The Election Got Exciting
I recently wrote in a blog entry that the election campaign in Canada was boring.
Well! No more. It has gotten quite interesting. The New Democrat Party, which is usually the third "also ran" party after the Conservatives and Liberals, finds itself ahead of the Liberal Party and gaining on the Conservative Party in the polls. This mild mannered social democratic party loosely called "socialist" has historically been the social conscience of parliament and exercised power by making deals for support from the major parties in minority governments. They have never formed a federal government. They have formed governments in several provinces.
I am a life long supporter of the New Democratic Party, except for the year in the US when I worked on behalf of the Communist Party in Connecticut. I am use to often supporting a local
candidate who does not get elected. For the first time in my life I live in a riding with a New Democratic member of parliament.
These are exciting days for me and long standing supporters of the New Democratic Party.
NDP leader, Jack Layton. An all-Canadian who loves his beer and hockey. This is a photo from April 14 when he was charming the voters in Quebec. A week later, he moved ahead of the Bloc Quebecois party in that province.
( for my American readers, the BQ is a regional party that only runs candidates in Quebec. It is a separatist party that hopes to seen Quebec become a sovereign Nation some day. In the meantime they are always trying to get better political deals for their province. They control about 50 or the 75 seats from that province. The New Democrats had 1 in the last parliament. )
Quebec residents have decided to vote for the New Democrats in large numbers and are abandoning the BQ, in favor of the NDP on the strength of the attractiveness of Jack Layton.
He is seen as a man of the people. who is enjoying running and making his case among people.
By contrast the other leaders appear tense and angry.
For my American readers, to help you understand this tsunami in Canadian politics I encourage you to watch the humorous video below where Rick Mercer explains Canada and Canadian politics.
The above video was made a while ago when the Liberals and New Democrats threatened to defeat the Conservative government and form a coalition which would ask the Governor General for a chance to form an alternative government. The Conservative just before the economic collapse had been denying there was a problem for Canada and nothing had to be done. Ideologically they were going to stick by their laissez-faire economics at a time when governments were looking to stimulate the lagging economy by infusions of government money funding job creation programs. The Opposition parties wanted the government to act in the face of an economic crisis. Stephen Harper avoided his party's defeat from a vote of non-confidence
when he convinced the Governor General to prorogue parliament before a vote could be held.
This is a very unusual parliamentary device.This gave his party time to put together an economic program that would satisfy parliament.
I would remind everyone that this present election was brought about by the government being defeated (lost the confidence of parliament) when it was found guilt of being in contempt of parliament by failing to supply the necessary financial documents for the Opposition to do it's proper function of criticizing the government as the honourable opposition.
At the dissolution of parliament the New Democratic Party has about 17% of the popular vote with the Liberals around 28% and the Conservative around 38%. The NDP is usually around 20 of the popular vote.
The Conservative said they were seeking a majority government. They deserved it for being good managers of the government and the economy for 7 years. The Canadian public has never quite trusted them in previous elections to give them enough seats to form a majority government. One needs to have at least around 40% or the popular vote to achieve this and the Conservative have been tantalizingly close.
For a couple of weeks these percentages did not change much although the NDP did drop to 14% when people seemed to be willing to support the Liberal Party as the rightful alternative to the Conservatives, a traditional problem for the NDP.
After the leadership debates it seemed a lot was not going to change. No leader made any bad faux pas , each was praised by their supporters. Jack Layton was the most relaxed and charming, apparently more so in the French debate. He was raised in Quebec and speaks French of an E nglish kid who learned it on the street playing with the french kids. Michael Ignatieff, (Liberal) is an academic who taught at Harvard for years and speaks parisienne french while Stephen Harper (Conservative) is a french emmersion French speaker. It seems Jack Layton made an impression upon many Quebec residence mainly the soft nationalists who had been parking their votes with the BQ of Gilles Duceppe. It seems they where tiring of their support for the BQ and still did not trust the Liberals and Conservatives. En masse they have swung behind the New Democrats. A week after the picture above a CROP poll reported that the New Democrats were even or ahead of the Bloc in the popular vote. This made Canadians wonder what was going on in that province. Was it an uptick or the real thing. It has proved to be sustainable and a rising curve of support. At first commentators were saying due to the " winner take all" aspect of riding voting the increased support of the New Democrats would just translate into a few additional seats, maybe as many as 5 or 6. At the time this seemed really good but I have now seen that the NDP may get as many as 51 seats in that Province.
