“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Sir Winston Churchill
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 as of April 29, 2013 are:
- Conservatives – 164 seats
- New Democrats – 100 seats
- Liberals – 35 seats
- Bloc Québécois – 5 seats
- Green – 1 seat
- Independent – 1 seat
- Independent Conservative – 1 seat
- Vacant – 1 seat (Labrador)
The above, with modifications for changes in seat numbers, started off my original evaluation of Canadian party politics published March 23, 2012. A lot has happened in the last year, some of which has clarified the situation. I strongly suggest reading the original evaluation which is here at some point, because this builds upon my original thoughts.
There are new players in the game, or at least players in new positions, since Justin Trudeau has been a player since he was born. Other players, like Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May have shifted position. The Bloc Quebecois are a nonentity outside of Quebec, and possibly now inside Quebec as well.
There have been four by-elections to this point:
Jack Layton, riding of Toronto—Danforth – NDP Leader, died of Cancer, seat won by NDP candidate Craig Scott on March 19, 2012
Lee Richardson, riding of Calgary Centre – Conservative resigned, seat won by Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt on November 26, 2012
Bev Oda, riding of Durham – Conservative resigned, seat won by Conservative candidate Erin O’Toole on November 26, 2012
Denise Savoie, riding of Victoria – NDP resigned, seat won by NDP candidate Murray Rankin on November 26, 2012
There will be a fifth by-election on May 13, 2013 in the riding Labrador, forced by election spending concerns. While the other by-elections were in what could be regarded as relatively safe seats, the by-election for the riding of Labrador may not be. In the General Election held May 2, 2011 Peter Peneshue won with 39.8% of the vote as compared to 39.1% for the Liberal candidate. The political landscape has changed since the General Election, and the charges of election over-spending in particular may damage Peneshue.
I had considered holding this analysis until after the by-election, but the by-election’s impact on the main issues will be marginal in my opinion, no matter who wins.
I’m listing these issues in alphabetical order. At present no one has any real idea how they are going to play out in the 2015 General Election. These are mostly general headings, and often cover several issues rolled into one area. They may not be the issues that actually decide the next General Election, however all of them will likely have some impact.
Global Warming aka Climate Change
Long Gun Registry
Military Procurement & Spending
Often called the “Third Rail of Canadian Politics” Abortion just won’t go away. There are various religious groups which have a strong belief that it is wrong, and wish to force their belief on people who do not share it.
This could backfire badly. At present the Members of Parliament who have raised the issue are Conservatives.
The real problem for “Social Conservatives” in Canada is that the only party which caters to their beliefs, the Christian Heritage Party, has no chance of winning any seats in an General Election. The other issue is that the largest group of Social Conservatives, Roman Catholics, could not back the Christian Heritage Party platform, indeed on most social issues they are closer to the NDP with the exception of abortion and LGBTQ marriage rights.
The stance taken by those few members who have backed the reopening of the abortion debate could end up costing some of them their seats. Stephen Woodworth, MP for Kitchener Centre is a possible looser under this scenario.
The new “tough on crime” legislation that the Harper Government has been talking up has problems. First, crime is down, so why spend money on extra prisons? This seems like a great make work program, or another government boondoggle.
Expect the opposition parties to pound on the Conservatives for wasting money, money that could be more profitably used for pensions, hospitals, and employment insurance.
This is a nasty. Effectively any government has one of two options. They can:
- Support business
- Support the people
If they support business they’ll pick options that drive wages down. So far both the Liberals and Conservatives have been pretty consistent since Pierre Trudeau retired about supporting business. One of the stated aims is to get more businesses to open up in Canada, to increase employment.
The NDP concentrates more on the people. It isn’t that they are unfriendly to business, but that they claim to put the voter first.
In some ridings which the Conservatives won last time by narrow margins, the cuts to EI could end up hurting them. The could loose seats in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Coastal British Columbia where seasonal jobs are common.
Global Warming aka Climate Change
Sorry folks. It isn’t “Climate Change”, it is Global Warming. Yes, the planet is getting hotter, which is why we had such strange weather this year. We’ve got kids running around in shorts next to snow drifts where I live (yes, I live that far north).
The problem is that Conservatives and the Liberals have both committed to resource extraction in a big way. Neither is willing to take action to cut carbon emissions. Anyone worried about the planet is forced to look elsewhere.
