Canadian Party Politics – An Analysis – Updated 1X

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Party Politics

Federal Party Politics in Canada is an exciting and dangerous sport. Ask the ex-leaders of the major parties, many who left with figurative knives planted in their backs by their supposed friends.

The aim of political parties is to represent different viewpoints among the electorate. Whether or not the system does this well is open to debate. There are groups which claim it does not. Other groups claim it does. One thing that nearly all groups in Canada agree upon is that the Canadian system is far superior to the American system.

Currently in Canada there are five parties represented in the House of Commons, with one independent MP sitting. This is a majority Parliament, meaning that one party holds more than half the seats in the House of Commons. This gives that party effective control over the legislative agenda.

The other four parties have to rely on public pressure to have any impact. This to a certain extent one of the parties has been able to do. The other three parties have been relatively ineffective so far. There are many reasons for this, which this article will not cover.

The Breakdown of the Parties

Most discussions of the parties use the terms Left and Right to describe Canadian political parties. These terms might once of have been accurate, but currently they make little if any sense. Curiously Canada has no left-wing party, unless you want to count the Bloc Quebecois. It doesn’t even have a centrist party, since the New Democrats have moved so far to the Right fiscally.

The parties in the House of Commons presently are:

  • Conservatives – 165 seats (plus 1 Independent)
  • New Democrats – 102 seats
  • Liberals – 35 seats
  • Bloc Québécois – 4 seats
  • Green – 1 seat

Conservatives

The Conservatives are usually described as Right-Wing, however they do not match the usual definitions associated with right-wing. A perusal of bills passed by the current Conservative party shows that they have a distinct big government/corporate bias, i.e. that the bills support corporations at the expense of the electorate. Consider Bill C-11, which will divert large amounts of tax money to build prisons, despite a falling crime rate, and the Conservative claim that they wish to control spending.

The Conservatives have shifted position over the years. Socially they are now far to the left of where they were at one time. Fiscally they have shifted sideways. Militarily they have shifted to the right. Environmentally they have shifted to the FAIL category.

They may use the name Conservative, however they fail under the truth in advertising laws. There’s nothing Conservative about this party.

New Democrats

The current New Democrats are usually portrayed in the media as a Left-Wing party. Again, the party doesn’t match the usual definitions. In fact they are so close to the Conservatives and the Liberals in policies, that often it comes down to personalities when making your choice on who to vote for.

The New Democrats have shifted position over the years. Fiscally they’ve shifted so far to the right that they are where the Conservatives once were. Socially they’ve shifted to where the Liberals once were. What was once a party that was the great champion of Labor, is now a muddled mess.

They may use the name New Democrat, but they fail under the truth in advertising laws. The party was founded in 1961, and is older than most of its membership. The only “New” thing about it is that it is now the Official Opposition for the first time.

Liberals

The Liberals, the third largest party, are generally called a Centrist party in the mainstream media, but do not match the usual definitions. They may have ended up being the third largest party because their policies were almost indistinguishable from Conservative policies. My Conservative and Liberal friends will disagree furiously with me on this point, but to the average Canadian, the differences really aren’t noticeable.

The Liberals have shifted position over the years. They used to be where the New Democrats are on most issues. Currently they are almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. Unless they develop an identity of their own, they may not survive the next election. A lot will depend on how well the New Democrats do in House of Commons, the Liberals themselves have not shown up at all well so far.

Another party that fails the truth in advertising laws, the only Liberal thing about them is the party name.

Bloc Quebecois

The Bloc Quebecois is a Quebec only party. The party made a huge mistake in not expanding outside of Quebec as a Provincial Rights party, and paid the price in the last election when the New Democrats offered voters what they needed to switch, costing the Bloc nearly all of its seats in House of Commons.

The party has shifted position over the years. The Bloc was originally an off-shoot of the Progressive Conservative Party, a predecessor to the current Conservatives. In response to their constituents, candidates took increasingly left-wing positions, until the 2011 election, when the New Democrats took most of their seats. Whether or not the Bloc will be able to make a comeback is unknown at this time. A lot will depend on how well the New Democrats do in the House of Commons.

