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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

(The following is about Canadian politics. It's not even about political theatre. I'm basically venting my point of view. Feel free to wait for the next post if that's not your bag.)

I'm hearing various friends and readers of mine are depressed about the Tories getting a bigger minority government.

I'm not depressed. I'm angry.

First of all -- to all of you who voted for the Greens: congratulations! You have helped achieve the exact opposite of what you believe in. Next time consider voting for a pro-environmental candidate who might actually get in.

Second -- Did you vote? Did you contribute money? Did you contribute time? Did you canvass? Did you phone bank? Did you do everything you could? Then don't be depressed. You did what you could. If you didn't, maybe next time do more.

Third -- what did you expect? The Left in Canada is divided into three parties. In a first-past-the-post system, that will bring you failure every time.

I blame a couple of people who should know better.

Jack Layton, I hear, is largely responsible for the lack of an electoral compact. (An electoral compact is where two parties agree not to compete with each other. In a riding where one party is ahead, the other party's candidate bows out. That gets more members of both parties elected. The idea is to form a coalition government afterwards.) He was not trying to beat the Tories. He was trying to crush the Liberals so his party would become the Official Opposition, giving him a shot at Prime Minister next time. Thanks a lot, Jack!

Stephane Dion is responsible for an incompetent campaign. He is a lackluster leader with poor control of English. It was largely because of him that the Green candidate, Elizabeth May, got to come to the debate. Why did he encourage the Greens, who exist primarily to siphon off Liberal votes? Because he figured she'd siphon off more NDP votes, thus preventing them from becoming the Official Opposition. Can we just get rid of this guy, please?

NEWS FLASH: Until the two left parties stop fighting for who gets to be Official Opposition, they will both stay in opposition.

Naturally I blame Elizabeth May. She bears heavy responsibility for taking votes from the two parties that most agree with her. I mean, my God, Stephane Dion lost the election because he was trying to introduce a carbon tax. If she were secretly working to get Harper elected, she could not have done a better job.

Does she have a right to run? Sure. Do people have a right to vote for her? Sure. People have the right to bang their heads against the nearest wall, too. But I have a right to point out that the entire country has to share their headache.

(Oh and by the way -- what kind of eejit bases his campaign on a tax?)

The Left must unify. This is a 62% left-wing country where the only thing keeping the right wingers from total power is the party for people who don't want to be part of the country. That is nucking futs.

Next time, can we please have an electoral compact? Agree that two weeks before the next vote, whichever Left candidate is ahead in the polls gets the riding to him- or herself. I don't really care which of the two parties gets more MPs. I just don't see a lot of semantic space between the Liberals and the NDP. All I see is egos getting in the way.

And fold the Green Party into one or the other of the two real parties and give Elizabeth May a cabinet post.

And if Jack and Stephane (or his replacement) and Liz won't do it, send all of them up to their rooms without supper until they agree to play nice.

Thank you for listening.



As an American with my own deeply worrisome election coming up (not to mention my pathetic provincialism) I only very casually follow Canadian politics. Hell, I think I know more about British and Israeli politics than I do my neighbors to the north. So I've got a structural question that will demonstrate my ignorance.

Having lived with the two-party system and winner-take-all representation, I've always felt that people who lived in places with proportional voting had it better. More voices in parliament, the possibility of parties with distinct agendas and platforms to have some say in an eventual coalition, and the power of minority players in a coalition to exert more power by pulling a Joe Lieberman - threatening to bolt for the other side.

Isn't Canada structured that way? Or is the problem just that the left is fractured and fractious and the right remains organized?

You seem to be advocating a flattening of the left into fewer parties. And while that's great for getting and maintaining power, wouldn't it have the same unfortunate smoothing effect we see down here? The same smoothing effect that corporate radio and media consolidation creates? Too few voices with the power and reach necessarily lends itself to LCD policies and messaging, don't you think?

If I'm understanding the Canadian structure correctly, then it seems beyond getting rid of the egos who did blow this election for you, long-term you'd be better served getting the Canadian right-wing to cleave along its natural fault lines. Then you'd have multiple parties on *both* sides fighting for votes and power and coalition politics would play a larger role.

All that said, I am very sorry to hear the election went so very badly. Let's hope your birth country does the right thing this time and at least keeps North America from slipping all the way to the right.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 11:20 AM  

Canada doesn't have PR, it has first-past-the-post.

The Right is not going to fracture. They tried that and it had roughly the sam results as the Left is now experiencing.

PR isn't that great. FPTP means you can vote for your individual MP, who is responsible at least as much to his district as to the party.

PR means they owe everything to the party. Italy was a disaster for decades because of PR run amok. Israel suffers from too many tiny religious parties exercising too much leverage.

A smoothing effect is necessary. You have to have everyone pulling in the more or less same direction to get a country to go anywhere.

