Canadian politics question

In this morning’s NY Times there’s an article about the Liberal Party and a potential financial scandal.

I know I’ve had this conversation before with folks, but would someone like to perhaps outline the spectrum of Canadian political parties? Who they are and what they stand for?

Actually, if you’d asked this question three months ago, you would have gotten a different answer. Here’s the basic run-down of who’s sitting in the House of Commons these days.
[li]The Liberal Party. Currently forms the government, with 170 seats. Elected in 1993, when the PCs (see below) were defeated in a landslide. Jean Chrétien was the leader of the party from 1993 until late last year, when he retired and Paul Martin took his place. Their policies used to be mildly left-of-centre (remember, though, that this is the Canadian political centre we’re talking about here), but years without much opposition on the right have caused them to become more centrist. (A very close analog would be the direction the Democrats took under Clinton.) There are suspicions that the new prime minister, Paul Martin, will push the party even further to the right, but this remains to be seen.[/li][li]The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC.) The official opposition, with 72 seats. After years of seeing the right-wing vote split between them, the Canadian Alliance (née Reform Party) and the Progressive Conservative party (aka the “Tories”) decided to unite under a single banner towards the end of last year. They are currently searching for a new leader. Their policies (as implied above) are somewhat right-of-centre, and they draw a lot of their support from what could be described as the “red provinces”, Alberta and Saskatchewan. They’re also quite popular in B.C., so maybe this is just a sign of western disaffection with Ottawa.[/li][li]The Bloc Québecois. 33 seats, all in Québec. Led by Gilles Duceppe. Their policy is essentially “Québec first”. They were originally formed as a separatist party, although after a narrow defeat in a sovereignty referendum in 1995 they seem to have backed off of that goal, at least publicly. I’m not entirely sure whether they qualify as left-wing or right-wing, though.[/li][li]The New Democratic Party. 14 seats, led by Jack Layton. The farthest-left party in Canadian politics. Lost a huge number of seats in the 1993 election, and hasn’t fully recovered, although their visibility seems to be increasing under Layton’s leadership.[/li][li]The Progressive Conservative Party. Currently consists of two former members of the old Progressive Conservative Party, who were disenchanted with the process by which the CPC was created. One (Joe Clark) has announced that he will not run in the next election; the other (John Herron) will run as a liberal.[/li][/ul]

Hope this helps. Check out this WikiPedia article and the links therein if you want more information.

I don’t believe they identify as either but I think they end up voting with the NDP very often. In a way, they’re very reflective of the Quebec electorate who doesn’t necessarily identify as left-wing but when polled on individual issues most certainly is.

I’d just like to clarify MikeS’s response by pointing out that there have been two elections since 1993, both of which returned the Liberals to government with a majority. Read the wrong way, the post almost suggests that the election in '93 was the last one.

I would also like to point out that to really understand what’s going on with the fragmented opposition, one needs to understand the self-destruction of the Tories under Brian Mulroney, and the rise of the regionalist parties, the BQ and the Reform/Alliance/Conservative parties. Mulroney had won a huge, huge majority for the Tories in the '84 election following the retirement of Trudeau as Liberal leader, and won again in '88. Throughout his second term he managed to earn the hatred of nearly every sector of the electorate - after the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords (attempts to reconcile Quebec with the Canadian Constitution), one of Mulroney’s own cabinet ministers, Lucien Bouchard, left the Tories to form a new party, the Bloq Quebecois, at the time emphatically running on a seperatist platform. At the same time, the Reform Party was formed by some Alberta Tories who were fed up (as Albertans usually are :)) with the way the West was being treated by Ottawa. Meech Lake was among the stimuli for this as well. And then to top it off, the Tories imposed the GST, which pissed almost everyone off. As a result, the Tories were reduced from 169 of 295 seats, to 2 seats. This is basically unheard of, and could be quite reasonably compared in magnitude to, say, the Republicans being reduced to a half dozen seats in the House of Congress (though primarily to third parties, not Democrats).

Since then, politics in Canada has become increasingly regionalized. The Reform/Alliance parties have had their base in western conservatism, which tends to have a strong social conservative component. That doesn’t play at all east of the Great Lakes, and as a result they haven’t ever gained a foothold amongst the Ontario fiscal conservatives that are absolutely essential if the party is to win an election. The Bloq only runs candidates in Quebec (naturally…it’s not like anyone outside of Quebec would vote for them), and so are mathematically eliminated from contention before a single vote is cast. All they do is ensure that the seats in Quebec will be split between them and the Liberals. The NDP has been a casualty of a general shift to the right (though this may be changing), only holding onto a few seats where there are pockets of raving pinkos. (Well, okay, raving pinkos in BC, diehard Tommy Douglas followers in Saskatchewan, union strongholds in Ontario, and then raving pinkos again in the Maritimes. :))

It remains to be seen whether the new Conservative party will be able to pick up support outside of the West. If it does, we may finally be able to return to a situation where there’s more than one possible winner of an election, which would be a good thing. If it doesn’t (and frankly the signs aren’t good - socially progressive ex-Tory MPs have been very publicly abandoning the new party) the situation will remain mostly static. This sponsorship scandal might hit the Liberals hard enough to actually hurt them, but worst case for them, I think, would be a minority government with the CPC virtually sweeping the west, and a resurgent NDP in other areas, but with the Liberals retaining enough seats in Ontario and Quebec to squeek out the win. Much as I like the idea of minority governments, this scenario is mostly bad, since it just increases the regional divides.