Greens

The Green Party is a new entrant into Parliament, winning its first seat in the last election. The party has some really good ideas, but hasn’t managed to gain traction with voters yet. This is really disappointing, as pollution is becoming a bigger issue. The runoff from the tar sands is one example of a problem that the Greens saw coming, and everyone else ignored.

The original Green Party was heavily left-wing. They recently shifted a lot of their fiscal policies to the right. This may have helped them to win the one seat that they did get. Unfortunately they are getting no news coverage in the National media, so the electorate doesn’t even know that they are an option. It appears that their one sitting MP, the party leader, Elizabeth May, would have to do something obscene or criminal in the House of Commons to get any notice.

The Voters

Voters breakdown into a range of classes. These are some of the more common ones that you’ll hear about. The opinions are my own.

Yes, I do try to mention politicians that I like when I can. There are some damned good politicians in Ottawa from all parties, and they deserve our support. There are also some I dislike intensely. If I don’t like the politician, you can probably tell from my comments.

Emergency Industry Professionals

Police, Fire, and Paramedics are all concerned about agency funding, and pay rates. They want to have the equipment and training to do their jobs, do them safely, and well. And yes, they want to get paid to do them.

They tended to be conservative about women in uniform at first, but they’ve mostly gotten over that now (and the ones who haven’t should be retired – quick).

The Conservatives have Julian Fantino, however he is a two-edged sword. During his career he was involved in security for the G8/G20 Twin Summits, so while he may draw votes from law enforcement professionals, he will likely cost them votes from those interested in civil liberties. He was also involved in several policing operations prior to that which aroused controversy including one in which a Toronto Police Service Board Member’s conversations were caught on a wiretap.

As to Paramedics and Fire, to the best of my knowledge neither profession has any representation in the current Parliament.

Farmers

Family farms used to be the largest employers in the country. Now they are a dying, but still powerful voting block in certain areas. Farmers used to be heavily represented in the House of Commons. Since most farms didn’t operate at full capacity during the winter, farmers were able to take the time to serve the country in Ottawa.

Farmers have specific interests:

  • Stable fuel, fertilizer, and transport prices
  • Stable sale prices for their products

The move by the Conservatives to loosen the control of the Canadian Wheat Board over grain prices has hurt them with farmers as this blog post makes clear. The author of that post is of the opinion that the legislation in question was designed to help the corporate farms, and would hurt the family farmer.

Exactly how this will play out in the next election is unknown, but I expect it to be a major issue in rural areas, even those where grains aren’t grown.

Finance Industry Professionals

The Canadian banking industry is heavily regulated. There were rumors that deregulation was planned right before the Wall Street meltdown. Deregulation didn’t happen, and Canada’s banking sector was relatively unaffected.

Deregulation at the present time would probably be political suicide, no matter how profitable it might be for the financial sector.

The threat of extra regulation wouldn’t make them happy, and the New Democrats old reputation means that they aren’t likely to get any support from this sector.

Legal Industry Professionals

The Legal Industry is well represented in Parliament. Tony Clement is an excellent example of a long time legal industry professional who is also a long time politician. Tony served at the Provincial level before moving to the Federal level.

A lot of people dislike Tony, but the man could be earning a lot more money in private practice than he is in Ottawa, and doing a lot less work. In private practice he wouldn’t be out knocking on constituent’s doors in January – of a non-election year…

None of the parties have a lock on the legal profession.

Manufacturing Workers

Like the folks from Electromotive. They are concerned about their jobs. They don’t like it when a company that was given taxpayer money ups stakes and moves, taking Canadian developed technology with it.

That one hurt the Conservatives, and they’d better make a move to repair their reputation. You can bet that the other parties will be reminding everyone about it come the next election.

The Great Recession as the Americans are calling it didn’t hit Canada really hard, but it did hit us. When the next election comes around the jobs question is one that is going to be really important.

