Canadian Politics Update

To get a little pomo for a second, here’s me (quoting me) on October 16th:

Here’s what I wrote yesterday regarding the Liberals in Canada time out of power:

What all those scenarios have in common is that the left was fractured. What that means is that Canada is built so that the Liberals will always rule the country minus a scenario in which they are totally corrupt and/or lose their left flank.

From the NyTimes this morning:

But as the election post-mortems got under way on Wednesday, some Liberals were suggesting that the only way to take on Mr. Harper may be to adopt one of his own strategies. In the same way that Mr. Harper rebuilt right-of-center politics in Canada through political party mergers, some Liberals are now considering the idea of an alliance, formal or otherwise, between their centrist party and the left-of-center New Democratic Party, which is known as the N.D.P. and is led by Jack Layton.

And look what could be taking shape before our very eyes:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has temporarily stymied a Liberal plan to bring down the government and propose a governing coalition with the New Democrats, delaying the opportunity for a no-confidence vote by one week.

Now the cynic in me can not help but point to these two issues:

1. The separatists exist only to suck up taxpayer money and are pathetic (either grow a pair or you don’t get any, that’s how it works fellas)

The Bloc Québécois would not be part of any coalition government, but has expressed support for the idea as long as the coalition provides economic help for Quebec’s forest and manufacturing sectors.

2. Politicians can not rally to do anything in this country unless their tax-payer sponsored existences are on the line:

Also at issue was a proposal to save money by cutting public subsidies for political parties, but Kory Teneycke, director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office, said Friday that the subsidies won’t be tied to the fiscal update set for a vote on Monday.

That measure would cut the $1.95-per-vote each party gets to fund such things as staffing and research. Removal of the subsidies would harm the opposition parties more than the ruling Conservatives, who have been more successful at raising money privately.

This analysis however seems quite sharp:

Strangely, removing the political funding component of the bill actually helps the opposition maintain momentum. The Conservative argument that the attempt to bring down the government is about crass political advantage is removed. Now the three “progressive” parties can say with a straight face that this is about the government’s policy, not its dollars.

The coalition-to-be (possibly) is now going to rally hard around the notion of a fiscal stimulus….a la the US Democrats, trying to pin Harper as Bush/Reagan-like and out of touch on the economy in a worldwide mini-depression (deflationary recession period of worldwide stagflation). It could work I suppose.  But the Liberals I still believe have to think long term about governing as a party with a vision, not an ad hoc temporary power grab.

We just had the lowest turnout in recent memory in our election just 2 months ago, and the Liberals after having received their lowest percentage vote total since I believe Confederation (1860s) could be in power?  Honestly?  How does this not further corrode the political system?

Clearly Harper’s plan was buffoonish with only a minority government.  He may be past his prime already–his election call was wrong, the arts comment he made as well as the hardline punishment stance for juveniles both of which killed his chances for a majority in Quebec, and now this.

The Liberals, whether in a coalition with ministries for the NDP or not, could come back but boy oh boy would they be headed for a fiscal and governmental crash.  The only thing worse than a fractured left out of power might be a fractured left in power.

Skypecast: Canadian Post-Election Analysis (Audio Content)

canadian-election-pt1

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Scott and I got back together after a bit of a hiatus–it was good to get back–and discuss the results of the Canadian elections. Click the two links above for our conversation.

The analysis grows out of our respective articles at Culture11 which compared how Canadian conservatives may or may not provide a blueprint for the GOP to regain power.  Scott’s article hereMine here.  I nabbed the Canadian Flag pic’d above that accompanied our articles (and that I really dug with the blue on the Maple Leaf).**

We had a slight technical glitch, which was fun, you’ll hear.

Also towards the end as we are discussing conservative commentators, (I think) I referred to Kathleen Lopez, when I meant Kathryn Jean Lopez (K-Lo) from The Corner, author of the following brilliant kernel of wisdom:

Palin didn’t need Greek columns. People react to her because they believe she represents what the Greeks established.

So while I slipped on her name, I stand by my categorization of her work.

**For the Americans, in Canada (like Britain), the left is red and the right is blue, the reverse of the US.

Did Bill Bennett Just Endorse Me and Scott?

Bill Bennett writes:

We haven’t spent enough time here speaking about Stephen Harper and it’s a bit odd, frankly, now that I think about it…We ought to promote Stephen Harper more in this country, and learn from him.

You don’t say.  I have this feeling someone just wrote something on that very topic.  Oh yeah now I remember. Maybe here and here. [same site even].

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Contra Yglesias on Canadian Pol. System

Matthew Yglesias, who has something of a side fascination with Canadian politics (it shows periodically on his blog) has a post up today entitled the not-so-worthwhile canadian electoral system.  [I swiped the graph above from his post].