Which leaves the Greens and the NDP looking good. I expect Elizabeth May to retain her seat. She’s been solid in Parliament, and worked really hard. I don’t know if the Greens can gain any other seats, but in a couple of the by-elections they had surprising strength in the vote, so we could get a Green surprise.
Immigration is a perennial election issue. Exactly which way it will go is impossible to tell. It is possible that all of the parties will ignore it, and hope it goes away.
Long Gun Registry
Just when you thought it was safe to walk the streets, it’s back! Well, not really. This time no one is talking about it, because to a large extent the issue is dead. No one has taken a long gun and gone nuts in the street of a major city, and unless that happens, the Canadian public is going to decide that the issue doesn’t need to be addressed again.
Really, it doesn’t. The École Polytechnique Massacre was a one off event, caused by a disturbed mind. The Registry would not and could not have stopped it.
So why am I mentioning it?
Because the fight over the registry won the Conservatives a number of seats in the last election. Take Jay Aspin, my Member of Parliament (who nobody I know has ever met). Jay won by a very slim margin in the Nipissing–Timiskaming, Ontario riding. We are a heavily forested riding, and a lot of us hunt.
The Long Gun Registry was a Tactical Victory but a Strategic Defeat for the Conservatives. They’ve given us what we wanted. Nobody is looking to bring back the registry. We don’t need them anymore.
In the next General Election, Jay Aspin is probably toast. Same with Ryan Leef in the Yukon. Leona Aglukkaq in Nunavit is in better shape, she’ll probably hold her riding. James Lunney in Nanaimo—Alberni could be weak. Brian Hayes in Sault Ste. Marie is another MP that could be hurt. The same Members also have problems under the Native Affairs issue.
As I said, Tactical victory. It won them the 2011 General Election. Strategic Defeat, in that it isn’t there to help in future elections.
But hey, at least they kept their promise. For a Canadian Political Party, that’s a rarity!
Military Procurement & Spending
This is one of those you can’t win for loosing issues. Any government trying to cut spending, had better make cuts to the military. Any government which causes deaths in the military by supplying them cut rate gear had better come up with damned good excuses fast.
Canadians love their military. We just aren’t willing to toss huge amounts of cash at it when we are being told that we have to wait an extra couple of years to retire…
We don’t believe in sending the troops off to die for no good reason. When they do die, we line the Highway of Heroes to welcome their bodies home.
Stop imposing Austerity style budgets, and we’d happily support a military twice the size of the one we currently have. In fact most of us think out current military is too damned small, and needs better equipment, or at least equipment better suited to its role.
One suggestion I’ve made is bring back a modernized and modified CF-100. A lot of people think I’m joking, but in a lot of cases you don’t need a supersonic jet for patrols, what you need is a tough, two seater STOL long range all-weather made in Canada plane which can operate in our climate, off marginal landing strips. The CF-100 was a damned good plane for its day. Add modern sensors, engines, dual controls, and a few other things and it would be a useful adjunct for northern patrols.
This is possibly the issue where the governing Conservatives have done the most damage to themselves. While a certain percentage of the native population was willing to vote Conservative in the last election in anger over the Long Gun Registry, they are now even more upset over the Government’s handling of the Attawapiskat declaration of a State of Emergency.
Then the neighbouring Kashechewan First Nation later declared their own State of Emergency.
My brother-in-law is teaching school at Attawapiskat this year. He mentioned flooding on Facebook yesterday, and I heard on the news today that the band hospital had to be evacuated.
Even worse, there is a general feeling that the Government is trying to sidetrack the bands to push through resource extraction policies, which will leave the bands with a legacy of polluted lands. The issues that the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia has had with a massive drop in male births, and the lack of action by the Federal Government has left the bands feeling less than happy.
The Beaver Lake Cree are extremely worried about pollution from the Alberta Tar Sands. The responses from the Federal and Provincial Governments, and Industry that there were no pollution issues, which was refuted by the University of Alberta.
The probable winners from this are the NDP. Charlie Angus has worked hard, and been very visible as a champion for the indigenous people. This is also having an impact on Ontario politics, it appears that both the Ontario Liberals and Ontario Conservatives could be wiped out in the North.