I'm not worried about the US. I'm expecting a landslide.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 11:54 AM  

Thanks for clearing that up for me Alex.

Man, I hope you're right about that last comment.

By Blogger R.A. Porter, at 12:01 PM  

As an American spending his first year in Canada, it is striking to see these election results.

Effectively, Canada has a winner-take-all system, regarding the Prime Minister. The U.S. does, too, for their head of state. And it appears that for such a system, a two-party system is the natural endgame.

If Canada didn't have the first-past-the-post system, the Liberals would be assembling a coalition government right now. Done and done. (What's that kind of system called anyway?)

Christ, at least when the US has an incompetent right-winger it takes (roughly) half the country to put him there.

By Blogger David, at 1:52 PM  

Actually I don't know which is worse:

Roughly half of American voters voted for Bush twice.


62% of Canadians are left of center, and that's not reflected in their head of state.

By Blogger David, at 1:56 PM  

I'm not sure why you are also not blaming the Bloc Quebecois? If any party should be scrapped it is that one. They got a lot more seats and votes then the green party did, yet you fail to rage against them.

Why a blatant anti-canadian/pro-self part like the Bloc is allowed to remain is beyond me. It's only a matter of time before we have a Western Block Party start up (everyone west of Ontario) taking even more votes away from the Liberals, PC and NDP and dividing our country even further. You might laugh at that, but from comments I was hearing last night at the pub and stuff I've been reading online it wouldn't surprise me. The West is getting pretty pissed off at the East (nothing new there I know, but it's a growing feeling). Lots of people are pissed off at the Bloc Quebecois & Quebec in general.

I wonder why you don't mention them in your blog? Maybe because you live in Montreal?

By Blogger mallet, at 2:50 PM  

I don't blame the Bloc because they aren't part of the left's self-sabotaging split-our-votes project. First of all, they won 2/3 of the ridings they contested. Second, they probably were up against the Conservatives at least as often as they went up against Liberals. I suspect your average disgruntled rural Catholic Bloc voter feels a lot more kinship with Steven Harper than he does with Stephane Dion. (And the NDP don't even figure in Quebec.) If the Bloc had disappeared last week, I'm pretty sure Harper would have a majority.

I suspect the Bloc would love to put my immigrant anglo Jew family on the next bus for Toronto. And I supported Justin Trudeau against the Bloc in Papineau. But what the Bloc was trying to do made sense. What the Grits and the NDP and the Greens were doing, made no damn sense at all.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:28 PM  

"But what the Bloc was trying to do made sense. What the Grits and the NDP and the Greens were doing, made no damn sense at all."

Good point. At least they were sticking up for themselves. It's just a shame to see so many ridings and votes going for a "provincial" party no matter what side of the political fence you are on. Maybe it's time to let Quebec become self-governing and let the federal election system only have parties that are interested in governing the country as a whole rather then the fate of a single province.

And it does suck that the Left can't come together and vote one leader in (from any of the three parties) to lead the entire Left.

By Blogger mallet, at 5:36 PM  

I broke out laughing on the part about the Bloc.

About the Canadian system vs. the US one: It might seem like there are more voices in parliament, and in some places there are, but that really depends on your parliamentary system. Canada has a strong whip structure which keeps the parties very much in line. The Canadian PM has far more direct power over their government than does the US president, who has to (even today) deal with Congress. People can Cross the Hall (change parties or alliances while in office), but American Congress-persons can do the same and can also vote however they prefer, not how their party does.

The left needs to get back together. Quebec, though, doesn't need to govern itself; more than half of Quebec's population has been against trying for sovereignty association for a long time. Part of the problem with the Canadian system is that rural votes count more than do urban votes because of the way the votes are calculated, so both the Conservatives and provincial parties (the Bloc, and what had once been the NDP) are favoured by the system itself. Quebec voted more than 56% for parties other than the Bloc - that is certainly no mandate for a sovereign Quebec. Many of those who voted Bloc probably did so because they are conservative but wanted to defend Quebec culture against Harper, who inadvertently attacked Quebec when he cut arts funding. These people likely figured that Harper would win the election regardless, and wanted someone on 'their side'. Not a bad choice given the overall results . . ..

By Blogger Unknown, at 7:28 PM  

There aren't three Left parties in this country.

There is one Centre party, with leftish social policy (when it suits it) and rightish economic policy (when it suits it). Or vice versa, depending on the issue and constituency in question. This has worked well for the Liberals in the past, and will no doubt in the future. But calling them a party of the Left is wrong.

There is the NDP, avowedly Left -- and who will never agree to an electoral compact for the simple reason that a Dipper hates a Liberal more than any other party. A true Dipper has a grudging respect for a Tory, since their share a commitment to ideology. Both loath a good Liberal, for whom pragmatic politics trumps all.