Now this is not a defense of the Canadian system, but I think Yglesias is focusing on the wrong element of what’s wrong with the system and is missing an important historical marker as to why this election (and the last one) played out the way they have.

Yglesias writes:

You’ll see that the three left of center parties (Liberals, NDP, and Greens) got between them 53 percent of the vote. Yet combined they have just 111 seats whereas the Conservatives got 145 seats with 37 percent of the vote. The Greens got 0 seats with 6.5 percent of the popular vote, while since the Bloc Québécois’ supporters are geographically concentrated they get 50 seats with just 8.5 percent of the vote. Basically, the distribution of political power has only a vague relationship to the underlying state of public opinion. If the 25 percent of the population that’s currently voting NDP or Green became more conservative and decided to vote Liberal, then political power would shift left…

The big winner from the Canadian electoral system is the Bloc Québécois. But the main problem with the system isn’t even that it’s unfair — the US Senate is horribly unfair — but that the system is incredibly unresponsive to shifts in voter sentiment or behavior.

Now I’m with him that the Bloc (and Quebec more generally) is the winner vis a vis this system.  But he’s missing a key element (structurally) as to why this is.  He almost gets it but not quite with his point about how the Bloc Queb. is “geographically concentrated.”

The way Yglesias puts it, it sounds as if any party would simply geographically concentrate, they would do similarly.  Except that the only reason this works relative to the Bloc is because of the gross over-distribution of the Parliamentary seats (given the history of the country) to Quebec and Ontario (#1) AND representation weighted towards rural over urban ridings (#2).

If there was a BC concentrated party, it wouldn’t be getting 50 seats because there aren’t 50 seats to be gotten out here.

There’s an argument to be made that with a multi-party parliamentary system, it would be preferrable to have proportional voting representation.  In which case, the kind of point Yglesias is making by using national numbers would have more valence.  But given it’s a geographic based system, then national vote totals are not per se the best indicator.  iow, I’m not sure his easy adding up of all the left parties versus the national vote total percentage of the Conservatives is particularly helpful in this regard.

I mean I could just as easily interpret the results to say that they were in fact quite responsive to the voter shift–which has been solidly towards the Conservatives for a few years now, at the expense of the Liberals.  That is, the left can’t agree–in which case it’s not really right to add them up as Yglesias has done–and the electorate is trusting the Conservatives to rule because of their party unity.  Remember when the Liberals dominated during the 90s and early 2000s, the Conservatives were split into two parties (I’ll return to that in a second).

But back to the geographic issue. The Conservatives only manage to get to where they are because they dominate in the rural areas.  Without the Bloc actually, the Conservatives would have a substantial majority currently–so the Bloc issue cuts both ways for conservatives and liberals.  Harper always has had to try to win Quebec plus rural Ontario, plus Western dominance (esp. Alberta).  See here.

If a proportional system–which would totally federalize whatever is left of any geographic/regional influence–were not the best option, then I imagine an expansion of the Parliament would be in order.

The other aspect Yglesias misses with his shot at the system is a historical one. Some background to help here.  In the 20th century, Canadian Conservatives only held power four times.  In the whole century.  List of Prime Ministers here.  [I’m fudging the numbers slightly by not counting say Joe Clark’s 10 month weird time in office].  Basically they are:  Robert Borden (1911-1921), Richard Bennett (1930-1935),  John Diefenbaker (1957-1963), and Brian Mulroney (1984-1993).  Add those years up and you get (10 +5 + 6 + 9=30).  (basically) 30 out of 100 years.  1/3 of the time roughly–during a century.

What all those scenarios have in common is that the left was fractured.  What that means is that Canada is built so that the Liberals will always rule the country minus a scenario in which they are totally corrupt and/or lose their left flank.

And guess what two scenarios are currently in play for the Liberals?  True to form:  1.  The Liberal Corruption under scandal that hit under Paul Martin  and 2. Splitting the left with a Carbon Tax and the Afghanistan War.

So maybe the system isn’t to blame at all, but just simply a fact that the Grits have fallen into the only trap in which they can lose in this country.

And if there is a systemic issue, it isn’t that the system is unresponsive per se–argued for via the in some ways (given the current context) arbitrary addition of all the left, e.g. The Greens for example are fiscally conservative–so should they be counted on the right?  The issue is the split between the rural/urban reality with the Liberals becoming the party of the urbs and the Conservatives the party of rural (and some suburban areas).  Two monkey wrenchs with regard to that system.  1. Quebec (Yglesias is right on that one)  and 2. The over-representation of rural ridings–in my mind the more important of the two.

