handful of energy pipelines, including the transcontinental Energy East pipeline. The 44-year-old McKenna, with a career as a human rights attorney, is also a newcomer to parliament, winning her riding in Ottawa Centre for the first time last month.
House of Commons Leader Dominic LeBlanc
Dominic LeBlanc, who has represented the Beauséjour riding from New Brunswick since 2000, is only three years older than McKenna, but he might be among the most knowledgeable Liberal ministers about how to navigate government. The son of former senator and governor-general Roméo LeBlanc, Canada’s new leader of the House has been friends with Trudeau since childhood, and he has long been a key adviser to the new prime minister. Though he’ll be one of the highest-ranking cabinet officials from Atlantic Canada, he is also very much Trudeau’s man in the House of Commons.
So far, the race to succeed Stephen Harper as the next leader of Canada’s Conservative Party has been notable for the level of disinterest it’s drawn — not a single candidate has yet announced a campaign for the leadership.
Despite wild speculation about who might want to take the reins of Canada’s soon-to-be opposition, some of the most well-known potential contenders have already ruled themselves out of contention — former Québec premier Jean Charest (himself a one-time leader of the old Progressive Conservative Party), former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, Saskatchewan’s wildly popular two-term premier Brad Wall, former foreign minister John Baird.
But there’s one potential candidate who isn’t being coy about her intentions.
It’s Michelle Rempel, a 35-year-old MP from Calgary who’s been in office only since 2011. Born in Winnipeg and of partial French Canadian ancestry, she worked in development at the University of Calgary before jumping to politics, winning the by-election when Jim Prentice left federal politics for the private sector (and before Prentice returned to provincial politics for a disastrous run leading Alberta’s government). She quickly made a splash in the House of Commons and in 2013, Harper recognized her talents by appointing her as a junior minister for western economic diversification.
In an odd — and at turns, confident, caustic and compelling — Twitter rant in the middle of the night on October 22, Rempel made the case for her potential leadership, sometimes making the case against casual misogyny in everyday politics that would make Hillary Rodham Clinton proud.
Next week, for the first time since 2002, Stephen Harper will neither be Canada’s prime minister nor opposition leader.
At the same time that Stephen Harper was on stage conceding defeat to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, he announced (via a statement) that he would indeed be stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party, a position that he has held since 2003 when the party first came into being.
In the days ahead, the Conservative Party will decide how to appoint a caretaker interim leader pending a full leadership election to choose the party’s second leader.
Harper leaves behind a mixed legacy, like any prime minister.
For Canada’s conservatives, Harper wasn’t just a three-term prime minister, though his nine-year tenure will be longer than all but five prime ministers in Canadian history. He’s the tribune who led the Canadian right out of the wilderness of opposition and the man who brought the Canadian west back into the national conversation that had focused too long on Toronto commercial matters, constitutional crises, bilingualism and appeasing the Quebeckers.
In retrospect, it’s amazing that it took just three years for Harper to take power after engineering the December 2003 merger between his Canadian Alliance, the upstart prairie and western movement that brought a more full-throated, US-style, socially conservative attitude to national politics, and the more troubled Progressive Conservative Party. By the 2000s, the PCs were a relic of the eastern elite, and the party never fully recovered from the 1993 election, when it lost all but two seats in the House of Commons.
Incredibly, as the Conservative Party looks to choose Harper’s successor in the weeks and months ahead, he is the only leader that the current Conservative Party has known — not counting, of course, the two living former Tory prime ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney, neither of whom ever completely warmed to the Calgarian warrior from the west.
At just 56 years old, Harper certainly didn’t look or act like a leader (or prime minister) in a hurry for retirement. He looked mostly like someone who believed, until too late, that leftist and moderate voters would split between the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), giving the Conservatives yet another path to government by plurality vote. To his misfortune (and to the NDP’s), that didn’t happen.
Post-election reports reveal that Harper was considering a pledge not to seek a fifth term after 2015. But having only won his first majority government in 2011, Harper might have easily stuck around to run for a fifth mandate if he’d survived October 19. But in shooting for a fourth consecutive term, Harper knew well that he was facing long odds attempting to repeat what only Conservative John Macdonald and Liberal Wilfrid Laurier accomplished before.