Hey, let’s not forget our own Doper NDP MP candidate, from urban Montreal! It occurs to me that as the Liberals shift right and the former PC’s are marginalized by their alliance with the Alliance (I knew a number of Kingstonians who were staunch PC folks but who lost their taste for the party thanks to the GST and its shift to the right), the NDP will tend to pick up a lot of the small-l liberal vote. I envision them becoming similar to Labour in Britain, the left-of-center umbrella party, socialist but not doctrinaire about it.

Matt, will you be standing for MP again? With these shifts, it sounds like you may have a much better chance than the previous two times.
BTW, what ever happened to the Social Credit Party? I was startled to find that Robert A. Heinlein, of all people, was originally a SoCred supporter – and I remember them having a small but significant bloc of votes in Parliament and being the Government in two provinces, back in the '60s and '70s.

Well, the NDP runs a candidate in every riding in the country. I was just referring to the places they actually still manage to get elected. I’m not aware that matt is actually a sitting member of the legislature. :slight_smile:

I would very much like to see the NDP gain strength by picking up the small-l liberal votes of disaffected Liberal supporters. The NDP, more than any other current opposition party, is devoid of regionalism and could put forward a truly national alternative. Unfortunately, Audrey and Alexa (I’m scared to try spelling their last names ;)) the NDP has become in the eyes of many unreasonable radicals howling in the wind about extreme environmentalism and outdated economic theory. Perhaps Layton can reverse that trend and pull the party into a more mainstream left-wing opposition position. That would certainly be a good thing from my perspective.

I suspect, however, that it’s more likely that the Conservatives will at some point finally start gaining support of the Ontario Tory machine. The provincial Tories in Ontario carry a heck of a lot of political clout, their recent loss at the polls notwithstanding, and if they ever become unified in supporting the CPC, we’ll quite possibly get a return to a 70s and 80s sort of parliamentary distribution, with Grits and New Tories dominating, the NDP as a small vocal minority, with the addition of the rump of the BQ. This would also be an improvement over the current regionalization of Canadian politics, but would take longer to occur - at least a decade, I should think, though if Martin becomes personally indicted in the sponsorship scandal, that could hurry things along. I doubt he will be, though.

Gradually fell out of favour as the conservatives ate up their support base and were killed off after the Bill Vander Zalm scandal in the late 80s. Of course, British Columbia is still waiting for a premier that doesn’t have to resign in disgrace or get arrested for drunk driving.

As I see it, the big problem with the ‘conservative’ movement in Canada is that it is dominated by rural religious types. They are not ‘classic’ conservatives, but more agrarian reactionaries. In fact, they have a lot more in common with the old southern conservatives in the U.S. than with, say, Ronald Reagan or Jack Kemp.

The conservative party in Canada will remain moribund until it can find a dynamic leader with modern conservative credentials who can force the party into the 21st century with reasonable, rational policies.

The potential saviour of the conservatives is Ralph Klein. If he were to lead the party, focusing on the kind of economic success Alberta has had while being tolerant on social issues, I think he could resurrect the party. And it needs to be someone with enough personal power and personal following that he can use as a hammer to knock the old regional powers into line. Unfortunately, Klein has shown no interest so far in federal politics.

But we desperately need solid 3rd parties. Canada is in serious danger of becoming a banana republic. Our population is growing more and more detached from the political process. The liberals have a stranglehold on the federal government with no end in sight.

Look at what happened this week: Aside from the direct criminal scandal potentially involving dozens of politicians and 150 million dollars, we have an auditors report suggesting that over 4 billion dollars has been grossly mismanaged. And yesterday, an independent auditing firm announced that our gun registry cost could be DOUBLE what the government claims - or over 2 billion dollars. Bear in mind that when this registry was implemented, the Liberals promised that it would cost no more than 2 million dollars. Well, it’s gone over that by a factor of A THOUSAND, and it’s still in place.

And yet, even with all this evidence of gross incompetence and mismanagement, the Liberals still lead the conservatives in popularity by almost 2-1.

