There will be no populist wave — for now — set to sweep Canada.
After flirting with the harshly anti-immigrant Kellie Leitch, reality television star Kevin O’Leary and Québec libertarian and party stalwart Maxime Bernier, Canada’s Conservative Party has elected a far more mild-mannered leader in Andrew Scheer, a genial 38-year-old MP from Saskatchewan.
Think of Scheer (pronounced ‘share’) as the love child of Brad Wall (the Saskatchewan premier) and Stephen Harper (the former prime minister), but with a better smile. An MP from Regina since 2004, Scheer is the first Conservative, Progressive Conservative or Canadian Alliance leader from the province since John Diefenbaker, prime minister from 1957 to 1963.
In a sense, Scheer is the smartest choice that Canada’s Tories could have made. He is an approachable and friendly Conservative who could serve as a relatively pragmatic foil to the popular Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau, whose still-high favorability ratings have slumped somewhat since his party’s landslide victory in the September 2015 election over the current budget, proposed alcohol tax increases and ongoing concerns about the state of the economy.
In Leitch, Canada’s conservatives might have tapped into a potent vein of economic anxiety and nationalist populism, though that has never traditionally been a style capable of winning a general election in Canada.
In O’Leary, at least before he dropped out, they might have tapped into a less vulgar version of Donald Trump — a novice and a showman with a fresh approach to Ottawa.
In Bernier, a former foreign minister, they might have tapped into a powerful new flavor of libertarian conservatism, from Francophone Canada, nonetheless, who was willing to put principle over surface-level popularity (as Bernier demonstrated time and again in his willingness to oppose the ‘supply management’ system that benefits dairy farmers, but which would also have lowered milk prices for consumers nationwide).
But in a country where ‘nice’ counts, and where Trudeau glided his way to power in no small part due to his novelty, youth and optimism, Scheer is perhaps the best-matched opponent to take on Trudeau in the next election, due sometime before October 2019. When Scheer moves into Stornoway, the official residence of the opposition leader in Ottawa, he will do so as a father of five children and fully seven years younger than Trudeau, an approachable and pragmatic prairie conservative with a telegenic family. It doesn’t hurt that Scheer grew up in Ottawa, and so he is at ease in both French and English (unlike several of his English-speaking competitors and unlike even Bernier, who speaks English with a heavy French accent). Continue reading Genial former speaker Scheer wins tight contest to lead Canadian Tories→
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.
If Kevin O’Leary has his way, Donald Trump won’t be the only public official who won power as a businessman-turned-reality TV star.
From the set of ABC’s Shark Tank — produced by Mark Burnett, who also brought Trump to the small screen with The Apprentice — O’Leary hopes to wage a campaign to bring his brusque ‘shark tank’ mindset to Canadian politics, first to the Conservative Party, then by bringing the fight to current prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Unlike Trump, however, O’Leary will at least be able to say that he’s won an Emmy.
After months of consideration, O’Leary three weeks ago entered the crowded race to lead the Tories. So far, he’s a shark who is making a splash.
O’Leary, the son of an Irish father and small businessman, got his big break in business as the founder of Softkey, a Canadian software producer, riding the wave of growth in the personal computer industry that began in the late 1980s and exploded in the 1990s. O’Leary’s financial empire, over the years, grew to include everything from investment management to physical storage services. But his real claim to fame lies as one of the stars of Dragon’s Den, a reality TV show that launched on CBC in 2006. On the show, O’Leary portrayed a no-nonsense venture capitalist judging the projects of various contestants. (Sound familiar?)
Wildly popular in Canada and, indeed, one of the most popular television programs in Canadian history, Burnett picked up the concept for American television in 2009 and turned the series into Shark Tank, where O’Leary continued to hold a leading role and quickly assumed the nickname ‘Mr. Wonderful.’
Less than a year into his tenure as the leader of the sovereigntist Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau abruptly stepped down on Monday, sending political shocks waves throughout Canada’s majority French-speaking province.
Four months after a sudden split with the wife he married in August, and now facing a custody battle over his children, Péladeau abruptly announced his resignation from the PQ leadership and from the provincial assembly, tearfully explaining that he had chosen to put his family before his ‘political project.’
Péladeau’s departure leaves the province without a full-time opposition leader, and the PQ’s troubles could cause voters to turn to an increasingly crowded field of nationalist alternatives. It’s just the latest setback for a party that’s suffered two tough decades after coming just 55,000 votes shy of winning Québec’s independence in 1995.
Jean Charest, premier for nine years as the leader of the centrist Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ, Liberal Party of Québec), sidelined the separatists for nearly a decade. For a while, the PQ fell to third place after the 2007 elections. The party’s leader at the time, André Boisclair, the first openly gay party leader in Canadian history, spent much of his leadership alienating the party’s rural, unionized base and fending off charges of drug use and financial malfeasance.