Defying expectations in August that pitted the Liberal Party in third place at the beginning of the election campaign in August, Justin Trudeau has now won a clear majority government and a mandate for change in Canada’s 42nd federal election.
So what does that mean for Canada, for US-Canadian relations and for Canada’s role in the world in the weeks and months ahead?
Here are nine policy areas to keep an eye on as Trudeau begins the rapid transition to 24 Sussex Drive, appoints a cabinet and tackles a full agenda of issues that could dominate what will likely be a full four-year term with the kind of parliamentary mandate that should make it much more easier than Trudeau ever expected to enact his policy preferences.
Climate change. As the Paris summit on climate change approaches in November, Canada’s government will go from being one of the most skeptical participants at the conference to one of the most enthusiastic supporters of action to reduce carbon emissions. Keep an eye on Stéphane Dion, the former Liberal leader from 2006 and 2008 and a former environmental minister, to play a vocal and supportive role. Nevertheless, global climate change policy is mostly set by the G-2 — i.e., the United States and China. So Trudeau’s role at the summit, while productive, will be more about style than any actual substance. Joyce Murray, a popular left-wing MP and British Columbia’s former environmental minister, who was the runner-up to Trudeau in the 2013 Liberal contest, is also a rising star to watch on environmental matters.
Economic policy. At the start of the campaign, the traditionally more centrist Liberals advanced a tax policy to the left of the New Democratic Party (NDP) by promising a middle-class tax cut to be paid for by slightly higher taxes on those who earn roughly more $200,000 annually. During the campaign, as Canada officially slipped into a shallow recession, Trudeau doubled-down by pledging to engage in deficit spending over the next three years to stabilize Canada’s economy, protect jobs and boost infrastructure. It was this move, again outflanking the NDP (whose leader Thomas Mulcair promised to maintain the Conservative Party’s devotion to balanced budgets), that may have convinced voters that Trudeau, and not Mulcair, represented the most striking contrast with Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
Ralph Goodale, a former finance minister under Paul Martin; Bill Morneau, a 52-year-old newcomer first elected last night from the Toronto’s business world and Scott Brison, a former Progressive Conservative MP who defected to the Liberals over a decade ago, could all be leading contenders for finance minister. Continue reading Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins→
Will Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party win a majority government or a minority government? Will prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives emerge with the largest number of seats? How far could the New Democratic Party fall?
Join Suffragio at 8 p.m. ET for live analysis of the 42nd Canadian federal election.
1:25 am. It’s time to wrap things up here on the East Coast. Some of the final numbers might yet change, but the live blog will end with the latest numbers — both in terms of vote share and the seats of the House of Commons.
1:15 am. Another Liberal grandee worth watching is Stéphane Dion (pictured above), who unexpectedly won the Liberal leadership in 2006 after Paul Martin’s election defeat. Dion, a former environmental minister and intergovernmental affairs minister, easily won reelection in his Montreal-based riding. He’s one of the few remaining links not only to the Martin frontbench but to the Chrétien frontbench. It’s nearly certain that he will play some high-profile role, at least initially, in the Trudeau government — especially with the high-stakes climate change summit in Paris approaching next month.
1:01 am. Ironically, Bloc hardliner Mario Beaulieu (pictured above), whose year-long leadership proved so disastrous, was elected from his La Pointe-de-l’Île riding tonight, pushing the NDP into a narrow third place.
12:51 am. One of the people to watch in the next Liberal government is Joyce Murray, the runner-up to Trudeau in the 2013 election. An MP from Vancouver, Murray has taken a much more conciliatory approach to the NDP and the Green Party.
12:43 am. Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark (pictured above), who defeated Pierre Trudeau in the 1979 election, is discussing the two Trudeaus on CBC:
‘I have to say, his performance in the campaign has been extraordinary… he demonstrated who he was. His father had clearly proven his essence and strength. Justin Trudeau has done the same thing. They are very different people, but one of the things they have in common is they reflected their age, they reflected the generation they were elected to led. Both of them, as Justin Trudeau indicated tonight, were optimists, I think the son a little more enthusiastically than the father.’
12:41 am. CBC has now called the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence in Toronto for Marco Mendicino, who will defeat the outgoing Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver (pictured above). That removes yet another potential leadership contender and a potential interim leader.