The Green is not a party of the Left. Other than their environmental platform, and some social policy, they are economically Right.

The Left is not divided. The Left is a minority who share with the majority some opinions, in the same way that the Right is a minority who share some values. Overall the country is profoundly Centre -- hence Liberal dominance.

And as far as the "outrage" of governing with a minority of the popular vote, this is same as it was ever was. The highest Chretien's Liberals ever received was 41%. The last government to get over 50% (and barely)?

Brian Mulroney's Conservatives.

By Blogger Adam in Whitby, at 7:33 PM  

I disagree with blaming the those who voted for the Green Party. And yes, I voted for the Green Party. My vote didn't help the Conservatives win. The NDP candidate was a lock in my riding and won easily. The Conservative candidate came in a distant third, just ahead of the Green Party candidate. Had I thought the Liberal candidate had any chance of winning, or even if the Conservative candidate had a chance at winning, I would have voted differently, but I wanted to give the Green Party my vote to give them a chance at Federal funding and a more of a voice. You combine every single vote cast NOT for the NDP candidate who won, and it's still not close. Believe me, my Green vote had no bearing on whether or not Harper would retain power.

And while I do put a lot of the blame on Layton and the NDP for splitting voters, the people that really piss me off are the people who actually voted Conservative. These are the people that allowed Harper to win again. These are the people who apparently see no threat in Global Warming. Who don't care that Canada is lining up with Bush and the United States on things like the Kyoto Accord. Who aren't afraid of Harper's backward social and cultural agenda. Who don't care that Harper has created a barrier between his government and the press, which takes away accountability. need I go on?

It's these people I blame. Ignorance is bliss, though, and these people are probably happy as a clam, right now.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:47 AM  

@Tim, why do you want the Greens to get funding? Because they're nice people?

They will take that money and spend it in ridings where it does make a difference. There were several ridings where the Green vote was the difference between the Liberal and the Conservative guy. Guess who they took votes from?

I don't want my tax dollars going to the Green Party. I want my tax dollars going to the environment. Which is the exact opposite thing.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:01 AM  

Alex, I want my tax dollars going to them because I like the party and what it stands for. And you know that that money is not being taken away from the environment, so let's not even go there.

Yes, there are ridings where the Green vote took away from the Liberals and the Conservatives won because of that, but there are a lot more ridings where the same thing happened with the NDP and Bloc. Without the NDP and Bloc, I'm guessing an easy Liberal majority. The Green Party has every right to exist as the NDP and, in my opinion, even more right than the Bloc.

As I said, you want to blame someone, blame the morons who actually voted Conservatives.

By Blogger Tim W., at 12:33 PM  

@Tim, I don't blame the Conservative voters because they're getting what they voted for. I don't blame the Bloc voters because they're getting what THEY voted for. I blame the Left parties because they are sabotaging their own causes.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:47 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger clangille, at 8:56 PM  

The state of Canadian politics falls on the Liberals. To many scandals pursue them and to many Canadians have a bad taste left in their mouth from their last government. You have to know that the Liberals have won 22 times in the last 30 elections, they have been in large part our default government. Their recent poor results are only because of the monumental screw ups of recent history.

The PC's have strong leadership and have been able to take advantage of the political vacuum left behind by the Liberals. Canadians don't trust Harper and the PC government though, we are not willing to give them a majority. In Canadian politics we often vote based on the lack of a better choice. So far Harper has done nothing to make the whole of Canada regret letting him lead. However many small choices he has made and some larger issues that he has voiced opinions on leave us weary of him.

The NDP who also have strong leadership in Layton are not a particularly well received party in Ontario, their values are to western Canadian, I doubt they will ever become an opposition party unless they align with someone else. Regardless the party still has a lot of power because they are willing to trade their votes on key issues for other issues that make a difference to them.

The Green party has a talented person in May but so far as a leader she has proven herself poor. Leading up the election we were told that we should take this party seriously. During the election however, Canadians were not really sure what her position was. Less turnout in the votes over previous elections for the Green party have left us wondering if the party will ever have a future worth mentioning.

A lot of people praise the Bloc for their results in the election, but I think they are a failure. In Canada to win the government you have to win Ontario and to a lesser extent Quebec. The massive vote count in those two provinces is enough to make a majority government. The Bloc, a federal party dedicated to the interests of the second largest province of Canada cannot win more seats? If this party was ever able to get some decent leadership and put distance between them and any associate to separation they could be the party to beat.

Over all, I do like the Canadian political system, I believe that it reflects Canadians political Interests well. The political situation we now find ourselves in is a vacuum left behind by Liberal scandals, weak leadership from many of the parties and the unsure future of Canada for many citizens.

The latest update for any Americans following Canadian politics in this article, Dion of the Liberals has quit the party and allowing hopefully a stronger leader to replace him.

By Blogger clangille, at 8:58 PM  

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