Nationally, there were responses to the phenomena in Quebec. Canadians began to not buy the line that the only worthy party to defeat Conservatives was the Liberal Party/ This arrogance and the arrogance to the leading Conservatives saw people choosing the NDP. No longer was Jack Layton the only believer to say he was running to become the Prime Minister. Parliament ended with the New Democrats having 36 seats. the most they have ever had in any parliament was 45. Suddenly, I began reading that nationally they might get as much as 60 seats. Suddenly they were tied with the Liberals in popular votes. Briefly, the Conservatives looked like they might get their majority due to the splitting of the votes on the left. The increase support for the New Democrats has continued. They began to cut into even the Conservative vote.
Now they are ahead of the Liberals who are fading at 22% of the vote, the New Democrats have in about a week and a half increased their percentage from 19% to 30 % and the Conservatives have fallen back to 35%, well away from the 40 % which might see them get a majority government. It seems possible now that there will be a reduced minority government with the New Democrats leading the Opposition Parties. I have now seen a poll that gives the New Democrats as many as 97 seats in Parliament. The trend upward for the NDP is continuing.
There have even been mutterings that they might overtake the Conservatives. Is there enough time left before the election on Monday for this to happen? The other three parties are attacking the NDP and their platform with a venegance I heard today the business community is speaking out in opposition to the possibility of an NDP government (they must be doing something right in my opinion). So far these attacks have not slowed or reversed the support for the New Democrats. Maybe, just maybe, real history is about to be made.
I, personally, think the Conservatives will hold on to their lead position and the New Democrats will have the next largest number of seats. The Conservatives may have a problem governing with the consent of Parliament. They have already said they would not form a coalition and think it is undemocratic and not part of parliamentary tradition. This is wrong of course. The largest party in our system can only govern with the consent of parliament. Without a majority of seats the government ruling party must compromise. It could happen that the Liberals and the NDP in a coalition could govern with the consent of parliament. If the Conservative cannot form a government the Governor General may ask another party (s) to try rather than call another elections soon after this one. It will be a great lesson in parliamentary democracy as it works out.
Briefly, three other interesting factors have come int0 play. The Conservative Party made a real effort to woe the "ethnic vote". They may not have succeeded in this. Stephen Harper is very stiff and not very relaxed in his public appearances. His addressing a South Asian gathering as "you people" reflects his discomfort and has tainted his appeal. He is a control freak and is not very spontaneous. He is not a very urban person. Jack Layton has a long career in urban politics. Is married to Elizabeth Chow, another member of parliament of Chinese descent. He speaks Mandarin. He is very comfortable around the rich ethnic mix of Toronto. At the recent Khadsa Day of the Sikh community he was roundly cheered while Michael Ignatieff was politely received.
Women in large numbers support the NDP as a result of its social programs and promotion of the agenda of women's issues. Half of all NDP candidates are women). Jack Layton has gone out his way to speak to women.
It seems the youth have been mobilized. If you can get them out to vote they tend to vote for the NDP. Below is another rant by Rick Mercer to encourage young people to vote. It seems to a have worked as there is much enthusiasm on college campuses with rallies to get out the vote.
I find all this very interesting. I get up in the middle of the night to check to see if any other polling results have been posted or another interesting article has been written on why this is all happening. On the other hand, I am a realist and know all this can evaporate if on political gaff is made or enough fear about the NDP program and power is generated.
Time will tell. "Prime Minister Layton", it has a nice ring.
So far there seems to have been very little comment on the Canadian election in the US. I am waiting for Fox "news" to notice it. This organizations feeds off the ignorance of Americans who cannot differentiate between or among liberals, social democrats, socialists, communists and potential terrorists. I can see the headlines now about the socialist coup in Canada and how the northern border will need to be more fortified against Canadian terrorists. Canadians love this attention and laugh themselves silly at the lack of understanding by a large segment of the American public.
Hopefully, after Monday and the election I will not have to explain how all of this failed to result in significant vote changes.