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.
Technically speaking, Justin Trudeau belongs to Generation X.
But you’d be excused for mistaking him for a Millennial because Trudeau is, in essence, the world’s first Millennial leader.
Even his political enemies realize this. Preston Manning, who founded the Reform Party in 1987 (it eventually became the Western anchor of today’s Conservative Party), mocked the new Liberal prime minister and his state visit to Washington, D.C. last week:
In many respects he epitomizes the “it’s all about me” generation and its self-expression and promotion via social media. So let’s like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter – and while we’re at it, why not a selfie?
What the 73-year-old Manning, who once led his party to such a failure that it won fewer seats in the House of Commons than the pro-independence Bloc Québécois, doesn’t realize is that social media fluency in the politics of the 2010s is currency. It’s a feature, not a bug. (Just ask Donald Trump, who might single-handedly be reinvigorating Twitter as a medium for political communication).
While Trudeau, at 44, might be too old to be a Millennial as a technical matter, he certainly mastered the political vocabulary of young voters. Twenty years ago, younger Canadian voters might have viewed the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair as the kind of prudent, centrist leader that would make a superb prime minister. Not in 2015, when young voters swarmed to Trudeau in record numbers, to the dismay of both the NDP and Conservatives.
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.
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→
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→
Roughly speaking, there are three plausible outcomes from tonight’s Canadian federal election.
The first, increasingly likely (with a final Globe and Mail poll giving the center-left Liberal Party a lead of 39.1% to just 30.5 for the Conservative Party), is an outright Liberal majority government. It’s a prospect that no one would have expected a few days ago and certainly not when the campaign began with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau stuck in third place. But as the Liberals have pulled support from the New Democratic Party (NDP) and possibly even from the Conservatives in the final days of the campaign, they just might make it to the 170 seats they’ll need to form a government without external support.
The second, increasingly unlikely, is a Conservative win. No one expects prime minister Stephen Harper to win a majority government again nor anything close to the 166 seats he won in the 2011 election (when the number of House of Commons seats was just 308 and not yet the expanded 388). Under this scenario, Harper would boast the largest bloc of MPs, even though an anti-Harper majority of NDP and Liberal legislators would be ready to bring down Harper’s shaky minority government on any given issue. Despite a growing Liberal lead, there’s some uncertainty about the actual result. That’s because Canada’s election is really 338 separate contests all determined on a first-past-the-post basis. In suburban Ontario, throughout British Columbia and in much of Québec, where the NDP is most competitive, left-leaning voters could split between the NDP and the Liberals, giving the Conservatives a path to victory with a much smaller plurality of the vote. (In the waning days of the campaign, several groups have tried to urge strategic voting to make sure the anti-Harper forces coalesce on a riding-by-riding basis).
The safest prediction is still a Liberal minority. For a party that currently holds just 34 seats in the House of Commons after former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s 2011 disaster, a plausible increase of 100 seats would be a massive improvement, validating the Liberals’ decision to coronate Trudeau as the party’s last saving grace. Despite the NDP’s loss of support, it is still expected to have some resiliency in British Columbia and Québec. Getting to 170 from 34 might just be a step too far, but it’s certainly no failure if Trudeau falls short in just one election cycle.
What seems clear from the trajectory of Canada’s 42nd election campaign is that Canada’s two parties of the center-left easily attract in aggregate over 50% of the vote in national polling surveys. Together, their lead over the Conservatives isn’t even close. Over the past month, as the Liberals have gained support, it’s chiefly come at the expense of the NDP, which was winning many more of those centrist and left-leaning voters at the beginning of the campaign:
In a debate on foreign policy late last month, each of Canada’s would-be prime ministers parried over the Obama administration’s long-delayed decision not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Both of prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief opponents targeted his approach to defending the Keystone XL project, and opposition leader Thomas Mulcair snapped at Harper’s tone altogether:
“It’s an old saying that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Mulcair said. “You are pouring vinegar all over the Americans.” Harper said that he has worked “productively, overall” with Obama and the U.S. during his reign as prime minister.
But Keystone XL isn’t the only pipeline matter that the next Canadian government will face. It’s possibly not even the most important pipeline or even the most important issue as Canada prepares to join a crucial global summit on climate change regulations in Paris in November.
But for all the accomplishments of prime minister Stephen Harper in the past nine years (lower taxes, attempts at budget surpluses, aggressive pursuit of free trade agreements, a more relaxed attitude to federalism), it might be surprising that such an energy-friendly government of an Albertan prime minister who comes from a Conservative Party with deep roots in the Canadian west hasn’t overseen the full completion of any major pipeline projects.
But the next government will increasingly be faced with key decisions about whether to allow a handful of projects to proceed. Four major pipelines, in particular, have emerged in the campaign, some of which are more popular than others. While the Green Party is almost universally opposed to the projects and the Conservatives are almost universally supportive, each pipeline brings with it a bundle of environmental, economic and even cultural issues. In particular, the four pipelines have been an opportunity for the two center-left parties, Mulcair’s New Democratic Party (NDP) and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party to stake out contrasts against each other. Continue reading In Canada’s election, Keystone’s not the only controversial pipeline→
After leading the polls in July, August and much of September, the New Democratic Party (NDP) now seems likely to place third after next Monday’s election.