When voters finally gave the PQ a shot at governing in 2012, under Pauline Marois, the party immediately launched a needless effort to introduce the ill-named Charte de la laïcité (Québec Charter of Values), which served only to alienate recent immigrants to the province, especially Muslims, by purporting to ban religious headgear.
After Marois called early elections in a disastrous effort to win a majority government, voters instead turned back to the PLQ under its new leader, Philippe Couillard, a former provincial health minister. Marois quickly lost control over the debate when a new star recruit — Péladeau — stood on a campaign platform with Marois and, fist raised, started calling forQuébec’s independence. That forced Marois to respond to hypotheticals about a third referendum, whether an independent Québec would use the Canadian dollar and how borders would work between Canada and an independent Québec. The PQ dropped to its lowest total yet — barely over 25% of the vote.
Meanwhile, its sister party, the Bloc québécois (BQ), won less than 20% of the vote in the 2015 Canadian federal election, and its leader, Gilles Duceppe, resigned (again) after failing to win his own riding. Its 10 seats in Canada’s House of Commons is somewhat better than the four seats it won in the 2011 election, but the days when the BQ dominated the province’s representation in Ottawa now seem long gone.
After a needlessly long internal campaign, Péladeau emerged last spring as the easy winner of the PQ’s leadership election, and he defiantly vowed to make Québec a country. Almost immediately, however, Péladeau’s stumbles seem to outweigh his charms. He indulgently refused to sell the shares to Quebecor the media empire that his father once ran and that Péladeau himself ran until his decision to enter provincial politics. His business-friendly demeanor met with skepticism from the party’s left-wing members and union activists. Many of them left the PQ for the more stridently leftist and pro-independence Québec solidaire.
Meanwhile, Péladeau was never able to steal votes from the ‘soft’ nationalist, center-right Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), which dominates the vote in and around Québec City. Péladeau’s hardline calls to make Québec a country nearly guaranteed that the PQ would not be the beneficiary of the Couillard government’s growing unpopularity due, on doubt, to two years of spending cuts aimed to achieve a balanced budget. Though the most recent CROP poll from mid-April gave the Liberals just 33% support, the PQ drew just 26%, compared to 25% for the CAQ and 14% for Québec solidaire.
Having already announced the province’s 2016 budget in March, and basking in a Delta Airlines decision to buy 75 aircraft from local manufacturer Bombardier, it would not be the worst time for Couillard to call an early election.
In one sense, Péladeau’s resignation gives the party a fresh start as the province starts the countdown to new elections, to be held before October 2018. Under a long interim leadership, the PQ might continue to lose right-leaning supporters to the CAQ and left-leaning supporters to Québec solidaire. The next election will be François Legault’s third as the CAQ leader, and it will be Françoise David’s fourth as co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, and both remain incredibly popular.
But there was a sense that Péladeau’s victory last May was the last shot for the péquistes to regroup, with increasingly bilingual young voters and rising numbers of immigrants, in particular, rejecting any abrupt separation with Canada. Demographics just aren’t in the PQ’s favor, and its next leader will have none of the name recognition or star power that Péladeau, for all his faults, brought to the PQ leadership.
Alexandre Cloutier, a 38-year-old former minister and currently, shadow education secretary, ran second in last year’s PQ leadership race, and could provide a Trudeau-like appeal to younger voters.
Jean-Martin Aussant, who left the PQ in 2012 to form Option nationale, dedicated to a more impatient brand of Québécois sovereignty, and who flamed out of provincial politics, could return as a 21st century version ofJacques Parizeau, the fiery champion of the independence movement.
Bernard Drainville, who masterminded the Marois government’s push for the Charter of Values, is another possibility, as is Jean-François Lisée, who served as minister of international relations and trade under Marois.
No doubt, old-timers will hope that the 68-year-old Gilles Duceppe, the BQ leader from 1997 to 2011 (and again, briefly, in the leadup to the 2015 election) will attempt one more comeback for the separatist cause.
Even before Péladeau’s resignation, the PQ was already facing an existential problem as a party dedicated to independence in a province where the most separatist generation is literally dying out. In a country where even former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper can call Québec a ‘nation’ without any major blowback, and where its current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, comes from Montréal’s most storied political dynasty, the PQ’s raison d’être seems even more like yesterday’s cause. Neither Péladeau nor his successor is likely to pick a fight with Trudeau, massively popular in Québec just as much as the rest of Canada, over sovereignty.
No matter who the PQ chooses as its next leader, he or she will face difficult odds to convince Québec’s youth, its growing immigrant class and anglophones to support it as the chief alternative to Couillard’s Liberals in a political marketplace that’s more crowded with ‘nationalist’ parties than ever. In trying to be all things to all nationalists, the PQ risks its very extinction.
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→
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:
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→