Medical Industry Professionals

Medical Industry Professionals have interests in the strength of the Health Care System. While they might be able to make more money under some circumstances in a private system, most of them have seen the horrid working conditions in the United States, and wouldn’t want to deal with them. Stable Funding is the key to making the system work, and that is their main concern. Pharmacare might be a nice addition, after all the Brits made it work.

The Liberals have one doctor, Carolyn Bennett, which may draw practitioners of traditional medicine.

The Conservatives have a chiropractor, James Lunney, which may draw practitioners of alternative medicine. Of course this may also turn off practitioners of traditional medicine. There is a lot of controversy about the practice, ask Simon Singh.

Update: Thanks to Tony Clement for pointing out that Kellie Leitch (Conservative) and Kirsty Duncan (Liberal) are also doctors, giving the Liberals a two to one edge in the medical field.

Oddly all the doctors serving in the House of Commons are from Ontario. Is there some regional difference which drives doctors into politics?

Mining Industry Professionals

The mining industry is one of Canada’s strengths. We have a huge amount of the world’s resources, and only a small amount of the world’s population. Extracting these resources can provide good, high paying jobs. At least when commodity prices are good.

What the industry wants are:

  • High commodity prices
  • No pollution laws
  • Minimal safety standards
  • Low labor costs

Most Canadians would have no problems with the first item. The other three are different matter. Everyone probably has heard of the Chilean Mine Disaster, or the Coal Mine Disaster in West Virginia.

Mining is a dangerous industry. It used to be a really low paying industry. Listen to the original version of Sixteen Tons by Merle Travis, and really listen to his explanation of how the “Company Store” worked.

Most Canadians forget the Bienfait Rebellion. Unionization improved pay and working conditions, but it is still a dirty, dangerous job, and as proved by what happened in Chile and in West Virginia, there are companies which can’t be trusted to do the right thing without regulators watching them 24/7.

And then there’s the proof from the tar sands. You toss garbage into the ecosystem, and it has an impact. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but maybe twenty years from now.

I know a bunch of people who lived in an area that Ontario Hydro sprayed routinely with Agent Orange back in the Sixties. There are cancer cases, non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, lupus, asthma, and a variety of other ailments. Is it connected? I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I do know that people who lived five miles further away don’t seem to have the same incidence of illnesses.

Canadians like our wilderness. We don’t mind mining and forestry companies coming in. We just want them to put it back the way it was.

Music Industry Professionals

Creative Music Industry professionals have specific interests. These are:

  • Reaching fans
  • Making money
  • Better Copyright Protection

Under better Copyright Protection, there’s a discussion going on in a Facebook Group about this. The only suggestion we have that has meet any success so far is to make Copyright non-transferable except by inheritance.

Whoever manages to address these issues will get votes. Currently the New Democrats have an edge since Charlie Angus is a well respected professional musician.

Religious Center

Concerns are hard to define. The “Religious Center” itself is hard to define. Some people consider the Catholic Church to be part of the Religious Center, but if you listen to Pope Benedict’s speeches it would be either part of the Religious Right or the Religious Left depending upon which of his policies you considered more important.

The Religious Center used to back the Liberals. Today they probably back the New Democrats, since the New Democrats are closest to where the Liberals once were.

Religious Left

Concerns are usually stated as:

  • Income Support for all
  • Health Care including Pharmacare and Dental
  • Human Rights including Gay Marriage
  • Globalization
  • Environmentalism

The Religious Right wants to prevent anyone from celebrating Gay Marriage. The Religious Left wants to celebrate Gay Marriage. This is one of the minor things that gets left out of a lot of the reporting from the United States. I wonder why…

This group has generally supported the New Democrats in the past. Currently they are less than happy with the shift in party policies, however they are unlikely to jump ship, instead they are more likely to try to influence candidate selection to move the party toward the direction they would like. After all, they’ve done this before.

