Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Canadian election, what was it about?

For those following the news today, Canada took a left turn yesterday and returned the Liberals to power, and with them, elected Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister.  Signalling the left turn, or perhaps a u-turn, Trudeau stated "Tonight Canada is becoming the country it was before."

So what was the election really about?

Calls to return a country to a prior era are usually a conservative cri de coeur.  But in Steven Harper's Canada, the opposite seems to be the case.  Harper, the long serving Conservative Prime Minister, drew an increasing amount of ire in this campaign, although he'd been drawing it anyway. As I recently mentioned, it was never really easy from the outside, even for somebody who somewhat follows Canadian politics as I do, as I have a personal reason for being interested in it, to know what exactly it was that Harper did that so offended people. Even now, I really don't know.

What seems to have been the case is that he was, by American standards, mildly conservative and insistent in taking the country in that direction.  Canadian conservatism shares some elements with American conservatism, particularly in the Canadian West (where Harper did well), but it features many dissimilarities.  A Canadian Conservative is to American Conservatism what a Wyoming Democrat is to the national Democrats.  Not really conservative but more middle of the road.

A lot of this election seemed simply directed at Harper himself, and sort of on a personal level, but it's never been clear from the outside exactly what he did.  One voter was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “I normally vote Conservative, but this election I wavered between him and the other parties because Harper can be a bit of a bully, but, in the end, I like what he’s done.”  That view seems fairly common, although clearly the animosity towards him is deeper than that.  It must be, because in order to overturn a government, in a parliamentary election, you have to turn out a local member of parliament.  It's parliament that chooses the Prime Minister.

Beyond that, quite a few people seem to be upset with the economy, which Harper tied to oil production, and with a mild turn to the right in a country which is mildly to the left, by American standards.  Harper was sort of recognizable to Americans as sort of a Western states Democrat, but most Canadians are East Coast Canadians.  Harper hasn't been aggressive on global warming, has been somewhat willing to use the Canadian armed forces overseas, and has been mildly sympathetic with other conservative views.  

One of the oddest things I've seen cited about this election is that some Canadians seem to feel that electing Trudeau will help repair Canadian relations with President Obama, which have been chilly.  Harper the conservative hasn't been getting along real well with Obama the liberal.  But those comments reveal the depth to which voters of one nation fail to understand the political system in another.  At this point President Obama is a lame duck to whom his own party need not pay attention. It doesn't make any difference in anything if Justin Trudeau gets along famously with Barrack Obama, as the moving vans are already in action in regards to the White House.  It will make a difference if he gets along well with the next President, but right now we don't know who that will be and the American election campaign has been particularly odd so far this cycle.

Harper noted that "the people are never wrong" in accepting the results, and this is particularly true when looking at the politics of another nation. Still, as somebody who never knew what it was that Harper did to offend people, I'm not really happy to see Trudeau come in.  I wasn't a fan of his father, and Canada since World War Two has settled into a pattern of political and social thinking that can be worrying.  Some speech in Canada is now beyond the pale in a way that it could never be in the US, mostly out of  a sort of a "it's nice to be nice to the nice" sort of thinking, and whenever the Liberals are in power the Parti Quebecois seems to be assertive.  Beyond that, it seems that the change in direction expresses a vague yearning to return to the Pierre Trudeau era, which is gone.

It is interesting in the context of political trends in the west, but those can only be taken so far.  It's been noted, for example, that the Greeks recently turned hard to the left, and Bernie Saunders remains very much in the running in the Democratic campaign in the US. But then, in the same year Donald Trump is doing well in the US, and just recently the Conservatives did well in the UK, so cross border analysis is probably not terribly revealing.

What may be revealing, at least regarding how unpopular Harper had become for some reason, is that the Liberals were in third place in parliamentary seats prior to this election, and gained 150 seats, a massive rise in their fortunes. The other Canadian left wing part, the New Democratic Party, suffered just as the Conservatives did, loosing 59 seats.  The Conservatives lost 67, but the had more to loose, and in terms of percentage of the parliament they're actually  nearly tied with the Liberals. Of course, with the 59 seats the New Democrats have, they have a comfortable margin in the parliament.The Parti Quebecois gained a few seats at the expense of the New Democrats, although it remains a tiny minority in parliament.  The Canadian Green Party kept a seat in Vancouver, the Portland of Canada.

No comments: