So, you may have heard that Canada has an upcoming election! Or not. It’s entirely possible you didn’t hear about it at all. It’s understandable, what with Japan and Libya and Rebecca Black and all.1 Anyway, a lot of people have asked me to explain this election to them, as I am the only Canadian they know who’s willing to talk about our country’s politics rather than just rattle off a string of obscenities, which is the de facto Canadian answer to most political enquiries. So here we go!
So why are you having an election, anyway?
Traditionally, Canada has an election when one of two things happen: either the current government says “okay, time for an election,” and we go ask the Queen if we can have an election2, or the current government loses a vote of confidence, which is when the Members of Parliament all vote and say “this government sucks, we want a new one” and then we have to go ask the Queen if we can have an election. In Canada, most confidence votes are the annual budget vote, but in this case what happened was that a Parliamentary government committee found the government to be in contempt of Parliament for withholding crucial information3 about the costs of various bills and purchases it wished to pass, including a crime bill and the cost of some new fighter jets.
So this means that the current government will be turfed out?
It’s like this. Canada is basically a four-party system.4 The Bloc Quebecois make it near-impossible for any party to get a majority since the Bloc will usually get around fifty of Quebec’s seventy-five seats, which means any other party, to get a majority, has to win 155 of the remaining 258 seats. That’s a pretty big benchmark to beat. Secondly, the NDP, our socialist-pinko party, at any time has about 20-36 of the remaining seats. The NDP will never be the head of a government; much like the Liberal Democrats in the UK, their ultimate goal is to reform the electoral system so that they get twenty percent of the seats to match the twenty percent of the vote they usually get.
So basically your options for actually running the country are the Conservatives or the Liberals.5 The Liberals got turfed out after a scandal in 2006 involving the misdirection of government advertising funds, and the Tories have been in power ever since, mostly because there’s one party competing for right-wing votes and three competing for left-wing votes, and basically the Tories haven’t done anything really amazingly offensive to alienate centrist voters yet because Canadians really don’t expect anything at all out of their government any more, and it would take a screwup of massive proportions for the Tories to really shock the centre out of… “complacency” isn’t quite the right word. Let’s go with “despair.” So far, the Tories have managed to weather proroguing the government, cabinet ministers doctoring reports, a whole lot of ethnic and racial slurs from backbenchers, numerous unpopular spending cuts, misuse of government funds for political purposes and a bunch of other things.
Wait, if they’re so bad, why don’t people vote Liberal instead?
Well, here’s the thing. For Liberal Party leaders, after Jean Chretien retired,6 we went from “capable right-hand man who’s not very inspiring” in Paul Martin to “intelligent man but boy he talks funny” in Stephane Dion, and got clobbered both times at the polls. Then, for some reason, the Liberal Party decided to shoot itself in the head and put Michael Ignatieff in charge, because what the party really needed was a soulless husk of a man leading it, I guess. Ignatieff has spent the last couple of years mostly knuckling under to any challenge Stephen Harper has put forth, mostly because Michael Ignatieff is a useless limpdick, but also because Ignatieff is firmly on the centre-right side of the Liberal Party and doesn’t really have economic views that are wildly dissimilar from some Tories when you get down to it. People might not like Harper, but generally it looks like we were all willing to wait for Ignatieff to go away. Unfortunately, he has not done this.
Then how come Ignatieff didn’t knuckle under this time?
There are three theories regarding this.
1.) Michael Ignatieff felt the contempt hearing was just too great a disregard of Canada’s political tradition and its public to let slide. This is probably the least likely option.
2.) Michael Ignatieff has been playing political rope-a-dope, or so he thinks, and will attack the Tories with every single scandal since 2006 and make them look really really bad. This is quite possible. I’m not sure how Ignatieff is going to get traction with stuff he couldn’t be bothered to use the first time around,7 but then again I never went to Harvard.
3.) Michael Ignatieff has realized he is a useless limpdick and wants to bow out of the Liberal Party gracefully so he can go back to college and be revered again, and can do so by getting his ass kicked in an election. This is also quite possible.
So the Tories are going to win?
Probably a minority government, yes.
Wait, don’t they already have that?
So they’ll be happy with that?
Oh, heavens no. See, this is the third election where the social conservatives who represent the bulk of the modern Tory party have put up with what they consider a relative moderate as their leader. Never mind that Stephen Harper is easily the most right-wing prime minister in Canadian history: the fact that he represents himself as moderate offends them. But they’ve put up with it because they’ve been told that Harper represents their only chance at a majority government, and then they can pass anti-same-sex-marriage bills and anti-union bills and anti-whatever-they-don’t-like-this-week bills once they’ve got their majority.
But they’re only willing to let Harper have so many kicks at the can, and the grumbling within the party is getting more and more pronounced. For a long time there was a sort of belief that another moderate, like Jim Prentice or Peter MacKay, would take over when Harper left, but the socons have been quite clear that more moderate than Harper is a no-go, which is probably why Jim Prentice recently announced his retirement from politics to go run a bank.8 The socons want one of their own running the party, a Jason Kenney or the like. And if they don’t get their majority this time around, it’s entirely possible they’ll decide to go for it.
So this is essentially a “which leader would you like to stick around” contest for Ignatieff and Harper?
Probably Jack Layton as well.
Why? Is he unpopular too?
Actually Layton’s quite popular, but he’s been fighting prostate cancer for about a year. If the NDP don’t win – and they won’t – Layton will probably have to step down at some point to concentrate on his health. He will never admit this, because Jack Layton is the political equivalent of a bull terrier, but it’s true. For the NDP, this election probably has quite a bit to do with elevating the bench players so that Layton can step down and not leave the party rudderless.
So to sum up: this election won’t change anything except political organization of the various parties?
Not unless something crazy happens, but then again, part of politics is that you never know when something crazy will happen.
- Yes, I think it’s entirely fair to describe Rebecca Black as more interesting than Canadian politics to the world at large. [↩]
- Really. [↩]
- Or, if you like, lying. [↩]
- Yes, we have the Green Party too, but they don’t count and everybody knows it. [↩]
- The Liberals, despite their name, are centrist. [↩]
- It is worth explaining that Jean Chretien embodied one of the central principles of Canadian politics, which is that for all that the world thinks of us as nice and polite, we inevitably vote for whichever political leader seems like the most capable bastard. Chretien was a ridiculously capable bastard. [↩]
- “But this time he’s GONE TOO FAR” is not really a great political rallying cry. [↩]
- Well, that and the money. [↩]