A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Caretaker Government, Canadian Election Analysis

I’ve already had calls and messages asking for my opinion on yesterday’s Canadian Federal Election.
There is a lot to absorb and much to discuss. So here goes. I’ll do my best to put it in the following categories; 1. The Results, 2. What happened and what it means, 3. Things to look out for, and 4. What I think may happen, my predictions if you like.

The Results

On the strength of seats in every province the Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, with just over 36 per cent of the popular vote, and just over 124 seats in parliament, won a minority government.
The Liberals, who had been in power about 13 years, the last 18 months with a minority, came in second with just over the 35 percent of the popular vote and just over 103 seats. Their leader, Paul Martin, announced he would be resigning as leader but remaining in the house.
The Bloc Quebecois, led by Gilles Duceppe, lost ground in Quebec, mostly to the Conservatives, but still put in a strong performance winning 51 seats, netting over 40 per cent of the Quebec popular vote, over 10 per cent of the national popular vote and a majority of the seats in Quebec.
The NDP were quite successful, earning more than 17 per cent of the popular vote and increasing their number of seats by 10, to 29. They were shut out in Quebec but did well in Toronto and British Columbia.
One independent was elected, a popular radio show host from Quebec, and the Greens had the worst night of the bunch, losing a couple percentile of the popular vote and electing none.

What happened and what it means

Canadians have elected a “caretaker” government.
From some of the blogs and other nonsense I’ve been hearing and reading, especially from ex-pats in the states, right wing groups, and even the BBC! you’d think Canada had just voted in a hard right government and were about to cozy up good and tight to the Americans and start slashing and burning social programs.
That’s not what happened!
In the end this election had two overriding influences.
The first was a sincere desire amongst the Canadian voting public to pull down the collective Liberal trousers and spank their bare bums with the business end of a hockey stick. That element was there from the moment the election was called.
Later, another factor had equal influence, that was the STOP HARPER backlash, which sent large numbers of voters to both the Liberals and the NDP.
Underwriting the election were three major issues; healthcare, corruption and Canadian American relations, in that order.
Other major influences included: Canada’s armed forces, law and order, and taxes.
Harper and the Conservatives, who are clearly right of center, were handed a minority government in a parliament where the majority of sitting members are either centrist or center-left. As a result, if the Conservative hope to pass anything but the most mundane and innocuous legislation, they will have to soften their positions on many issues, especially where health care, day care, and taxation policies are concerned.

Things to look out for

Budget time will be very interesting for his government.
Harper will have to relent on his plan to chop the Liberal’s daycare program. He has stated he wants to give every family $100 a month for every child under six. This plan is meant to replace any previously legislated daycare program. It means he would be cutting funding to the wildly successful universal daycare system now operating in Quebec. There is no way the Bloc will accept that, and they will have strong support from the NDP and the Liberals, who funded the program to begin with. If the Conservatives do allow the Quebec program to continue, then they will have to deal with the other provinces who will undoubtedly be lining up for daycare systems of their own, or financial compensation of some sort. A national daycare plan is actually a possibility, remember, it was the Conservative in a minority government who made Canada’s national healthcare system a reality, although it was a CCF, the forerunner of the NDP, motion.
Another program much ballyhooed by Harper during the election was his plan to cut the GST. The Liberals oppose this idea for economic reasons, and neither the Bloc nor the NDP are likely to go along with it unless it is accompanied by some sort of break for middle and low income families. Look for his opponents to demand a raise in the personal exemption, no new taxes, and maybe even increases to federal provincial transfer payments. Healthcare issues may also be used as bargaining chips before the Harper can get a positive vote on this issue.
Some policies are going to be easy and represent what little common ground the outnumbered Conservatives have with the opposition parties.
There should be no problem passing a government corruption bill, although it may wind up more closely resembling former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent’s plan than the current Conservative plan.
Our Armed Forces should also get a good shot in the arm, but their may be some hot debate about exactly what our role should be in places like Afghanistan before Harper is provided much leeway on the issue.
Expect fast action on healthcare, particularly where wait times are concerned. It will mean quick points for the Conservatives if they can get a deal done, and the opposition is unlikely to resist any positive step on this issue.
Don’t expect Harper to cozy up too close to the Bush administration. Bush is wildly unpopular in this country and his current popularity at home isn’t so hot either. Expect Harper, superficially at least, to take a well orchestrated hardline with the Americans on the softwood lumber issue. It is possible the US administration will do something to try to resolve the issue, as an olive branch, but don’t bet on it. Watch for the opposition to take issue with any sign of buddy-buddy between Bush and the new Prime Minister. Dissing American politicians is Canada’s second national sport, Harper isn’t going to want to put the stars and stripes on just yet.
Kyoto and the environment are not going to play a big role in this next parliament, except perhaps as a bargaining chip. Look for the opposition to demand some sort of action on the Kyoto Accord, but also look for them to make deal to shut up about it.
Another area where Harper and his opponents may find common ground is education. Although the Conservatives are far apart from the other parties on the issue, they know they will have to do something in this arena if they hope to have support in the house for some of their tax ideas.
Harper’s main fight will be with his opponents. I don’t believe what some wingers are suggesting, that the Conservatives will make a deal with the Bloc. First of all the two parties are not even close when it comes to policy, and neither party really wants to, or can afford, to give the other any more limelight than they absolutely have to. The Bloc does not want to encourage the Tory break through in Quebec, and the Tories know they’ve bled as much Liberal support as they are likely going to get.
His second, and perhaps more seditious opponent, will be the factions in his own party. He’s really going to need one hundred per cent support. Any more defections to the Liberals, or anywhere else, could be fatal. Its going to be difficult to soothe the far right of his party while the rest of parliament is forcing him to bend, even contort, on issues dear to their hearts, like US-Canada relations, gun control, abortion, tax cuts, the military and gay marriage. Look for the center of his party to be prominent in his cabinet, which may also tick off his wing.
Mr. Harper has some serious stress coming into his life. Will he rise to the challenge?
We’ll see.