The problem with this hackneyed complaint is that

  1. The Liberals certainly don’t have a stranglehold over PROVINCIAL politics. It’s a federal system, not a single-government state.

  2. “The Liberals will never lose again” is a silly thing to say. They’ve only been in power for ten years, which isn’t even a record for a North American democracy, and this week suffered a nine-point drop over one auditor’s report. I remember when people used to say the Tories could never possibly lose an election in Ontario. 40 years they went without losing, but it all came crashing down in '85.

Things often change a lot quicker than you expect. Had you told someone in 1990 that within four years the PC party would be annihilated and that the opposition would consist of a separatist party and the third party would be a new Western protest party, they would have thought you were insane.

Here’s my fearless prediction; the Liberals will probably win the next election. Not guaranteed, but probably. They absolutely, unquestionably WILL lose the one after that.

Polycarp: I’m one of those ex-PCers. I don’t know who to vote for this year. I can’t vote for King Paul, I will never, ever vote for a socially conservative party, I wouldn’t vote for the socialist NDP in a billion years, and the Green Party is even worse. There is no party I can vote for in good conscience. I guess I’ll have to start my own party.

Rickjay: The best you can do is describe situations as they exist today. I’m fully aware that politics can turn on its head very quickly, but that would be pure speculation since today there’s no evidence. Judging by today’s climate, the Liberals have a lock on federal politics. If the current scandals can’t damage them enough to even bring the opposition parties into play, then I have a hard time seeing what will.

As for the future, you’re right that we have a federal system, but it’s a pretty closed one. Our senate is still not effective, and strong party discipline (the strongest of any of the major parliamentary systems in the world) means that dissent within the ruling party is virtually nonexistant. Look what happened last year with the gun registry - there were enough rumblings of dissent within the government that we could have had a vote of non-confidence over it. But then Chretien threatened the liberals and invoked party discipline, and they all fell into line and voted the way he wanted.

Can you imagine the U.S. system if George Bush could simply issue a ruling by fiat, and threaten to kick any Republican who disagreed with him out of office?

I’d like to be an ex-PCer myself. I HATE their goofball social conservatism, and there are way too many people with flaky economic ideas in that party - remnants of social credit and support for farm constituencies, I guess. But really, who else are you going to vote for? The Liberals? The NDP? Green? I’m fairly apathetic about Canadian politics, for the simple reason that for people like me who are essentially libertarian in outlook, there are NO decent alternatives. The only politician in this country I can even stand to look at is Ralph Klein, and on some days I wonder about him.

As for the future, I think there’s a chance that the conservatives will get their act together and become a credible opposition party. Not much of a chance in my opinion, but it’s possible. I suppose the NDP could even make a comeback, although that would be a disaster. I think a more likely result is a growing disconnect between the east and west. Alberta is already looking at the feasibility of a ‘firewall’ policy - implementing our own provincial police force, retirement program, health care system, and other institutions that would give us more autonomy from the feds. Just like Quebec has. And if we do implement that, it will increase calls for separation because it will be harder and harder for Albertans to see what benefit we get from confederation. Couple that with a few more arrogant policies from down east, and you could have a real problem.

I see some trouble brewing, because the gap between Alberta and the rest of Canada is continuing to grow. Our population is growing like crazy, our taxes are the lowest in Canada, and we have the highest per-capita income and lowest unemployment rate in Canada. Compound this disparity over a decade or so, and Alberta is going to have much more power than we have today, yet the governing party will still base itself around eastern interests. Something has to give at some point. Perhaps it will be some government reform, or perhaps our larger population will translate into enough political clout that we might even make or break a national government. That might pull things back into balance. But I have my doubts.

Poly, there was a thread on Social Credit back in the spring: Can Anyone Explain Social Credit To Me? I didn’t know that Heinlein was SoCred, but I can see the populist/anti-bank elements appealing to him - he never struck me as a supporter of big anything, including big banks. But I would think if he looked into it in detail, he wouldn’t have stayed long.

As the OP of the aforementioned thread on the Social Credit Party, perhaps this might explain it somewhat (from my viewpoint, anyway):

Alberta: Party was too tied to the image of Ernest Manning. Was able to stay in power as long as he was leader, but, as soon as he retired, it all fell apart.

British Columbia: The aforementioned Vander Zalm scandals hurt it, and the rise of the Liberals as the right-wing party of BC killed it.

Federal: By the late 1960’s, only rural Quebec was still electing SoCreds into Parliament. Last won seats in the 1979 election.

BTW, Northern Piper, the link does not work.

That’s odd - it works when I click on it.

At any rate, let’s try again: Can Anyone Explain Social Credit to Me?

In reply to the OP itself, you may find another of the good Governor’s threads of interest: Of Mergers and Martin, Or, The Upcoming Canadian Election


I don’t live in Alberta, so maybe I don’t know him all that well. But didn’t Ralph say he’d use the Notwithstanding Clause to prevent homosexual marriage in the event it became nationally legal? That’s “tolerant on social issues”?