12:35 am. Not to take anything away from the massively impressive Liberal victory, but this isn’t the best speech I’ve ever heard, even from Trudeau. It’s rambling, and phrases like ‘a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian’ do not project the kind of gravitas that he will need to demonstrate in the two-week transition to 24 Sussex Drive.
12:32 am. Trudeau talking about meeting a woman in a hijab, who said she was voting Liberal ‘to make sure her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life and the government will protect those rights.’
But note that the niqab wasn’t a complete loser for Harper, especially in Quebec, where the Conservatives will double their seats to 10 and where the Bloc will also make gains. I fear that this story isn’t over yet.
12:14 am. Trudeau takes a victory lap against the sometimes harsh personal campaign that his opponents ran against him: ‘This is what positive politics can do, this is what a positive, hopeful vision and a platform and a team together can make happen.’ It’s sort of spiking the ball against Harper and even Mulcair for the patronizing attitude that they took against Trudeau’s inexperience. Trudeau has been an MP only since 2008, and he won the Liberal leadership just five years later. The Conservatives ran ads openly asking whether Trudeau was up to the job, and Mulcair often criticized ‘Justin’ in patronizing terms, at times, in the campaign’s leadership debates.
One of the reasons why it’s so hard to predict the results of tonight’s federal election in Canada is the diversity of political views across a country that contains 10 provinces and three territories across over 3.85 million square miles.
By the time the last polls close at 7 p.m. Pacific time, we may already have a good idea of who will lead Canada’s next government. Or we may be waiting into the wee hours of the morning as results from several hotly contested British Columbia ridings.
With plenty of three-way races pitting the Conservative Party of prime minister Stephen Harper against both the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau and the New Democratic Party (NDP) of opposition leader Thomas Mulcair, there’s room for plenty of fluidity on a riding-by-riding basis. The contest is even less predictable because it’s the first election to feature an expanded House of Commons that will grow from 308 to 338 seats.
All of this means that as returns come in, it’s important to know what to expect from each region of Canada, where political views vary widely.
The most important battleground of them all, governments are won and lost in the country’s most populous province. Since the 2011 election, Canada has added 30 seats to the House of Commons, and 15 of those new seats are in Ontario, giving the province 121 of the 338 ridings across the country. Continue reading A region-by-region guide to Canada’s election→
Traditionally, the Liberal Party of Canada occupied the great center (and center-left) space of the country’s politics — and it was a recipe that gave the party control of Canada for nearly 70 years in aggregate during the 20th century.
In the 21st century, however, the party has struggled to find its voice. In 2004, prime minister Paul Martin lost the party’s majority; in 2006, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party wrested a minority government from Martin; in 2008, the Conservatives gained while Liberal leader Stéphane Dion lost 18 seats; and, of course, in the 2011 election, the Conservatives finally unlocked a majority government while Dion’s successor, academic Michael Ignatieff lost all but 34 seats in the House of Commons and ceded the official opposition, for the first time in Canadian history, to the traditionally progressive New Democratic Party.
Under Justin Trudeau, the scion of perhaps the most lionized Liberal prime minister of the 20th century, you might have expected the party’s fortunes restored as the natural force of Canadian government. That hasn’t happened, and the NDP, under Thomas Mulcair, is locked in a tight three-way race with Trudeau’s Liberals and Harper’s Conservatives (vying, in the midst of a fresh recession, for a fourth consecutive term).
For much of the spring and summer, Trudeau couldn’t seem to get a break. Conservative attacks about Trudeau’s relative inexperience (instinctively reinforced, fairly or not, by his youthful good looks) seemed to gain traction, and the NDP’s surprise win in the Albertan provincial election forced voters to consider Mulcair as a suitable alternative. By the end of August, the Liberals were trailing in third place. Trudeau’s support for the Harper government on Bill C-51 (the Anti-Terrorism Act) disappointed leftists as a knee-jerk attack on civil liberties.
But that’s changed over the course of the past three weeks and, for the first time since the campaign began, the Liberals have pushed (very, very narrowly) the NDP out of first place in the CBC aggregate poll tracker.
