Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Canadian Election

One result that surprised me a bit: the Conservatives winning a big majority. I was one who thought there would be little change in party standings (hah!) and when the NDP gained in the polls, I thought this might hurt the Conservatives to some extent, not only the Bloc Quebecois and Liberals.

Big surprises: the virtual destruction of the Bloc, and the reduction of the Liberals to 30 seats. I had a very sharp student in my class a few years ago who explained that in Quebec, it's never about left and right--it's about culture, language, etc. As a Canadian I would like to think that Quebeckers have rejected the sovereignty option. Maybe Jack Layton of the NDP got his big gains in Quebec by talking about trying to get Quebec to "sign on" to the Constitution--which was Brian Mulroney's major goal with his Meech Lake and Charlottetown initiatives to amend the Constitution. From an interview with Layton:

But beyond his own Quebec background, he spoke of how the NDP platform’s focus on hiring and training more family doctors, creating jobs and improving retirement security resonate in the province.

Layton even suggested that making progress on those sorts of issues might be the first step towards getting Quebec to sign the Constitution. “If we could be addressing those issues,” he said, “then we might find ourselves creating the conditions where we could come to that discussion about how to bring Quebec fully into the Canadian family.”

Beyond his core platform on economic and social policy, he defended the NDP’s proposal to extend French-language rights in Quebec to federally regulated industries. The NDP has drafted a bill that would amend the Canada Labour Code, which applies to sectors like interprovincial transportation, banking and telecommunications, to guarantee the right to work in French in those industries.

But Layton denied that would mean Ottawa effectively legislating against the use of English, the other official language. “That’s not what it’s about,” he said, describing the proposed law’s aim as “ensuring the rights of a French-speaking person to be able to work in that language.”

Issue are important. But polls indicate it was more Layton's personal appeal that made a difference.

There is already talk that the rise of the Harper-led Tories, and the decline of the Liberals, indicates that Canada is moving away from a brokerage system where the major parties are ideologically flexible, and ideological parties remain smaller, to a classic two-party system of left and right or something similar. The Liberals consciously chose to stay away from left/right and focus on process--they'd be better listeners, etc., and this was a complete failure. It does no good to run in the middle if voters don't think there is a middle. (A political science argument here).

Harper has done a brilliant job. He has exploited Liberal weaknesses. He understands the multi-cultural country that the Liberals built, and is better than they are at winning ethnic ridings. He picks conservative issues that "cross cut" across a number of demographic factors: low taxes, a focus on intact families, national defence and law and order as core government functions, in comparison to which many things are frills. He knows how to attract the evangelical vote without acting on abortion, capital punishment or same-sex marriage.

I saw a brief reference somewhere to an argument that the Liberals have experienced a very long-term decline--since Mackenzie King. I can't find it now.

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