Things to Look Out For - Predictions

Uncommon Ground!
For the first few months this parliament will resemble an evening out in polite company. A few bills will float through the house and much ado will be made about “cooperation” and “parliament working.”
It won’t last long.
The Liberals, once they get settled in their new seats, will begin to exploit the differences in vision between the Conservatives and the rest of parliament. Once they elect a new leader, and get their boat fixed, look for them to grow steadily more antagonistic. They’re also unlikely to get all that friendly with the other opposition parties, who largely benefitted from the aforementioned spanking.
Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are going to want to be seen cooperating to closely with either the NDP or the Bloc. In turn, those parties are going to be looking to secure their support among their constituencies. If they are seen to be laying down and letting the Conservatives or the Liberals do all the talking, they’re going to lose support. On the flip side, to start, all the parties are going to try to look cooperative, but it won’t be long before the knives will have to be unsheathed. The problem for the NDP and Bloc will be a multi-front fight for air time.
Things will be pleasant for three to six months and then the threads will begin to fray. By time the Liberals hold their leadership convention in the Fall the rhetoric will have changed. The peace bond will likely be broken shortly after that.
Watch for the Liberal convention, it will be a good one. Expect Belinda Stronach to come out the winner, for several reasons. First, the party will be looking for a fresh face, one not tainted by the scandals of the two previous parliaments under Chretien then Martin. Expect disaffected former Conservatives Scott Bryson and Kieth Martin to play prominent roles. Rule out the old guard, John Manning et all. The party is looking to move on. Stronach strongest challenge will come from old guard like Newfoundlander Chuck Tobin, and current US Ambassador, will be seen as too closely tied to the old guard. Stronach, a Conservative refugee, will be seen as having no ties to the past. She also has good US relations, mostly tied to the Clinton era, so she’s not seen as to pro-Bush but US friendly, which is something the Liberals are going to need if they hope to take the middle ground. Stronach also has a war chest the other candidates will be unlikely to equal. Fact is, she’s rich enough to finance a campaign from her own piggy bank. She’s also a woman, and that may well be her biggest ace in the hole when it comes to battling Harper, who is not seen as all that “woman-friendly.”
Electing Stronach as their leader would put the Liberal party right square in the middle of the road, with their wing tips sticking far enough to the right to actually take a gash out of the Conservatives. Her left wing may be a little weak, but she’ll cure that if she can draw a few prominent left leaners to her side.
The NDP are going to struggle in this parliament, depending on how successful the Liberals are at drawing a clear line between their platform and Conservative policy. If the Liberals succeed in that endeavour, watch for NDP fortunes to sag. They won’t be destroyed but they’re on the crest of their wave right now. Barring a major fiasco, or a complete breakdown in the social safety net, the NDP are on a down shift.
Fortunes for the Bloc Quebecois will depend entirely one how much Harper bends. If he axes the daycare funding the Bloc will become the kings of Quebec. On the flip side, if Harper manages to bail out Healthcare and give Quebec most of what it asks for, then the Bloc will begin a slow march back into political obscurity.
Watch for slow bleeding of Conservative unity as factions begin to battle for position. Those fractures may begin as early as the cabinet is announced, but its unlikely they’ll manifest until the opposition turns up the heat.
The Greens are in trouble. Yes, they’ll eventually get back the votes they lost to the “STOP HARPER” backlash, but in the meantime their piggy bank has been shrunk. They will have to do serious work on their social and economic policies and begin to base them on the hard realities of our current socio-economic reality, rather than the Utopian model currently in use. They will also have to move left. A real big natural disaster might help them but they are years from electing anyone, unless proportional representation becomes a reality.
Look for Proportional Representation to get a good debate. Harper will likely try to circumvent it with his elected senate proposal, but Pro-Rep will be a hot topic for both the NDP and the Bloc who stand to benefit big time from it. Unfortunately, neither the Tories or the Grits are going to be too hot to trot on this issue. Pro-Rep would make majority rule very difficult to achieve, for any party.
As for the elected senate idea, its complicated. There will be all sorts of questions and concerns. Does the seat plan remain, with Quebec having special consideration. Will the provinces argue for equal proportions for each province. Will the Pro-Rep idea be applied to senate votes. Don’t look for the senate to change anytime soon, unless it happens as a result of some other deal, perhaps involving Pro-Rep. If, by the time the fighting really gets vicious, it appears the Liberals are going to make a big comeback, then you might see the Tories move on Pro-Rep.

As for the prediction most pundits are expected to make; How long will this government last?
I give it two years on the outside, more likely 18 months.
What’s going to happen in that time? Not much, this is a caretaker government!
What happens next?
The Liberals will be back. They’re the middle of the road and this is a nation of fence sitters!


Post a Comment

<< Home