Bumper month of elections


It looks like I’ve picked the perfect time to start an election blog, let’s look at the next month of elections:

  • October 14 – Canadian General Election
  • October 18 – ACT Legislative Assembly election
  • October 18 – By-election in NSW state seats of Cabramatta, Lakemba, Port Macquarie, Ryde
  • November 4 – US Presidential and Legislative election
  • November 6 – By-election in Scottish Westminster seat of Glenrothes
  • November 8 – NZ General Election

I’ll try and comment on all of these, but it’s gonna be pretty busy. Particularly this week as I try and cover Canada, NSW and ACT all at once, while getting a start on the US campaign.

Canadian politics primer 2: the peculiarities of Canadian politics


You can find more Australian perspectives on the Canadian election at Poll Bludger and Larvatus Prodeo.

Canada’s political history and practice is probably the most different from other countries in the Anglosphere.

Canada is a federation of ten provinces and three territories. It has certain similarities to Australia. Its federal structure overlays three large provinces and a number of small provinces, covering a large land mass. Unlike Australia, political battles are fought on completely different lines in each province.

In terms of population, Ontario and Quebec are the two largest, respectively having a similar proportion of the population to New South Wales and Victoria in Australia. These two provinces occupy a similar centrality in Canadian history, geography, population and politics as NSW and Victoria do in Australia. Like Queensland, British Columbia is rapidly growing as the third large province.

There are also the four provinces of Atlantic Canada, namely New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, and the three provinces of the Prairies, namely Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The three northern territories each elect one MP to the House of Commons in Ottawa.

Most of the marginal seats lie in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. While Ontario is dominated by battles between the Liberals and Conservatives, the main rival to the Conservatives in BC is the New Democrats. In Quebec, where the contest has been largely between the Liberals and the BQ since 1993, the Conservatives have been challenging BQ seats in this year’s election, with the Liberals pushed aside. The seven smaller provinces all have variations on these patterns.

There are also great differences between provincial and federal politics. Neither the Liberal or Conservative parties have affiliations with provincial parties, even though there are a number of parties using similar names in provincial politics. There are many cases of politicians participating in one party on a federal level working with a different party on a provincial level without any difficulty. The NDP has affiliated provincial parties in every province except for Quebec, where the Quebec NDP split off after adopting a pro-independence policy in the early 1990s.

British Columbia politics is fought between the two major parties of the NDP and the Liberal Party. The BC Liberals is dominated by politicians and supporters who support the Conservatives in federal politics. Quebec is split between the governing Liberal Party, who is led by a former federal leader of the Progressive Conservatives, the Parti Quebecois, who has links with the BQ but has no formal affiliation, and the conservative Action démocratique du Québec. Political positioning in Quebec is often defined by one’s position on separation from Canada, rather than a position on the left-right spectrum.

The NDP has also been successful in forming governments in Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan. The NDP has dominated government in Saskatchewan since the 1940s, yet has failed to elect any federal MPs in the province since 2004. The NDP is currently in government in Manitoba, and was in government in Saskatchewan as recently as 2007. NDP governments last held office in British Columbia and Ontario in 2001 and 1995 respectively.

Election results in both provincial and federal elections have also proven to be much more volatile than in Australia, New Zealand or the UK. Elections regularly produce results where third parties form government or nearly every single seat changes hands. Ontario in 1990 saw the New Democratic Party, who had been a minor party prior to a bad result for the Conservatives in 1988, defeat the Liberals and form government.

British Columbian politics also saw the Liberal government reduced to two seats at the ??? election. The most famous example was the 1993 federal election, when the Progressive Conservative government was reduced to two seats, with the Prime Minister and all but one minister defeated in their ridings. This is worth keeping in mind when considering the potential for radical change in the coming election.

The most obvious added dimension to Canadian politics is the significant francophone population. In addition to dominating Quebec, there are francophone Acadian populations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and french-speaking Canadians in Manitoba. The rise of Quebec separatism has seen French recognised as an official language. All Canadian governmental processes are communicated in both English and French. Indeed, many Prime Ministers were raised speaking French as a first language, including most recently Jean Chretien.

The importance of French in Canadian politics can be seen in the person of Stephane Dion. The Leader of the Opposition is taken seriously as a potential Prime Minister, despite having rather poor English skills for a senior politician in a country dominated by English speakers. In addition, anglophones like Stephen Harper and Jack Layton are required to demonstrate their French skills.

You can see this played out in the recent election debates. A French-language debate is held one night followed by an English-language debate the next night. If you’ve ever learnt a second language, you could appreciate the difficulty in being expected to debate complicated issues of policy in the pressures of a nationally-televised debate in a language you struggle to speak fluently. Greens leader Elizabeth May, participating in her first debate, struggled with the French language, at times bursting out in English and drawing blank on particular French words.