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 9:51 am  Comments (1)  
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Canadian Elections Result

As a follow up on today’s Canadian elections, as I’ve been predicting to the chagrin of many a left-winger out here in BC, the Conservatives look to have gained an increased minority government. Harper’s cuts for the arts and his seeming to pull a mini-McCain (“the economy is fine”….5 days later, “here comes the pain, I’m the guy to get you through this”) might have cost them a Majority.  I was never totally convinced they were going to get one.  I figured that when the polling pointed towards them heading into Majority territory, a push back would come, which would be nowhere big enough to cost them loss in seats (they were still going to gain) just at the price of Majority territory.

The canary in the coal mine for the Liberals came in March of this year in my own riding (constituency) of Vancouver Quadra, where in a special by-election the Liberal candidate (in VANCOUVER!!!) Joyce Murray barely squeaked out a victory over the Conservative Deborah Meredith.  Eight months later, tonight is round 2,  and I wouldn’t be surprised if Meredith gets over the hump this time.

Yet again the Liberals in Canada have failed to learn the lesson of Drew Weston.  Party identification, then leader of party’s emotional connection/style/persona then candidate’s qualities (mostly around leadership), then policies, then facts about policies.  In that order.

Interestingly the only party on the left that got that are the New Democrats and Jack Layton.  They really cut into the Liberals.  Layton has shrewdly been pushing his crew to drop the “new” and just be The Democrats, so as (for party id/emotional connection) to align more with US Democrats.

AND when putting a policy forward–like I don’t know say A CARBON TAX–you have to use words that have deep positive connective emotional resonance.  Not like say a Carbon Tax.  Or Green Shift.  WTF is that?

Update I: (Morning After).  Results are in out here and I was wrong about one thing–Joyce Murray (the Liberal candidate and incumbent in my riding) pulled out a bigger win than her 150 vote one in March.

Canadian Election Linking

The place to go for your Canadian Election Blogging Fix is none other than Skypecast partner Scott over at PoliticsofScrabble. [Bonus:  He has a nifty new site redesign to add to your viewing pleasure].

You could do worse than start with this post.

For the Americans, yes elections have been called in Canada to take place in October.  There are no lipstick on pigs.  Or pigsticks on lips for that matter, in the discussion.

If you want to see some soft-Americanization of Canadian tv ads, check this out:

I trust that PM Harper is sincerely a great dad and loves his family.  I’ve read a couple of Harper bios that show a lifelong pattern of strong family care.  Good on him for that.  All the respect in the world.  But what does that have to do with him being an effective PM or not?  Then again, politics is cognitive policy more than material in many cases.

Update I:

Speaking of Harper as a family man, does give me an excuse to link to this Rick Mercer Report [he’s the Canadian Stephen Colbert]

Published in: on September 12, 2008 at 10:27 am  Comments (2)  
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Canada’s Soft Power

Stronger than the US’ weak-kneed response to Saudi dictatorship?:

The North American media have widely publicized the case of the Saudi Arabian woman sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. Her “crime” was being gang-raped by seven Saudi men, and then having the gall to go to the press. This is clearly one of the most blatant violations of human rights imaginable by a government against one of its own citizens.

The Canadian government says it will lodge a formal protest with the Saudis, and Josee Verner, the Canadian minister responsible for the status of women, has rightly denounced the Saudi court ruling as “barbaric.”

The United States, on the other hand, has thus far offered a shamefully tepid response, not wanting to offend our authoritarian ally in the “war on terror” and hoping to entice the Saudis to attend the Annapolis Arab-Israeli peace summit. Sounding more like an apologist for the Saudis than a spokesman for the United States, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack observed, “This is a part of a judicial procedure overseas in the court of a sovereign country.” He then gave the mildest possible rebuke to the Saudis: “That said, most would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens.”

The author’s (Pierre Atlas) analysis:

Canada has long been held in high esteem internationally. While many people around the world have a love-hate relationship with the United States, Canada tends to inspire only positive feelings. This is in part because Canada never had the burden of superpower responsibilities during the Cold War and, thanks to the American nuclear umbrella, it was able to “free ride” on security and devote much of its resources and attention to “non-strategic” global issues like international humanitarian law, peacekeeping, and development in the Third World. Rather than focusing inward, Canada long ago made the deliberate choice to pursue its values internationally, under both Tory and Liberal governments.

The widening gap, under President Bush’s tenure, between America’s own laudable values and its actions has undermined our international standing. This in turn handicaps any efforts to win hearts and minds in the “war on terror.” Perhaps it is time that the United States takes a few pages from Canada’s playbook. America, and the world, would be the better for it.

Published in: on November 24, 2007 at 11:02 am  Comments (1)  
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