On the Canadian Election: PARTY TIME
Posted September 7, 2008on:
Now that the election has been called, let’s get to the meat of the matter. This post is about the history of the Canadian federal parties.
1. The Parties and their places on the traditional political spectrum (links on titles go to party pages)
Current leader: Stephen Harper (outgoing Prime Minister) (you can follow him on twitter)
Place on the spectrum: right of centre
Key policy categories: sovereignty, leadership, environment, health care, lower taxes, child care, tackling crime, accountability.
Current Leader: Elizabeth May
Place on the spectrum: probably left of centre
Key policy categories: ecological wisdom, non-violence, social justice, participatory democracy, sustainability, respect for diversity.
Author’s Note: although the Green Party has never had an elected member of Parliament, they command a significant number of votes (but not in sufficient concentration to get a seat). Recently, a member of the Liberal party joined the Greens.
Current leader: Stephane Dion
Place on the spectrum: fluctuates; slightly left or right of centre depending on leadership and the issues of the day.
Key Policy categories: vaguely: leadership, economy, green shift (I think – that’s all I could find on the website)
Current leader: Jack Layton (you can follow him on twitter)
Place on the spectrum: left.
Key policy categories: investing in children’s early years, cleaner environment, tackling global warming, affordable education/training, forestry industry renewal, improving public health care, fair immigration, manufacturing crisis, poverty.
There are, of course, innumerable other, smaller parties, but these are the main ones that all of Canada can vote for. And then there’s one more:
(because they only campaign in Quebec, the website is in French only)
Current leader: Gilles Duceppe
Place on the spectrum: Left of centre? Generally they’re viewed as a one-issue party, but share some values with social democrats.
Key policy categories: generally put, they have a history of wanting sovereignty/independence for the province of Quebec; they stand for defending the history, points of view, rights and interests of Quebec and its residents.
Author’s note: The BQ doesn’t matter so much in terms of actually forming a government; they only campaign in Quebec so as I noted in the previous post the highest number of seats they could get is 75. However if they won all those seats, they could become the Official Opposition. More on this later.
So wow. That’s a bit of a clusterfuck isn’t it?
2. How did we get here?
For a long time, we trundled along quite merrily with two parties: Liberal and Conservative (note, these are the only two parties who have ever formed governments). In the 1950s, a group in the praries started a merge of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation; they became The New Party. Their grassroots attitude gathered enough votes to help force Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals into a minority government situation. They moved the motion that brought down Joe Clark’s Conservative government and later on supported Trudeau in bringing the Constitution home.
And we trundled along, again quite merrily for a number of years with 3 parties.
In 1986, there was a little conference in Vancouver on Canada’s Economic and Political Future. The next year, the Reform Party was launched as a voice for Western Canada. Like the NDP, they were grassroots and populist, but sat somewhat more right of centre than the conservatives.
In 1991, the Bloc Quebecois was formed as a response to the failure of Ottawa to deal with Quebecois identity (See: Meech Lake). They run only in Quebec.
(There is a point to this)
Following the failure of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, the 1993 elections marked a turning point in Canadian politics. The Tories (Conservatives) imploded and exploded simultaneously under Kim Campbell, especially after the Chretien attack ads. They went from 169 seats down to 2.
At the same time, the Reform Party gained 52 seats, 51 of which were in the west, and the Bloc Quebecois (running only in Quebec) gained 54. The Liberals under Jean Chretien won 177 seats. 9 seats went to the NDP.
Under Canadian law, the party with the most seats after the party that forms a majority government becomes Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. But what do you do when a party that only represents one province wins the required number of seats, especially when its only 2 seats more than the third-place party?
Well, you invite the leader of the third-place party to live in Stornoway (residence of the leader of the official opposition), but you make the second-place party the official opposition (loyal is another matter entirely). This is a typically Canadian response to such a situation. By and large, the Reform party was allowed as much time during question period as the BQ and received almost similar funding.
What happened was Ottawa sat up and took notice, not only of Quebec, but of the idea that the West Wanted In. The technical term for the split is regionalism.
In 1997, Reform became the Official Opposition. In 2000, Reform was disbanded and became the Canadian Alliance; in 2003, the Canadian Alliance merged with the Conservative Party to become Canada’s New Conservatives. Stephen Harper was elected leader in 2004, and formed a minority government in 2006.
Meanwhile, the Liberals had been plagued with issues of their own. Long-time leader Jean Chretien resigned from politics; his successor was Paul Martin, the former Minister of Finance – somewhat popular, but he was under pressure from the federal Sponsorship Scandal. The Liberals formed a minority government in 2004, and were forced to water down their speech from the throne in order to stay in power. On November 28, 2005, the Liberals lost key support from the NDP and the government fell. The Governor General issued election writs for January 23, 2006.
Martin resigned party leadership shortly after, and Stephane Dion became the new leader after winning against Michael Ignatieff in a run-off ballot.
Author’s Opinion: Why the minority Liberal and Conservative governments? I think its simpler than people realize. Canadians were sick of scandal and gave Martin a chance to revamp the party. All of the other parties had reworked themselves and gotten rid of the old guard. The Liberal party did not do that, and has not done that – Dion is still a member of the old guard. The Liberals would do well to have a different leadership.
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