This complicated relationship between two dominant languages can make it difficult for politicians in attacking each other. Stephen Harper has come under criticism in recent days for attacking Dion over an English-language television debate where he failed to understand a question on the economy and asked the interviewer for a chance to re-do his answer. Harper’s attack on Dion’s credibility came off as being seen as mocking Dion’s language ability, threatening Harper’s support among francophone Quebecois.

If you want to see more about these issues, you can catch both English and French debates (translated into English) on YouTube. Below is the first of 13 parts of the English-language debate:

Canadian politics primer #1: parties and governments


Canada goes to the polls next Tuesday for their third federal election in just over four years. After Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien retired in late 2003, new Prime Minister Paul Martin called an early election in June 2004, which saw the Liberals lose seats but form a minority government.

After serving in office for barely 18 months, the Martin government was defeated in the Parliament and went to the voters in early 2006, which saw the Conservative Party under Stephen Harper become the largest party in another hung parliament, forming a Conservative minority government. This government lasted until early September 2008, when Harper called an election, in anticipation of a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons.

Modern Canadian politics largely dates from the game-changing election of 1993. The Progressive Conservative government, formerly led by Brian Mulroney, was led into the election by Canada’s first female prime minister, Kim Campbell. The PC party was decimated, only winning two seats, after winning 169 in 1988. The Liberal Party won a majority of seats, forming a government.

The election saw the rise of two new parties: the western-based conservative Reform party and the pro-independent Bloc Quebecois. The combination of seat losses to Reform in the prairies, the BQ in Quebec, and the NDP and Liberals everywhere else, saw the PC government wiped off the map. Indeed, the BQ won 54 out of 75 seats in Quebec, which made them the official opposition, despite running in only one province.

There are five political parties with a significant role in Canadian federal politics today. The Conservative Party was formed in 2003 by the merger of the remnants of the Progressive Conservatives with the Canadian Alliance opposition, which had succeeded the Reform Party. The party is led by Stephen Harper, who was a Reform MP and leader of the Alliance prior to the Conservative merger. The party is the only centre-right party in federal politics.

The Liberal Party is the largest opposition party and dates back to Canadian Confederation in 1867. The party is led by Stephane Dion since the 2006 election. The party is considered slightly left-of-centre, but doesn’t have the same socialist history and trade union links of the Labour parties in Australia, Britain and New Zealand.

The New Democratic Party is a social democratic party which is the third party in most of Canada. It is led by Jack Layton, and holds 29 seats in the Parliament. It has strong links with the trade union movement. While it fills the same role as the left wings of Labour parties in anglophone countries, it has failed to become a major party, never forming a federal government in Canada. It is making a strong push in this election to overtake the Liberals, becoming the major centre-left party in Canada, as it has achieved in some provinces.

The Bloc Quebecois is a pro-independence social democratic party which runs only in Quebec. The party emerged in the early 1990s to push within Canada for more autonomy and recognition for Québécois, with an ultimate goal of independence for Quebec. The BQ has won a majority of the 75 seats in Quebec at every federal election since 1993. It is led by Gilles Duceppe, and outside of Quebec autonomy issues the party generally stands near the NDP on the far left of the mainstream spectrum.

The Green Party assumes a similar position to Green parties in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Due to Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system, the Greens have never won any seats in federal or provincial parliament. The party has stood candidates for twenty-five years in provincial and federal elections. After first polling over the 4% funding threshold under Jim Harris in 2004 and 2006, the party has broken through another barrier under current leader Elizabeth May. The party now polls over 10% in most polls, and May was allowed into the 2008 leaders’ debate after failed attempts by the Conservatives and NDP to block May.

The party gained its first MP just before the dropping of the writs, when Blair Wilson, a former Liberal MP who had resigned from the party in 2007 over allegations of financial irregularities, joined the Green Party, although he did not have a chance to sit in Parliament as a Green before the election was called. The Greens are targetting a small number of seats. May is running against Defence Minister Peter Mackay in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova.

As an introduction to the Canadian political system for Australians, I’ve posted this primer about Canadian political parties. I’ll post another primer on the peculiarities and differences between the Canadian system and the rest of the Anglosphere. I’ll also post before election day with a summary of the election campaign, including last-minute impressions.

Welcome to the Tally Room


Welcome to my new blog. I’ll be regularly posting about my interests, mainly political issues, with a particular focus on electoral politics and electoral systems. In the near future, look forward to commentary on the upcoming elections in Canada, New Zealand and the US, as well as the ACT legislative assembly election and by-elections in New South Wales.