That change, however subtle, has coincided with Trudeau’s success in drawing a distinction between Liberal and NDP policy on deficits — a massive u-turn on Trudeau’s prior pledge to balance Canada’s budget if elected prime minister. It’s a gambit not without risk, opening Trudeau to charges of flip-flopping and reckless spending from both the Tories and the NDP. Notably, however, Ontario’s voters allowed former premier Dalton McGuinty to rack up deficit after deficit in the 2000s and rewarded him with three consecutive mandates. Continue reading Liberals gain ground after Trudeau’s leftward shift→
You might think it’s hard to imagine any legislative chamber more dysfunctional than the US Senate, with its arcane rules, political polarization and virtual requirement that all legislation survive by a filibuster-proof majority.
But Canada’s upper-chamber Senate actually surpasses its American counterpart for ineffectiveness — and as Canadians begin to focus on the October general election, a scandal involving expenses that implicates prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff and Harper’s belated push for Senate reform could play a pivotal role in the campaign.
Unlike U.S. senators, Canadian senators aren’t (typically) elected. Instead, they are appointed by the governor-general, the mostly ceremonial representative of Canada’s even more ceremonial head of state, Queen Elizabeth II. In practice, though, Senate appointments are made upon the prime minister’s recommendation, and he (or she) typically advances candidates on a political basis. Often, prime ministers appoint former MPs and party grandees who have actually lost elections, further emphasizing the undemocratic nature of the Senate.
The Senate’s 105 seats are allotted by province — but not in any way proportional to Canada’s population in the 21st century — Ontario and Québec have 24 each, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick 10 each and British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland each have six. Prince Edward Island, with a population of around 150,000, has four senators — that’s two-thirds the allotment for British Columbia, which is home to over 4.6 million Canadians. Senators essentially serve for life, though a 1965 reform instituted a mandatory retirement age of 75.
Senate approval is required to enact Canadian legislation. In practice, however, the upper chamber proves a far less contentious chamber than the U.S. Senate, functioning more like the British House of Lords. Bills almost exclusively originate in the lower chamber, the House of Commons. It’s usually a big deal when the Senate blocks legislation — its opposition to the 1988 free trade bill sparked a snap election over NAFTA, and in 2010, it rejected a bill (supported by every party except the Tories) that committed Canada to sharp reductions in carbon emissions by 2020. Generally, though, its activity is limited. Given that its members aren’t elected representatives, that’s probably a reasonable outcome.
With prime minister Stephen Harper’s decision to call an election last week, Canada has now launched into a 13-week campaign that ends on October 19, when voters will elect all 338 members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the Canadian parliament.
By American standards, where Republican presidential candidates will gather for their first debate nearly six months before a single vote is cast (for the nomination contest, let alone the general election) a 13-week campaign is mercifully short. In Canada, however, it’s twice as long as the most recent campaigns and, indeed, longer than any official election campaign since the late 1800s. But the major party leaders have already engaged in one debate — on August 6.
Plenty of Harper’s critics suggest the long campaign is due to the fundraising advantage of his center-right Conservative Party. Harper, who came to power with minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections and who finally won a majority government in 2011, is vying for a fourth consecutive term. He’ll do so as the global decline in oil prices and slowing Chinese demand take their toll on the Canadian economy, which contracted (narrowly) for each of the last five months.
Energy policy and the future of various pipeline projects (such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway and the more well-known Keystone XL) will be top issues in British Columbia and Alberta. Economic growth and a new provincial pension program will be more important in Ontario. Sovereignty and independence will, as usual, play a role in Québec — though not, perhaps, as much as in recent years.
In reality, the battle lines of the current election have been being drawn since April 2013, when the struggling center-left Liberal Party, thrust into third place in the 2011 elections, chose Justin Trudeau — the son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau of the 1970s and 1980s — as its fifth leader in a decade. Trudeau’s selection immediately pulled the Liberals back into first place in polls, as Liberals believed his pedigree, energy and sometimes bold positions (Trudeau backs the full legalization of marijuana use, for example) would restore their electoral fortunes.
