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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Monday, May 9, 2011

ELECTION NIGHT IN CANADA 2011/SOIRÉE ÉLECTORALE AU CANADA 2011





Over the weekend many places in the United States celebrated Cinco de Mayo, a holiday in Mexico commemorating the 1862 Battle of Pueblo where the Mexican Army defeated the French Army.

I think the best way to celebrate this holiday is to discuss the recent Canadian Federal Election that took place last week.


While the United States was having a collective celebration over the death of Osama Bin Laden, Canadians went to the polls to decide who was going to lead their government. The 2008 election, which was a snap election, resulted in a third consecutive minority government and the second for the Conservatives led by Steven Harper, the Prime Minister.

After the 2008 election, despite being the previous Prime Minister and obtaining the most seats in that election, Stephen Harper found difficulty forming a government. Smaller parties were seeking to form their own coalition to counter the Conservative voting Bloc on Parliament Hill in Ottawa by voting on a motion of no-confidence in the government.


Canadians were disappointed that Steven Harper had requested to Governor General Michaëlle Jean the prorogation of Parliament in order to delay the no-confidence vote and retain his position as Prime Minister.

In January 2010, Prime Minister Harper requested another prorogation; this time to use it for Parliament members to discuss the economy with their constituents in their ridings and for the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, Canadians were highly suspect of this prorogation. Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale accused the Prime Minister of using the prorogation to stifle hearings concerning the government’s actions during the War in Afghanistan of the treatment of Afghan detainees while under the jurisdiction of Canadian forces and whether abuse happened before or after the transfer of detainees to Afghan forces.

Citizens across Canada took to the streets to protest the prorogation calling for the Prime Minister to put Parliament back to work. This also reignited the discussion of Parliamentary reform among political observers and some members of Parliament.


In a two week period, the Conservative Party saw their rating plummet 15 points to where they were in a tie with the Liberals. Satirist Rick Mercer commented on the Conservatives sudden drop in the polls:

For the first time in a very long time the Liberals and the Tories are essentially tied, well at least they're within the margin of error. Now polls never tell the full story but this much is certain: whenever the party in power drops 15 points in 15 days, you can be assured of one thing- someone in charge just did something really stupid.

Upon the return from the proroguing, the Liberal, Bloc Québécois, and New Democratic Party (NDP) MPs formed together to pass NDP Leader Jack Layton’s motion that would prevent the Prime Minister from proroguing Parliament for more than seven days unless it was supported by the House of Commons. The non-binding motion passed by a slim vote of 139-135 on 17 March 2010. A few days later, the minority parties used their strength to require that the Prime Minister seek approval from the Commons prior to asking the Governor General to end a Parliamentary session.

In 2011, a budget conflict between the Harper Government and the other parties plus charges from Election Canada that the Conservative Party had violated Federal Campaign Laws back during the 2006 Election. Hearings regarding these allegations caused the deadlocking of several committees during the 39th Canadian Parliament and resulted in the call for an election in 2008.

The violation stems from that each party and a riding candidate has a spending limit under Canada’s Election rules so that each party and candidate can compete on a level playing field. The national party has a CAN$18.3 million (US$18.9 million) advertising limit while a candidate has a CAN$80,000 (US$82,764.33) spending limit. When the federal party was close to reaching their advertising limit, they redistributed the funds down to 67 candidates who have not reached their spending limit. In return the candidate would return the money to the national party claiming that they were purchasing advertisements. What drew the attention from Election Canada officials was that the ads down at the riding level were VERY similar to the ads at the national level.

In addition, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken charged the Cabinet with contempt of Parliament due to its continued refusal to meet the opposition’s requests for the details and cost estimates of proposed bills. A committee was formed and found that the government was in contempt, a first in Canadian history.

Upon the announcement of the report, leader of the opposition and Liberal Party Michael Ignatieff proposed a motion of no confidence against the Harper Government. The result of the no confidence motion….


passed 156-145.

The next day Prime Minister Harper made this announcement:


Canada…. It was time for some campaignin’….


(I had to insert an American political clip because I am certain you need a brief break from Canadian politics.)

Followed by an election…

Pundits predicted that Harper was going to maintain the Office of Prime Minister, the question was would the electorate vote another minority government or reward the Conservatives with a majority.

No one expected this result:


I do not think it was that much as surprise that the Conservatives were going to win, but they ALSO obtained a majority government.

The story from this election will be the surge of the NDP.

CANADA 2011
DISSOLVE
NEW
CHANGE
CON
143
167
+24
LIB
77
34
-43
NDP
36
102
+66
BQ
47
4
-43
GREEN
0
1
+1

As shown in the graphs above the NDP began the election season five points down to the Liberals in polling. However, as the campaign wore on, the NDP began a surge from 12 April that took them to the role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

It just happened that the two debates were around the same time that the NDP surge began.



In the first debate, spoken in English, the party leaders discussed concerns about the economy, tax breaks for the wealthy, the possible increased privatization of Canadian Medicare by a Conservative government, defence spending, gun control, multiculturalism and immigration, and the occasional discussion about Québec sovereignty.

(Hmmmm..... sounds like what is going on here in the states)

The one thing I noticed in that debate is that despite the accusations of corruption and planned budget cuts, Stephen Harper stayed calm. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff did not present his case well for why the election was being called in the first place because it was him who presented the no-confidence motion. Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe proved that his party was a special interest party and really had no interest in the role of governing Canada. Which finally brings me to NDP leader Jack Layton....

The result from this election shows that there exists realignment in what it means to identify with the left in Canada. Of the NDP’s 68 total gains, 17 were from seats held by the Liberal Party. Jack Layton was a better spokesperson for his party and their policies than Ignatieff was and it translated to success down ballot. Another theory that I would support (and if I had a tad more time to prove it....) would be that the NDP ran better candidates down ballot.