I’ll be seeking the nomination in this riding again this time around.

The NDP is very weak in Quebec, but Jack Layton has a lot going for him in this province. He was born here, and one of his first political actions was in favour of the French language. He appointed Pierre Ducasse his Quebec lieutenant (Pierre, a party VP, was the first Quebecois to run for leader of the NDP.) Jack has visited Quebec and gotten in the French-language news during the one year he’s been in office than Alexa did in her entire tenure. We’ve also got a very strong pair of documents relating our position on national unity and Quebec self-determination.

The Bloc’s support is slipping; a lot of their base consisted not of pur et dur separatists but of nationalists who couldn’t abide the status quo and of left-wingers who didn’t have anyone else to vote for. If we play our cards right, the NDP can make some gains in both of those constituencies in Quebec.

I myself am not going to win, but I’m looking forward to increasing my percentage substantially. I seriously think we have a slight chance of electing an MP in Quebec - Pierre Ducasse in Manicouagan. I wouldn’t be particularly disappointed if he didn’t win, but I wouldn’t be stunned (and would be overjoyed) if he did.

:rolleyes: Me again. I have got to train that boy to log out.

Well, I am in Quebec and at this point I’ll definitely vote for your party. I think the liberals have been there for too long and althought they’ve done a reasonable job, they’ve are also getting corrupted with their monopoly on power. The Alliance scare me and Bloc Quebecois is basically in-line with NDP on Canada-wide issues anyway - the others don’t have a snowball in hell chance.

Jack Layton bio is very impressive. I seem to agree with the party on most of the issues here:

Althought there isn’t a lot of ‘actions’ defined.

My worry is how fiscally responsible is the NDP? Because all I’m seeing is spend, spend, spend - no money coming in. No numbers. For example, will it put a stop to businesses social security ie grants? Or just put more in?

And frankly, on the fisheries and farms, I think less is more. We just don’t need as many people farming and fishing anymore. We need to get them off that and to something more profitable to Canada.

I also found it quite funny that if you apply to the party, you are asked

“Do you want to be identified as:
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered
Person living with a disability
Visible minority”

With nice checkboxes. I have this image in my head that that if you check every one of them, a nice email is sent to Jack Layton saying 'JACKPOT!" :slight_smile:

Sam, you’ve made the comment before that Ralph is tolerant on social issue. I don’t know what social issues you have in mind, but he sure hasn’t demonstrated it on gay rights.

For example, the Alberta human rights legislation does not include protection for sexual orientation. That means you could be fired for being gay. You could be denied housing. And so on. And that wasn’t just an accident. The government was asked repeatedly to include sexual orientation. The government appointed a panel to review the human rights legislation and make recommendations for changes, to update the Act to changes in society. That review panel recommended that sexual orientation be included. And each time, the government under King Ralph said “Nope. Don’t need it.”

So eventually it went to the courts, on an argument that the failure to include sexual orientation was discriminatory, because it denied gays and lesbians the equal protection of the law. How did King Ralph respond? He said that the court case was going to be the government’s response to the review panel’s recommendation to include sexual orientation. (Note to those in Alberta who criticise the courts for deciding social issues: can’t get a clearer example of an elected government abdicating its decision-making than that one.) Of course, in helping the courts to formulate their response, it’s not as if the Alberta government was going to be neutral and wait and see what happened. No, they fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, evidently on King Ralph’s instructions: Vriend v. Alberta.

And they lost. Unanimously. Even the judge from Alberta agreed that the Alberta government was discriminating, and had utterly failed to advance any reasonable justificiation for the failure to provide equal protection of the laws to gays and lesbians. Major J. said:

(Major J. did dissent on the remedy, but that’s the only bone he threw to Alberta.)

I remember the coverage that the decision generated. The outpouring of nasty, hateful letters and soundbites was so great that King Ralph himself commented that he was repulsed by the popular reaction of many Albertans. Did he stop to think that maybe, just maybe, that demonstrated the need for human rights protections for g&l? Or that his government’s repeated refusals to provide legal protections for g&l may be encouraging people to express such nastiness? Nope. No causal relationship, nothing for the government to do, except rail at the Supreme Court for deciding an issue that the government itself said would decide the issue.

And, as wolfstu commented, the Alberta government under King Ralph is so committed to opposing gay & lesbian rights that they’re prepared to use the notwithstanding clause on the marriage issue. Already have, in fact. Section 2 of the Marriage Act of Alberta reads:

Now, I’m not one that says s. 33 should never be used. It’s there for a purpose. But we’re entitled to judge a government by its use of it. And I fail to see how this use of the notwithstanding clause in any way qualifies as “tolerant on social issues.”