I figured it was time to say a few things about the election that's happening up here. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Paul Martin visited Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and asked her to dissolve the 35th Parliament. The election will be held on Monday June 28th.
To remind those unfamiliar with our system, our federal elections are really 308 individual elections in the various constituencies across the country. Over 100 of those seats are in Ontario, 75 are in Quebec, the rest among the other provinces, down to 1 seat in each of the three territories.
Since 1993, the Liberal party has been in power. When the Progressive Conservative party collapsed in the 93 election (crashing from a huge majority down to 2 seats), it was in large part the result of a fracture in Canada's right. The populist Reform party, created in the late 1980's following dissatisfaction with the PC government of Brian Mulroney (who's speaking at President Reagan's funeral, by the way), took many western seats, and allowed Liberals to come up the middle in just about every seat in Ontario by splitting the right-wing vote. Jean Chretien managed three successive majorities, thanks to that vote-splitting.
But last year, the Reform party (which had morphed into the Canadian Alliance in one failed attempt to "unite the right") finally arranged a merger with the PC's. The new Conservative Party has a leader, Stephen Harper, who is very bright and has very strong ideas. He's pretty short on charisma, but so far, that isn't hurting him; the latest polls put the Liberals neck-and-neck with the Conservatives.
The Liberals became quite a right-wing party (by Canadian standards) upon election in 1993. Their infamous "Red Book" in the 93 campaign was full of promises to renegotiate the free trade agreement with the US (and Mexico), to repeal the hated 7% federal Goods and Services Tax (GST), to bring in a universal childcare program, and so on and so forth. Instead, led by Paul Martin, then Chretien's finance minister (who wrote most of the Red Book, apparently), the feds slashed spending to kill the ongoing federal deficit. On the one hand, we have now had half-a-dozen or more straight years of surplus in the federal budget; on the other hand, much of that came through massive cuts to moneys transferred to the provinces to pay for health and social programs. (Health is, constitutionally, a provincial responsibility, so the medicare system here is a collection of 13 provincial/territorial health insurance agencies. However, the money used to be 50-50 from the feds.) So many of the provinces ended up with huge deficit problems, and health care across the country has suffered.
With Paul Martin having succeeded Chretien as Liberal leader and Prime Minister last year, the Liberals were all set to do the same thing; campaign from the left, then govern from the right. However, they've had a number of hiccups. First, Martin and Chretien didn't really like each other much. Martin campaigned within the party for a good two years or more to be in place to replace Chretien and to attempt to force Chretien to leave earlier than he may have wanted to. There are a lot of fractures within the party thanks to that.
As well, a lovely scandal broke a few months ago. In 1995, Quebec held a referendum on independence which almost passed (the votes were something like 49.5% Yes and 50.5% No). Chretien had not paid enough attention to the separatists in Quebec to that point. After getting a lot of heat for nearly losing Quebec, he over-reacted and started flooding money into Quebec through public works projects (google for "fountain" and "Shawinigan" just for fun) and federal advertising.
Anyhow, it turned out that a lot of the advertising money that went into Quebec went through a small number of PR firms, who, interestingly, were good Liberal buddies and who had donated to the Liberals. You would find things like the feds placing $100,000 worth of advertising in Quebec, but paying one of these firms $125,000 to do so. The commissions were huge, there seemed to be no reason why the government couldn't have bypassed these parasitic middlemen, and last fall the Auditor General said that of the $250M spent on the program, probably $100M was blown on these apparent kickbacks.
As well, the Liberals brought in mandatory registration of all firearms in the 1990's. (Before, only handguns and related weapons had to be registered.) Apart from angering many rural and native Canadians, the software and bureaucracy set up to register the guns has sucked about $2 billion into a black hole. (The original plan was for fees to make the registry roughly self-sufficient, with the budgeted net expenditure planned to have been only $2 *million*.)
Add on a bunch of other money-wasting scandals, and a lot of people are really ticked at the Liberals right now.
The way the polls are looking, the results of the election could be something like this:
Bloc Quebecois 60
Of course, with 308 seats, you need 155 to have a solid majority. In the past, we have had Liberal minorities propped up by the NDP, most notably between 1963-68 (when the NDP prodded the Liberals to introduce Medicare among other things) and 1972-74. But this time around, the NDP couldn't prop the Liberals up to a majority. Neither big party wants to work with the BQ, them being separatists and all. So the big questions now are something like this:
* The Conservatives have the big momentum now. Is it enough to push them into majority territory? There are still a lot of people worried about their social conservatism, with abortion and same-sex marriage being unexpected flashpoints in the campaign lately.
* What will the BQ do? The GG traditionally asks the leader of the party with the most seats to attempt to form a government. If that government were to lose a confidence vote, you either have a new election, or the GG could ask the other major party to give it a go. Would the BQ topple both parties just for fun? Neither of the big parties would want to form any kind of coalition with them. Would they try to keep things stable by just working with whichever party they think they can get the most out of? (Aside from their separatism, the BQ tends to the socialist side of things, much like the NDP. So they'd have better luck with the Liberals on social and economic policy. OTOH, the Conservatives lately [thanks to the Reform roots] are big on giving more power to the provinces, which the BQ obviously likes.) The BQ could never form a government themselves, since they only run in Quebec; theoretically, they could get 75 seats total (Quebec's total seat count), but in practice their maximum is in the low 60's.
* If we do have another election quickly after this one, will people be ticked off and just not vote? How many tries would it take to get someone into a majority position? A lot of young voters don't remember 1979, when the PC's under Joe Clark came 6 seats shy of a majority. There were 6 MP's from a further-right party that doesn't exist anymore federally that worked with them, but they forgot to count one day on a routine budget vote, and had to call another election 9 months after the 79 vote, in which the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau stormed back with a majority. There were three minorities in a row in the 1960's: a PC minority under John Diefenbaker in 1962, a Liberal minority in 1963 under Lester Pearson, and another Liberal Pearson minority in 1965. Those last two, however, were relatively stable thanks to the NDP. Anyhow, could we end up with a succession of "pizza parliaments" with frequent elections that don't decide anything? How would the resulting instability (minority governments tend to spend all their energy just hanging on, not doing new and exciting things) affect Canada in international relations, the economy, the Canadian dollar, foreign investment, you name it? (I might just go out and buy some more US and European stocks with my pension money....)
This is going to be a pivotal election in Canadian history. We seem to have 'em about once a decade. The last one was when the PC's imploded in 1993. Before that was the PC's triumph under Mulroney in 1984, when the Liberals almost imploded. Before that, it was 1968 and Trudeaumania. Before that, Diefenbaker's huge majority in 1958. The 2004 election will be spoken of in the same terms, no matter what happens.
I'll post some further stuff later re: the individual parties, and some of the key issues. Just in case y'all are interested. %-)