Nevertheless, polls suggest* that two years of sniping from Harper about Trudeau’s youth and inexperience have taken their toll. The race today is a three-way tie and, since the late spring, it’s the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) that now claims the highest support, boosted from the NDP’s landslide upset in Alberta’s May provincial election. (*Éric Grenier, the self-styled Nate Silver of Canadian numbers-crunching, is running the CBC poll tracker in the 2015 election, but his ThreeHundredEight is an indispensable resource).
With the addition of 30 new ridings (raising the number of MPs in Ottawa from 308 to 338) and with the three parties so close in national polls, it’s hard to predict whether Canada will wake up on October 20 with another Tory government or a Liberal or NDP government. If no party wins a clear majority, Canada has far more experience with minority governments than with European-style coalition politics, and the Liberals and NDP have long resisted the temptation to unite.
Canadian government feels more British than American, in large part because its break with Great Britain was due more to evolution than revolution. Nevertheless, political campaigns have become more presidential-style in recent years, and the latest iteration of the Conservative Party (merged into existence in 2003) is imbued with a much more social conservative ethos than the older Progressive Conservative Party. The fact that polls are currently led by a left-of-center third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), also demonstrates that the Canadian electorate, which benefits from a single-payer health care system, is willing to shift more leftward than typical American electorates.
Provincial politics do not often portend changes in federal politics, but the 2015 election is proving to be influenced by political developments in Alberta, Ontario, Québec, Manitoba and elsewhere, and many provincial leaders have not been shy about voicing their opinions about federal developments — most notably Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. Continue reading In Depth: Canada’s general election→
In the United States, self-proclaimed ‘democratic socialist’ Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont running for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, has hit his stride this month — Politico proclaimed it a ‘socialist surge.’
Notwithstanding the thousands of supporters thronging to his campaign events across the country, Sanders holds a very slim chance of defeating against his opponent, former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
In Canada, however, it’s a different story.
The leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) has surged to a polling lead, giving its leader, Tom Mulcair, a legitimate chance to become Canada’s first NDP prime minister. Make no mistake, if the NDP wins Canada’s October election, it would be a huge milestone for the North American left.
ThreeHundredEight‘s June polling averages give the NDP a slight edge, with 32.6% to just 28.6% for prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and 26.3% for the Liberal Party. The NDP has a healthy lead in British Columbia and in Quebec, is essentially in a three-way tie in Ontario, leads the Liberals in Alberta and the prairie provinces (a Tory heartland) and leads the Tories in Atlantic Canada (the only remaining Liberal heartland).
On these numbers, the NDP could emerge as the largest party in the House of Commons, though probably not with an outright majority.
It is, of course, still early — the election is more than three months away. But it’s a remarkable reversal of fortune for a party that only recently languished in third place.
It’s an aphorism of Canadian politics that federal trends don’t extrapolate from provincial trends. But there’s no doubting that the election of Rachel Notley in May as Alberta’s premier has much to do with Mulcair’s recent good fortunes. Notley’s Alberta NDP displaced the Progressive Conservative Party after 44 years in power — and sent Jim Prentice, a Harper ally and former federal minister, who returned from private-sector life to lead Alberta’s ailing PC-led government, back into retirement.
Under the leadership of Jack Layton, the NDP made its first major breakthrough in the 2011 elections. With voters unenthusiastic about Michael Ignatieff’s leadership of the center-left Liberals and with Québec voters in particular tiring of the pro-independence Bloq québécois, the NDP won 103 seats, including 59 of Québec’s 75 ridings. It was enough to make the NDP, for the first time in Canadian history, the official opposition. Tragically, Layton died of cancer less than four months after the election, depriving the party of a figure whose personality and integrity were a key element of the so-called ‘orange crush.’
Mulcair, a moderate with aims of winning over moderate as well as progressive voters, won the leadership in March 2012, dispatching Brian Topp, his more leftist rival. A French Canadian who got his start in the rough and tumble of Québec’s local politics, Mulcair served for 13 years in the provincial assembly and won plaudits as the minister of environment from 2003 to 2006 under Liberal premier Jean Charest. Mulcair made the jump to federal politics during the 2007 election, easily winning a riding from Outremont.