Disclosure: I have a number of Cree friends, and have driven my editors to drink by regularly including Cree concepts and words in short stories, which makes their spell checkers throw fits. The area I live in has an extensive native population.
See the Long Gun Registry entry for a list of Member who may have issues retaining their seats.
The current Government has changed Pollution regulations in ways that a lot of Canadians don’t like. Corporations on the other hand like them.
There’s nothing wrong intrinsically with resource extraction. There is the issue that those of us who live here would like to be able to do so without being poisoned. I live in an old time mining boom town. There are places here where nothing grows, and most of the mines closed over fifty years ago.
Then there’s Sudbury. I visited there in 1972, and it looked like the surface of the moon. I was there a couple of months ago, and it looks like any other small city. It is amazing what you can do when you require industry to clean up its act.
This issue could haunt the Conservatives.
Anyone who watched the G8-G20 twin summits on television saw two things.
- A small group of violent hoods
- A large group of violent police
In a lot of ways I’m not sure which was worse. You could ask Byron Sonne, who lost damned near everything after being charged, held without bail for over a year, freed with onerous restrictions, and then acquitted.
There were noises about appealing the acquittal. Didn’t happen. The Crown knew going in that they had nothing, but they’d managed to scare a couple of others into pleading guilty to lesser charges, and they decided they’d try to railroad Byron. It didn’t work, but it cost Byron his life.
This isn’t to say cops are evil. They aren’t. We had an incident last fall where out Beagle was accused of biting a neighbour’s dog. The officer who visited was polite, courteous, and flabbergasted when I held up the alleged “vicious beast” for her to look at.
But there are problems with the police at times, and like any other Power Group, they need to be managed. Much like Politicians come to think of it.
This could be a sleeper issue. A lot of Canadians are nervous about letting our data and information be used by the United States Government. They may be our closest neighbour, biggest trading partner, and a close ally, but do we really trust them?
To act in their own best interest yes. To act in our best interest, no.
I keep hearing rumblings from people who are damned upset about having stuff on American servers (Gmail, Google Drive, Evernote, Facebook, SugarCRM, LinkedIN, Amazon, etc.) and wanting to do something about it.
In fact I’m doing something about it shortly myself, in my own small way, for a limited number of customers. Later I may end up expanding it, this is just an experimental idea I’m playing with…
This is a funny one. As of yet, nothing has been proven in a court of law, and only one person has been charged, but…
In politics a lot is perception. The perception among a certain percentage of voters is that Conservatives and Conservatives alone were responsible for the Robo-Calls. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, I don’t know.
What I do know is that people cheat. I suspect that somewhere, some strategist is saying, “We’ll hire a call center pretending to be Conservatives…”
Yes, I have a mean, nasty, and suspicious mind. The problem is that it wouldn’t be hard to do this, and it wouldn’t even have to be a political party doing it, just someone with money, and a stolen or fake ID.
The Liberals and the NDP will of course be playing this for all it is worth. Whether it will buy them any votes, I doubt. It isn’t a core enough issue.
Then there is the question of whether the Conservatives really won the election. If the Robo-calls enabled them to swing votes, exactly how many did it impact, or how many people missed voting because they went to a polling station that didn’t exist?
This is still playing out. Let’s see what happens.
This one is going to get a huge play by the Conservatives. There have been no successful attacks under their watch. None. Of course there also weren’t under the Liberals…
I think Security will be a wash. The Bureaucracy has done all the real work, and most Canadians know this. The politicians are mostly along for the ride.
But hey, I’m a political analyst. What will John Q. Public think?
Where Does This Leave The Parties?
Bear in mind, next election the number of seats in Parliament will increase from 308 to 338, so some of the seats I’ve mentioned will shrink in size, or may be split in two. The suggested maps can be found here. If you look at the map for Northern Ontario, while the riding I’m in has changed, the general area is still the same, so my comments still hold true.
We are however two and a half years away from the General Election of 2015. A lot can happen in two and a half years. What surprises the future has in store, we don’t know.
Based on what we’ve seen to date, including the Liberal Leadership Convention, the New Democratic Party Annual Convention, the Green Party’s performance in the House, and the Conservative Party’s legislative agenda, there are some early predictions that can be made.