Much of the NDP’s fall is attributable to the corresponding rise of support for the Liberal Party under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, who spent much of the summer languishing in third place. Not so long ago, Mulcair appeared the favorite among Canadian voters to become the next prime minister. Today, however, polls suggest he will not only fall short of government, he’ll fall back from opposition leader to third-party status.
How did the NDP end up in such a strong position, as recently as a month ago, and how did it and its leader, Thomas Mulcair, squander such a historic opportunity?
Earlier this evening, I live-blogged the third debate among Canada’s major party leaders. It was the first French-language debate and the only one (so far) to include all five leaders: Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair, Green leader Elizabeth May and the pro-independence Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.
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→
For nearly two decades, the most dominant force in Québec politics was the Bloc québécois, a sidecar vehicle to the province-level Parti québéecois that has fought, more or less, for the French-speaking province’s independence for the better part of a half-century.
From 1993 until 2011, the BQ controlled nearly two-thirds of all of Québec’s ridings to the House of Commons. In the mid-1990s, with western and eastern conservatives split, and the Jean Chretién-era Liberal Party dominating national politics, the BQ held the second-highest number of seats in the House of Commons, making the sovereigntist caucus, technically speaking, the official opposition.
That all changed in the 2011 election, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) breakthrough made it the second-largest party in the House of Commons. It did so nationally by stealing votes from the Liberals, but it did so in Québec in particular by poaching votes from the Bloc, whose caucus shrank from 47 members to just four.
Moreover, as the BQ heads into October’s general election, its caucus has dwindled to just two seats, due to defections, and there’s a good chance that the party will be wiped out completely in 2015.
If it is, and the BQ époque firmly ends next month, it could send a chilling lesson to separatist movements throughout the developed world. Most especially, it’s a warning for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is riding so high today — the SNP controls a majority government in Scotland’s regional assembly and it won 56 out of the region’s 59 seats to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom’s May 2015 general election. But the lesson for the SNP (and other autonomist and separatist parties) may well be that there’s a limit to protest votes, especially if electorates believe that nationalist movements like the SNP or the Bloc can neither extract more concessions from national governments or take part in meaningful power-sharing at the national level.
The Bloc‘s collapse in the early 2010s might easily foretell the SNP’s collapse in the 2020s for exactly the same reasons.
The return three months ago of the Bloc‘s long-time former leader, Gilles Duceppe (pictured above), was supposed to restore the party’s fortunes. Instead, the 68-year-old Duceppe risks ending his political career with two humiliating defeats as the old and weary face of an independence movement that has little resonance with neither young and increasingly bilingual Quebeckers nor the deluge of immigrants to the province for whom neither French nor English is a first language. Some polls even show that Duceppe will lose a challenge to regain his own seat in the Montréal-based riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where voters preferred the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière in 2011.
Outliving its usefulness?
The BQ’s collapse at the national level holds important consequences for Canada’s federal politics. Without the Bloc‘s lock on one-sixth of the House of Commons, it becomes much easier to win a majority government. Even in the event of a hung parliament, though, assembling a majority coalition will still be easier for the three major parties, because none of the Conservatives, the Liberals or the NDP would risk forming a coalition with Québec MPs who want to leave Canada. More importantly, with the Bloc no longer holding so many ridings in Québec, Canada’s second-most populous province, it opened the way for the NDP’s rise in 2011. In retrospect, the NDP’s social democratic roots were always a natural fit for Québec’s chiefly left-of-center electorate. The NDP’s continued strength in Québec in the present campaign means that it is a serious contender to form the next government.
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→
Last week, Canadian officials announced that GDP contracted by 0.2% in May, the fifth consecutive decline in the country’s economic growth. If on September 1, statistics show a further decline for June’s GDP measurements and confirm the earlier 2015 data, Canada will officially be in recession — the generally accepted technical definition amounts to two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, recently cut the benchmark interest rate to 0.5% in July, and he may take further steps to loosen monetary policy if economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
For a prime minister seeking a fourth consecutive term in a general election on October 19, that presents a significant difficulty — and the economy will almost certainly loom large during the campaign’s first debate tonight.
Even if Canada doesn’t technically enter a recession during the election campaign, it will be an unwelcome distraction for a prime minister who in 2011 benefited from the perception that his government’s economic leadership saw Canada through the worst of the US-originated global financial crisis.
Now, both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair will be able to use the economy’s flagging performance as a weapon against Harper. In particular, Mulcair’s emphasis on creating jobs has boosted the NDP to a (very narrow) first place in polls. In May’s provincial elections in Alberta, Rachel Notley and the Alberta New Democrats rode a wave of voter dissatisfaction to end 44 years of consecutive Tory rule. The outgoing premier, Jim Prentice, only recently returned to politics after a prior stint as a Harper loyalist in federal government, became the first political victim of lower oil prices in energy-rich Alberta.
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→