With the Liberals stuck in rebuilding-mode, the NDP took the lead in many surveys throughout 2012. But with the election of Justin Trudeau as the new Liberal leader in early 2013, the NDP’s support tanked — to just barely above 20% in many polls. That’s essentially where Mulcair’s NDP remained for the rest of 2013, 2014 and early 2015. Continue reading NDP rises to lead as Canadian election approaches→
For the first time since 1935, Albertans will have a government that is led neither by the Progressive Conservative Party or by its socially conservative and agrarian predecessor, Social Credit — and in its place will be a social democratic government that will not be quite as friendly to the province’s oil industry.
Ironically, when the Progressive Conservative government was supposed to lose an election in Alberta in April 2012 to the upstart right-wing Wildrose Party, it actually won a landslide victory instead, delivering a mandate to then-premier Alison Redford. When the New Democratic Party of British Columbia was projected to win a victory in Alberta’s neighboring province of British Columbia, would-be NDP premier Adrian Dix actually lost seats to Liberal premier Christy Clark in the May 2013 provincial election.
Pollsters took their hits for both Alberta’s 2012 vote and British Columbia’s 2013 vote. But they were correct in Alberta’s 2015 election, which brought to an end a record 44-year streak in government for the center-right Progressive Conservative Party.
But instead of Wildrose, it was Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) that emerged victorious in a landslide ‘orange wave,’ validating late polls that gave the NDP a runaway win. It’s a staggering victory for a party that’s never held more than 16 seats in the province’s 87-seat legislative assembly.
It’s also a staggering victory for Rachel Notley, who’s served as the NDP leader only since October 2014, but whose father, Grant Notley, was a popular NDP leader between 1968 until his death in an airplane crash at the age of 45 in 1984. Notley’s death came just two years before his party became the official opposition for the first time in Alberta. Sharp-tongued and competent, Notley held her own in a leader’s debate last week, demonstrating to Albertan voters that she could be trusted as their next premier.
With oil prices still depressed at around $60 per barrel, Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice previewed a pre-election budget that called for tough spending cuts and income tax increases in response to an anticipated $5 billion deficit for the budget. His call for snap elections now seems like a moment of hubris for a new premier that returned to politics after four years in the private sector. The decision will push the Progressive Conservatives into third place, truncating Prentice’s potential premiership by a year.
Without a doubt, Prentice will become the first political victim of the massive drop in oil prices in the past nine months.
But Prentice had always based his career in federal politics as a minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, not in Albertan politics. By the time he returned, he was running at the head of a badly tarnished Progressive Conservative brand in the province after Redford was forced to resign amid scandals over the level of her spending as premier. After Redford and her predecessor Ed Stelmech seemed to pale in comparison to Ralph Klein, the 14-year premier, Prentice appeared like a return to form — especially after Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and eight other Wildrose MLAs crossed the aisle to join the PCs in support of the Prentice government. Smith, who failed to win re-nomination among the voters of her new party, will leave politics; her successor as Wildrose leader, Brian Jean, has surpassed Prentice’s PC to become the leader of the opposition. That’s an amazing result for a party that was written off as a zombie movement just months ago.
‘Grim Jim,’ as he became known in the final days of the campaign, had already conceded that Alberta is in store for a fiscal adjustment — voters decided, however, that they preferred Notley’s version to Prentice’s. Moreover, after 44 years, the damage to the PC brand in the post-Klein era was already done long before Prentice, a capable public servant, took the reins of government. Prentice, in brief remarks after the outcome, resigned not only as Progressive Conservative leader, but also as the newly elected MLA from the Calgary-Foothills constituency just minutes after Canadian news networks declared him the victor.
Notley’s NDA is expected to pursue slightly more progressive policies than the Progressive Conservatives, and they will still have to face a tricky budget deficit. With a plan to raise corporate taxes from 10% to just 12%, and with a plan to resurrect a royalty review (last enacted by Stelmech) to determine whether Alberta’s government should be entitled to a greater share of the province’s mineral wealth. In contrast to the rhetoric that painted Notley and the NDP as wild-eyed leftists, the plan is only marginally more progressive than the PC budget. Nevertheless, Notley will struggle to achieve a balance among placating business interests, raising revenues to plug the budget gap and stimulative spending as the oil-dominated economy stumbles. She’ll begin by facing a skeptical opposition, especially among Wildrose stalwarts, that believes there is still plenty of room to cut Alberta’s budget before raising taxes on corporations or individuals.