The Conservative attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau are currently ineffective. It is like trying to nail jello to a wall, there’s just nothing for the nail to stick into. The few points that he has made, the Conservatives can’t attack. Seriously. He wants to build the Keystone XL Pipeline. If they attack that, they can’t build it…
Unfortunately Canadians like looking at alternatives. Right now Justin Trudeau sounds like Stephen Harper lite. That’s not an alternative, that’s, well, I’m not sure what it is, but it sounds expensive.
The problem with the Conservatives is they aren’t. Conservative that is. They spend like drunken sailors, then wonder where the money went. They want to spend less money, so they can build more expensive prisons. They want to spend less money, so they can give larger corporate tax credits. They want to spend less money, so they can buy more F-35 fighter jets, none of the parts of which are being built in Canada…
Their record on Conserving the environment is, well, terrible.
The one superb bright spot was when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird so upset the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, on the Gay Rights Issue, that she proclaimed that “We are not a colony or a protectorate of Canada.”
Personally I think that maybe Uganda should be a colony or protectorate of Canada, if they can’t treat people decently. John Baird has done a good job in pushing human rights.
The New Democratic Party
I believe that I was the first analyst to publicly call for the NDP to gain over a hundred seats in Parliament. They’ve done a decent job. There was the usual fuss about inexperience MPs. Guess what folks, every MP starts off inexperienced.
The current Conservative concentration on Justin Trudeau will benefit the NDP. They aren’t under attack, so they can continue organizing, and getting ready for the election quietly. Also Thomas Mulcair has come across as a pretty decent chap. He’s no Jack Layton, but Jack Layton was pretty well an impossible act to follow.
The big question is how will JustinMania eat into their seat numbers, and that’s an unknown as yet.
The Green Party
What a lot of people forget is that we have a Conservative Party in the country, it just happens to be called the Green Party. Seriously. The Federal Green party is fairly Conservative on fiscal issues, while Liberal socially, and hell on wheels when it comes to environmental issues.
Elizabeth May has been the right woman at the right time. She has done a good job of playing on her part as the lone Green MP in Parliament, and I suspect that there may be a few more joining her in the next election. But only a few.
The only other party which holds seats in Parliament is the Bloc Québécois, and I’m not sure that they will be able to retain those seats in the next election. However I’ll admit that this is the one party I really don’t understand. If they do gain seats, it is likely the NDP which will be hurt.
Technically Canada has nineteen registered political parties. None of the rest have any chance in my opinion of gaining seats in Parliament, in the coming General Election.
What a lot of people forget is that the leaders don’t make the party, the Members do. There are damned good people serving in Parliament from all parties, people who care about Canada. Thomas Mulcair in an interview said that “As a person Stephen Harper is a nice guy, a father, and a husband.” Most people forget that politicians are people.
There are politicians who are unlikely to loose their seats, even if there was a huge wave of change. They’ve worked hard for their constituents, are out knocking on doors even in the off-season, appearing at local events, and doing their best to be representative.
There are other politicians who have worked just as hard, but haven’t been able to connect with their constituents for whatever reason. And there are the ones who are in an impossible position because Party policies put them in conflict with their constituents.
Then there’s demographic changes.
My father’s generation is mostly gone now. They tended to vote Conservative or Liberal. Some of my generation is gone too. My children’s generation hasn’t been as active politically as I would like, but I hope that they will wake up, and get involved.
There are far fewer Social Conservatives than there once was. There are far more Pirate Party supporters on College and University campuses, and the Pirate Party might surprise us in the next General Election. God knows they sure surprised the elite in Sweden…
Then there’s the Fairvote organization. They don’t get a lot of press, but every year they get their message out to more people.
Based on what I’m seeing right now, playing some really crazy guessing games, I’m going to toss some numbers out. I’ll be updating them over the next couple of years, until after the General Election, and then we can either all laugh at me, or I can dislocate my shoulder patting myself on the back for being right. This is what I’m predicting as of today.
- NDP – 140 seats
- Conservatives – 120 seats
- Liberals – 65 seats
- Bloc Quebecois – 7 seats
- Greens – 5 seats
- Pirate Party – 1 seats
Total Seats – 338
It should be interesting seeing how this plays out.
Monday April 29, 2013
PS: for a look at 308’s polling numbers, click on this link.