Canadian Electoral Politics: What you need to know

The upcoming Canadian Election is major news, but only for Canadians.  It’s absolutely overshadowed by its much bigger cousin to the south, and frankly isn’t getting the media coverage it deserves. And, frankly, Canadians are probably sick of elections.  This is the 3rd federal election in 4 years, and the last two both resulted in minority governments.

So here’s the first annual 4080Records Guide to Canadian Politics.

The Parties

Canada has a unique four (sometimes five) party system.  There are more, obviously, but there are four main parties that seem to actually have influence.

The Conservative Party of Canada

Led by Stephen Harper, this is the party currently in power with a minority government.  Having only recently emerged from the mess that was the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties, this past election was the first Conservative win since the Mulroney/Campbell fiasco of the early 1990’s.

Their record over the past year has been somewhat positive, fulfilling a few of their campaign promises (including increased military spending).  In recent polling, things are looking rosy for the Conservatives, with some estimates even projecting a majority for them.

The main issue here is the public perception (as always).  In this case, Harper has very strong polling figures as a “leader”, but the Conservative party itself does not get all that much love and respect.  So the focus of this election has been on playing up Harper’s virtues and virtually ignoring the party itself.  In fact, the new party slogan is “We’re better off with Harper.”

The Conservatives, whether you like them or not, have also taken a rather negative approach to the campaign to date.  Beyond the ‘positive’ messages playing up Harper’s virtues, the other tactic is an extreme set of attacks on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s alleged inability to lead.  From launching a website (http://www.notaleader.ca) aimed at young voters (you can play Flash games mocking the liberals) it also once featured an animated ad of a puffin pooping on Dion.  I kid you not.  It’s kind of a low-brow attack considering much of the focus seems to be on the Dion’s less than great grasp on the English language.  But hey, that’s what the site’s all about.  They also take aim at completely ludicrous things, including the fact that Dion allegedly ate a hot dog with a knife and fork.  Big deal! One of the better moves is their use of Dionbook, a Facebook satire that will probably get them sued in the end.  It’s somewhat funny.

Harper has also been instrumental in excluding the Green Party from the televised debates.

Major Platform Points

  • Arctic Sovereignty – insisting that northern territorial waters be respected, and that ships using the pathways must first report to Canadian Authorities.
  • Increased Military Spending – more troops in the standing army and better equipment.
  • Better relations with the United States
  • Cut the tax on jet fuel and diesel
  • Oppose Kyoto

Some actions as the Government

  • Reduced GST by 2 percentage points (down to 5%)
  • Cut court challenges program
  • Commissioned the creation of a new deep-water vessels for Arctic patrols
  • Introduced childcare benefit
  • Introduced legislation creating fixed election dates.  (then called a snap election)

The Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberal Party is often referred to as Canada’s governing party.  They’ve remained in power for the majority of time in the past 50 years, at least until the 2004 election.  In fact, they’re still facing the political fallout of the sponsorship scandal which is pretty much what swept them from power.  Paul Martin, Liberal leader before Dion was not successful in maintaining his minority government.  After his failure to lead the Liberals to victory in the 2006 election, there was immediately a Liberal leadership race to try and choose someone more appealing to voters.  Somehow, the Liberals chose Stephane Dion.

He was, by many pundits opinions, the least likely of the the three main contenderrs to win.  Somehow, he came through with it and has yet to impress.  His voting record has been spotty and he hasn’t done a good job of demonstrating his ability to lead with strength.  This is the focus of many of the Conservative’s attack ads, and  what will probably be the hardest thing for the Liberals to overcome.  Unlike Harper and the Conservatives, the Liberals have a strong party brand image but a perceived weak leader.

To counter the Tory website, the Libs have launched Thisisdion.ca.  It’s a much less flashy site and also remains slightly more positive (but equally as silly).  The focus of this is to showcase just how ‘rugged‘ Stephane Dion truly is.  They’ve also done Scandalpedia.ca, an attempt at a wikipedia entirely based on Conservative party scandals.

[Source: CTV]

Major Policy Points

Specific Proposed Actions as Government

  • Double childcare benefit for low-income families
  • Reintroduce court challenges program

The New Democrat Party

This party has more in common with the Conservatives than they would like to admit.  Self-professedly a ‘party of the left’, the NDP has been a bulwark of pro-union and quasi-socialist activity for many years.  And yet they’ve only begun to obtain mainstream acceptance under the stewardship of Jack Layton (pictured left).  The NDP is also relying heavily on the strength of their leader (an absurdly charasmatic individual) to prop up their party.

The NDP has been rather successful in provincial politics, having run governments in BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario at various times.  Federally, however, they have been much less successful.  The previous two elections (2006 and 2004) have been their best yet, winning 29 seats in 2006 and 19 in 2004.  In fact, in 2004 they were key in bringing down the Liberal government but were also paramount in propping them up for several key votes.  As the keeper of the balance of power in parliament, the NDP has recently enjoyed an unprecedented amount of influence.

This is likely to change.  Much the same way Nader is often blamed for the Gore’s election loss, many die-hard Liberals blame Layton for keeping Martin from achieving a Liberal majority back in 2004.  There are some who are predicting now that those less keen on the Liberal brand may feel their ‘protest’ votes had their intended effect and may now return to the Liberal fold.  I’m not convinced of this, but it will be interesting to see.

Main Policy Points

  • Shut down further tar sands development in Alberta
  • Fixing immigration backlog (recognize foreign professional creditionals)

The Bloc Quebecois

This party deserves (and will get) a rather short note.   Since they only run in the province of Quebec, and those outside of Quebec cannot vote for them, they are indeed a mainly regional party.  However, since Quebec has such a huge number of seats, they must still be reckoned with.

At one time they were a soverigntist party, attempting to encourage Quebec to secede from Canada.  This has largely fallen away in the past few years, and instead they have become focused on keeping Quebec’s unique status within federalist Canada.  Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have made considerable inroads into Bloc territory in Quebec, and the Conservatives especially seem poised to take quite a few seats in the province.

Policy Points

  • Promote Quebec identity
  • French language (equality with English as a national language)

The Green Party

The Green Party is, sadly, a bit of a joke.  Despite receiving nearly 5% of the national vote in the 2006 election, they won no seats.  Elizabeth May, their leader, has been raising some ruckus lately because she will be excluded from the televised debate in a few weeks.  This is not the first time this has happened to the Green’s, and likely not the last either.

Somehow people don’t seem to take them overly seriously, and apparently everyone except the Liberals were against them being in the public debate.  What’s especially upsetting for Elizabeth May is the fact that they are finally represented by an MP in parliament.  Thanks to the quirky rules of politics, a Blair Wilson, a former Liberal-turned-Independent-turned-Green MP, they Green’s would have finally had a voice.

May seemed to think that having this representative would guarantee her a chance to participate in the TV debates.  Something she has no doubt been hoping to do for a long time.

Campaign Points

  • Reduce poverty
  • Tax-shifting (similar to the Green Shift plan, they hope to shift taxes from income to discourage use of harmful things)
  • Reduce environmental impact

Conclusion

And there you go.  Everything you needed to know about Canadian Politics for the election.

Just in case you skipped over all the stuff above, here are the links to the party sites.

Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green, Bloc.

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