Ten days ago, the opposition parties in Canada forced a new election through a no-confidence vote in Parliament in an attempt to gain more seats and more leverage over the Conservative plurality. The election will be held in four weeks, but already it seems that the Liberal Party has miscalculated. In the latest polling, Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper have picked up support and may win enough votes to gain a majority government on their own:
The Conservatives widened its lead against the opposition Liberals in an opinion poll released on Monday.
The Nanos Research tracking poll of results over three days of surveys put support for the Conservatives at 42.3 percent, up from 40.7 percent in Sunday’s survey. Support for the Liberals slipped to 28.4 percent from 29.4 percent.
Under Canada’s electoral system, a party needs around 40 percent of the vote to win a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons in the May 2 federal election.
Bear in mind that the 40% number is an educated guess, similar to the “generic Congressional ballot” questions that pollsters ask in the US. Just as in Congressional elections, national voting statistics have a moderately correlative relationship to outcomes for specific numbers of seats, but not definitive, as each “riding” (district) elects its own MP. Traditionally, though, gaining more than 40% in Canada’s three-party-plus environment (the Bloc Quebecois party only effectively operates in Quebec) usually means winning the majority of seats.
Even if the Conservatives miss the majority, Harper will likely emerge from the process stronger, with more seats, at least in relation to Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals. That outcome could result in a change of leadership in the opposition, as Ignatieff’s miscalculation will not go unpunished. Parties do not call elections to lose seats.
Why will this matter to Americans? For one thing, Canada is our largest supplier of oil, a fact that many Americans don’t realize. We need the Canadians to employ the kind of energy policies that our own government seems loath to adopt in order to maintain that supply. While “conservative” in Canada means something quite different than it does here — the Conservatives would be roughly analogous to the center-left here in the US — they’re still more conservative than the alternatives.
The election should be fun to watch. Given Canada’s proximity to the US, their status as our closest trading partner, and the commonalities between our peoples, we really should take more interest in their politics.
Update: Dean from Nonsensible Shoes offers a good counterpoint to my analysis in the comments:
The conservative party of Canada is far less of a center-left party than you suggest. While it is not currently conservative in the sense of American conservatism, it’s still a center-right party. The way it governs is affected by the country as a whole. The conservative government is hampered by decades of liberalism and socialism, so moving the country back to the right will take considerable time. The country fears conservatives as being radicals and Prime Minister Harper has had to temper his lower taxes, stronger national defense, pro-business views to suit what is still a center-left country that is slowly testing the waters with a conservative government (three elections later).
Harper’s prudence isn’t as exciting as Reagan or Thatcher in a full on charge to the right, but it’s the smartest approach in a country ready to run back to the liberals at what it regards as the slightest hint of radical conservatism. If we are to get to a center-right nation, we unfortunately have to do it slowly.
Other than that, glad as always that you are paying attention to what’s going on up here.
It’s a great point. I’d also point out that Liberals in Canada demonized Harper for years as being another Reagan or Thatcher (in a bad way), an extremist, and a dangerous man to put in charge. In 2006, Canadian voters got fed up with the Liberals after the Adscam scandal and took a chance on Harper’s leadership. His prudence served to demonstrate the fundamental dishonesty of attacks from Liberals and the NDP, which is one reason why they’ve never threatened the Tories since.