I am certain that if Canadians had a choice for opposition leader they would be satisfied with Layton and a high number of seats in that role instead of a collection of smaller parties as had been the case since the Conservatives took control of the Commons in 2006. The only time that the parties united was in opposition to the Prime Minister proroguing Parliament. Other than that, there was not a consistent united opposition.

Compared to the UK General Election which took place around this time last year which proved that Gordon Brown was an absolute twit especially on the campaign trail was a referendum on the Labour Party, the Liberals hoped that this the electorate was to support their no confidence motion. Instead the electorate interpreted this election as whether Canada was going to continue with a minority government or one party was going to gain enough seats for a majority so that the government can function. The electorate chose the latter.

I am also certain that Jack Layton and the NDP learned a lesson from Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats over in the United Kingdom. At the start of the United Kingdom general election which took place around this time last year, it appeared that the Lib-Dems were poised to come close to second place if not becoming the Official Opposition. The momentum clearly did not manifest itself and instead of being in the opposition, the Lib-Dems formed a coalition with the Conservatives giving the keys to 10 Downing to David Cameron.

And now I will conclude this analysis with the U.S. connection.



The NDP made their largest gains in eastern Canada, specifically Québec. The debate of Québec sovereignty is as old as Canada itself when the province was discovered by the French in 1534. In more contemporary times, modern Québec sovereignty traces its roots to the 1960s during The Quiet Revolution where reforms took place such as the transition of the social services of health care and education from the Roman Catholic Church over to the provincial government. It also led to the rise of Québec nationalism and various separatist parties forming.

The Bloc Québécois party united the various separatist parties in 1991, became the official opposition in the 1993 General Election, and placed a ballot referendum in 1995 asking Québécois if they should become a sovereign nation. Obviously, the measure failed, but by a narrow result: 50.6%-49.4 Non.


In Québec, the NDP made their largest gains out of all the provinces. Of their 68 total gains, 44 were from seats held by Bloc, the largest gain by any party in the election. As stated before, the Bloc never really had an interest in governance and it appears that Québec sovereignty has become passé.

Prior to the general election, it was expected that the NDP was going to do well... possibly come in a close second with the Liberals, but to nearly triple their membership in the House of Commons was unexpected.

NOW.... my U.S. connection...

I am reminded of the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election with how well the NDP did in the 2011 Canadian Election. Even though then-Senator Obama won the Electoral College 365-173, there were some places where he did better than expected. Indiana and North Carolina were surprises. Virginia went for a Democrat for the first time since 1964. Obama took advantage of Nebraska’s Electoral College rules and won the state’s 2nd Congressional District by 3,313 votes (equates to about 1%).

Even though McCain won these states, Missouri was so close that it wasn’t called until days after the election. Georgia was close to toss up status in some predictions as the election got closer, but it is more of a case of what-could-have-been on the part of a lot of events (What if McCain didn’t choose Palin as a running mate? What if the Obama campaign dedicated more time in Georgia?)

The big surprise from 2008 was Montana.

Yes.... Montana

Even though McCain won the state, it was by an unexpected result: 49.5-47.3. In fact, some McCain strategists did not think that the state matter. That was until Obama continued campaigning there due to the lengthy Democratic Primary Election that last until the Denver Convention. During the fall Presidential Campaign, a small number of polls had Obama narrowly pulling off victory in Montana.

Why was Montana a huge deal? In 2004, George W. Bush won the state by over 20 points. You do not see those kinds of dramatic swings from one Presidential election to the next. In order to make up that kind of margin, it takes a combination of the right candidates on the ballot, messaging, time, and money (emphasis on money of course).

Now.... Montana... Québec.... what does this have to do with anything?


Again, most of the NDP’s victory was in Québec. Much like what Obama did in 2008, the NDP did the same in 2011: they crafted a strategy of expanding the map as their plan to electoral victory. The NDP shattered the pre-conceived notion that Québec was a Bloc stronghold. Now that the NDP has done this, the Conservatives and Liberals may look to duplicate their success. This election, by the voters in Québec, rejected the Bloc. Their party is done. I would not expect them to reach more than 10 seats in the Commons.

So, the conclusion....

The Bloc Québécois is done. They will bond with the other minor parties in Parliament and that is about it. Their relevancy in Canadian politics has come and gone.

Whenever a major party suffers a huge electoral defeat, like the Liberals did, it is at a crossroads. They can fade away into irrelevancy like the U.S. Whigs did in 1850s or move from the center and to the core base of the party like the Republicans did after the 2008 election. The recovery of the Liberal Party in Canada has made some changes that could set it up for success in the future. For instance, Michael Ignatieff losing in his riding was a blessing in disguise for the party. He was not effective in selling his party’s message in the general election. In order to find someone who can do that, the Liberal caucus must select a leader who can do that if they are to become relevant again or they will remain third-party status for a long time.

For now, the Canadian electorate gave Stephen Harper a majority government to operate with. Even though it will be a working government unlike the last five years since he became Prime Minister, the question remains to be seen if it will be a government that is beneficial for the people.

Meanwhile, Jack Layton and the NDP have to find a way to continue this movement. Canadian political observers have cited that this election could foster an era of a two-party system in their country. In the next election (whenever it is called, the absolute latest it can occur is 19 October 2015), the NDP will have more seats to defend this time around. In the recent election, the NDP gained 6 seats from Conservatives compared to losing 2 to them.

It is too soon to speculate if the NDP becomes the majority at the next election, but if they continue their strategy of expanding the map and recruiting candidates to sell their message to the voters, then anything is possible.

And, just like in United States and I am sure this is true in Canada; there is this adage in political observation:

Anything and everything CAN change in an instant.

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