Religious Right

Concerns are usually stated as:

  • making abortion illegal
  • making pornography illegal
  • limiting marriage to a man and woman only
  • making contraception illegal
  • stopping sex education in schools

Believes the Religious Left is doomed to Hell for supporting Gay Marriage. At least the part of it that is aware that any churches support gay marriage does. Most of the rank and file is blissfully unaware of this, and kept that way so that they don’t question the leadership.

This group has generally supported the Conservatives in the past. Their dissatisfaction with the party leadership has reached high levels in 2012 over several issues, including the Government’s support for Gay Rights. It is possible that they may jump ship to one of the smaller parties, like the Christian Heritage Party. This could cost the Conservatives seats in some ridings where races are tight.

Retirees

The vast majority of Retirees have been Conservative and Liberal supporters for all their lives. This has been shown in the House, where the New Democrats have traditionally held only a small number of seats, the greatest being 43 out of 295 seats during the 1988 election.

Retirees are a small, but significant voter base. Typically they are more likely to vote than any other age group. This gives them a huge weight in any election, and makes their concerns of paramount importance to all parties.

Typically their concerns include:

  • Pensions
  • Health Care
  • Home Care and Assisted Living
  • Inheritance Laws

These all tend to be expensive. Currently the party which seems to offer the most to retirees is the one they are least likely to vote for, the New Democrats.

It is possible that the Liberals only maintained the number of seats that they did in the 2011 Election because of the retiree vote. In the four years between elections a certain number of retirees will die. One of my aunts who was in her nineties died on Saturday. How will this impact the Liberals?

For that matter how will it impact the Conservatives? There was a number of ridings where there was a three way horse race between the Liberal, Conservative, and New Democratic candidates. With a shift in demographics over the next four years, would the New Democrat have the votes to win?

Teaching

The teaching profession tends to be strongly New Democrat, a holdover from the days that the New Democrats were the party of the labor movement. Those days may be gone, but teachers like Niki Ashton are still New Democrat standard bearers.

Teachers tend to be really nervous around the Conservatives. They aren’t really sure about Liberals, even though Michael Ignatieff is a teacher of a sorts. Poor Ignatieff. He can’t make either the teachers or the writers happy…

Writers

Writers have the same interests as Music Industry Professionals, the problem is that none of the parties have a professional writer in Parliament to the best of my knowledge, which means we have no representation. If Michael Ignatieff had won his seat we would have had a part-time writer in Parliament. I don’t know if that would have satisfied professional Canadian writers that they were represented. Of course Ignatieff didn’t win.

Here’s the interests, modified so they make sense for writers:

  • Reaching readers
  • Making money
  • Better Copyright Protection

Under better Copyright Protection, there’s a discussion going on in a Facebook Group about this. The only suggestion we have that has meet any success so far is to make Copyright non-transferable except by inheritance.

Youth Voters

If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain – Falsely attributed to Sir Winston Churchill

Demographics is so much fun. In four years how many more young people will be eligible to vote? A fair number. My youngest is twenty now, and was delighted to be able to vote in her first Federal Election last year. We made it a family outing, Mommy, Daddy, two boys in their twenties, and a nineteen year old girl.

Since I have kids in that age range, and they have lots of friends, I hear things. And the things that I hear politically is that eight out of ten of the under thirty crowd leans towards the New Democrats.

But will they vote? Voter turnout in Canada is notoriously low. Add in the Robocalls issue which appears to have been an attempt to stop people from voting.

Old fogies like me who have been going to the same poll for years, would be damned suspicious of a call saying our polling location had changed. A first time voter? They’d probably accept it, and when they couldn’t find the polling station, just give up, and go for a beer.

Of course now that everyone knows about Robocalls, anyone who can’t find a polling station is likely to pull out their smartphone and look up the polling station location. Or call a friend and ask them to look it up.

That’s assuming they get out to vote in the first place. When you go into a polling station, most of the people you see have grey hair, or a touch of Miss Clairol.

Get the youth vote out, and it changes the game. For that matter, get the 30-40 demographic out and it changes the game. Lots of them would vote Conservative or Liberal, the problem is that they just don’t vote. They don’t think it will make any difference.