Everyone expected the NDP to do well in Edmonton, but in the tripartite nature of Albertan politics, polls as recently as 10 days ago showed that the Progressive Conservatives would hold ‘fortress Calgary’ and Wildrose would dominate in the rest of Alberta in largely rural constituencies. The reason that Notley will lead a majority government is due to the inroads that she was able to make against the PC in both Calgary and the rest of Alberta.
Notably, Notley’s opposition to the ‘Northern Gateway’ pipeline, the issue that tanked Dix’s hopes to lead an NDP government in British Columbia, didn’t harm her in Alberta. Onlookers in the United States will note that she’s ambivalent about the construction of the Keystone XL, too — while she doesn’t necessarily oppose its approval by the US government, she’s made clear that her government will not prioritize Keystone, instead focusing on the Energy East and other more feasible pipelines. Nevertheless, the promise of tighter scrutiny on the oil industry will mean a tougher regulatory environment.
Provincial politics, as a rule, are much different than Canadian federal politics, and provincial results don’t necessarily predict future national results. Prentice’s defeat is a minor blow to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who appointed Prentice as one of his top ministers until Prentice resigned from federal politics in 2010. Moreover, it leaves Newfoundland and Labrador as the only province with a Conservative or Progressive Conservative premier — and Paul Davis’s Tories are trailing by 20 to 30 points in polls as the September 2015 provincial election approaches.
It will certainly bring to an end speculation that Prentice could one day succeed Harper as the federal Conservative leader. Taken together with foreign secretary John Baird’s resignation in March, it’s good news, perhaps, for Peter MacKay, the justice minister and former defence minister.
But the NDP, which is now the official opposition at the national level, has fallen behind both Harper’s Tories and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party. So many provincial factors contributed to the NDP victory in Alberta, including a presumably wide swing from Alberta Liberal Party supporters to Notley, mean that you should draw with caution any conclusions from the Alberta election for the October federal vote.
The cardinal rule of political prognostication in Canada is that provincial results can provide no guarantee of future performance.
Nevertheless, Justin Trudeau must be feeling pretty good this week about the Liberal brand throughout Canada, after a strong Liberal victory in New Brunswick, the fourth consecutive Liberal triumph in provincial elections since Trudeau won the federal leadership in April 2013.
The New Brunswick victory follows a rout in Québec, where the Parti libéraldu Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) won April elections under the leadership of former health minister Philippe Couillard, after just 18 months in opposition. It also follows elections in Ontario, where the provincial Liberal Party won a fourth consecutive term and a majority government under premier Kathleen Wynne in June.
Those follow a landslide victory last October in Nova Scotia and a come-from-behind win by the incumbent Liberals under premier Christy Clark in British Columbia last May.
The Liberal Party last came to power in New Brunswick in 2006 when voters narrowly ousted two-term premier Bernard Lord, oft-mentioned in the early 2000s as a potential Conservative prime minister. But in 2010, voters turned against the Liberals and premier Shawn Graham after an ambitious four-year program designed to improve energy, education and health care.
On Monday, however, New Brunswick’s voters rejected the Progressive Conservatives and premier David Alward. Under the leadership of the 32-year-old Brian Gallant (pictured above), who was just two years old when Trudeau’s father, Liberal premier Pierre Trudeau, left office in 1984, the Liberals have now returned to power. Liberals gained 14 seats to hold a total of 27 in the province’s legislative assembly, to just 21 for the center-right Progressive Conservatives and one for the Green Party’s leader David Coon, a historic breakthrough for a party whose two members of the Canadian House of Commons come from British Columbia.
Gallant, who was predicted to win the September 22 election, despite polls showing a narrowing race in the days leading to the vote, promised to deliver more jobs and better roads and other provincial infrastructure.
All major parties, including the Liberals, supported the Energy East oil pipeline, which would link Albertan and Saskatchewan oil fields to Saint John, New Brunswick’s largest city on the southern coast along the Bay of Fundy. But while Alward vocally championed the development of shale gas exploration and ‘fracking’ within New Brunswick during the campaign, Gallant opposed fracking and, along with the Greens, supports a moratorium on fracking — for now. Continue reading Liberals dominate New Brunswick vote→