Youth vote concerns are:

  • Open Access
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Privacy from the Government (especially on the Internet)
  • Freedom to Share
  • Freedom to Create

The kids really do think differently. Most of them have grown up in a totally connected world. In the seventeen years since the World Wide Web became practical we’ve had it in our house full time.

Our oldest was seven when we got full time “high speed” instead of dial up. He still kind of remembers having to use a modem to access the good old Toronto FreeNet using a Slip account. Kind of.

The kids just reaching voting age mostly don’t remember what it was like before the web existed. To them being connected 24/7 is natural. Now if we could just make voting natural…

What Does The Future Hold

That’s a good question. We have approximately three years until the next election, at which time the House of Commons will go from 308 to 338 seats. There are currently eighteen registered political parties in Canada, thirteen of which do not have seats in the House.

Some of these parties, like the Communists, and the Marxists-Leninists have been around for a long time. The Rhinos exist just for laughs, and are a welcome relief every election with their promises to employ all of their relatives in Ottawa if they get elected.

Then there’s the new kid on the block, the Pirate Party. They could shake things up, because they could pull a huge chunk of the youth vote, assuming it ever stops playing World of Warcraft…

And the First Nation Peoples Party has a chance to take a seat or two if they can land a couple of strong candidates. There are some seats which are heavily First Nations, and the right candidate could make a difference. One seat may not sound like a lot, but Canada has a long history of Minority Parliaments, and they are often the most productive Parliaments. In a Minority Parliament, even a party with just a single seat can make a difference.

The 2015 Election for the 42nd Parliament promises to be exciting.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Friday March 23, 2012

This entry was posted in Canada, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Canadian Party Politics – An Analysis – Updated 1X

  1. XFaCE says:

    Very good article Wayne.

    I should note that according to Wikileaks it was Tony Clement who asked the US to put Canada on the special 301 list, so we do have a few more reasons to dislike him. :)

    And for the record, I do not play WoW.

    • Wayne Borean says:

      Lobbyists and industry contacts can be incredibly valuable to politicians and government bureaucrats, if they tell the truth. I know, because I’ve been used as a source by government agencies in the past. I still get calls asking for advice even though I’ve been out of work for three years due to medical problems, because I know the science, and they know they’ll get an honest answer from me.

      The problem that Tony and the bureaucrats have is when they first meet someone they don’t know if that person is trustworthy or not. There’s also a certain amount of horse trading involved. The United States wants this legislation, and has promised something back. If the Conservatives break their promise, the U.S. Government isn’t going to be happy with them.

      The Canadian Electorate already isn’t happy with them, and will be even less happy once the bill passes. But it isn’t only the Conservatives. The Liberals were going to do the same thing, and if they got back into power, WOULD DO THE SAME THING.

      So yes, I’m a bit upset with Tony about the Special 301 List thing. However I suspect he was following orders from the PMO. We know that the entire Copyright mess is being driven by the PMO, which basically said make the Americans happy.

      The problem is that Tony can’t follow his political instincts, which are damned good, and deep six this. Because I’m pretty sure that is what he would do if he had a choice. The PMO is running the show.

      Remember how quickly he reacted when the CRTC was going to screw the pooch? That’s the real Tony Clement. He’s a troubleshooter, a man who gets things done, and who works hard for his constituents.

      I have never meet him, but I have deep ties to his riding through family and friends, a lot of whom know him, and knew his predecessors. I have a signed copy of a book, The Backbencher – Trials and Tribulations of a Member of Parliament written by Gordon Aiken, who represented the riding from 1957-1972 which was presented to my aunt, who knew Gordon quite well. She also knew his successor, Stan Darling. Stan was a neighbor of hers. I knew Stan as well, I have to admit I never did like the man, I thought he was a pompous ass.

      The point is that Tony won 55.7% of the popular vote in his riding. It takes a hell of a lot of hard work to get that sort of support from the voters in Ontario. Politics is after all, an immense popularity contest.

      Wayne

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