Monday, January 14, 2002

A number of good Canadian letters over at Midwest Conservative Journal. I tried to post this item last night but Blogger was on the fritz. I've been a bit of a Canadaphile most of my life, growing up in Michigan and getting Canadian radio stations from Windsor (big boomer CKLW), Chatham and Leamington making it up to Midland (~100 miles NNW of Detroit). There's a bit of alternative universe-ness about watching Canadian politics and culture-it's American but it isn't. Anglophone Canada isn't a foreign culture; they may spell funny and the roadsigns are in kilometers, but it's the same basic metaculture. It's America without the South. Without a slavery history, Canada doesn't have as nearly as much of a black/white mess. Also, without the South, Canada doesn't have as big of a Bible Belt, thus their politics lacks the conservative tilt from the South. I'm probably going to have Canadian politics as an ongoing part of my blogging, as our neighbor to the north will be a increasing factor in American politics as the two countries will become more intertwined as the years go by. With that in mind, I'll lay out a quick history of modern Canadian politics for future reference with American readers in mind. Canadian politics got turned upside down in 1993. Traditionally, the two main parties were the Conservatives (officially Progressive Conservatives, having swallowed the Progressive party decades back) and the Liberals, with the labor-socialist New Democrats winning a few blue-collar ridings (parliament districts). Three things then melted down the political landscape. The first was a growing disenchantment with Prime Minister Mulroney, who had been PM for 9 years. Seeing his popularity go in the tank, he handed over the job to a cute MP (member of Parliament) from British Columbia, Kim Campbell. In a parliamentary system, you can change PMs without having an election, as the leader of the majority party is named the PM. For instance, Margaret Thatcher handed over the reins to John Major when her popularity within the party got too low. The second change was that the Parti Quebecois, the francophone separatist party, fielded candidates for the federal parliament for the first time. Voters who voted PQ on the provincial level used to vote Conservative for federal parliament. The Conservatives went from going toe-to-toe with Liberals in Quebec to getting two seats in the province, with the Bloc Quebecois (the federal incarnation) getting much of the old Conservative seats. The third change happened mostly out west, where small-c conservatives were tired of the centrist Mulroney and Campbell and formed the Reform party. The Reform party was more Reaganesque than the old Conservatives which were more of a New England moderate-liberal Republican bent. The two seats in Quebec were all the Conservatives got. PM Campbell lost her seat while the Liberals led by Jean Chretien swept to victory. Chretien has no good American comparison; he's very confident and rather arrogant with a nasty-effective cutting wit, equal parts Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank (just rhetorically, Jean seems to like women) and Pepe LePew. The BQ just nudged out Reform for second place in Parliament. Reform did well in the west, under the no-nonsense, mildly arrogant leadership of Preston Manning, but got no seats east of Manitoba. 1997 saw the Conservatives make some headway. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark won a seat in Alberta and the party won back some seats in the Maritimes where the New England liberal Republican style went over well, but only up to 20 seats in a 301-seat parliament. The Liberal's majority dwindled to 155 seats, with losses to the New Democrats and Conservatives. Reform still was shut out east of Manitoba, with the Liberals owning Ontario, getting all but two of the province's seats. With the Conservatives winning back some Quebec seats from the BQ, Reform became the official opposition with 60 seats. On the provincial level, the Conservatives had more success. In 1995, an American-style fiscal conservative named Mike Harris lead the Conservative party to power in the Ontario legislature. The new provincial premier's "Common Sense Revolution" trimmed provincial government and cut taxes. The Reform party was frustrated by their lack of success in Ontario. After the 1997 election, Manning started to campaign for a "United Alternative" right-of-center party. I had thought to myself at the time, "If only the Harris guys in Ontario could hook up with the Reform party." Some Canadians were thinking along the same lines. Many Bay Street (Toronto financial district, the Canadian "Wall Street") backers of Harris and a few Conservative federal MP got together with the Reform party in 2000 to form the Canadian Alliance party. However, the new party pushed Manning aside, electing fellow Albertan Stockwell Day, a Pentecostal provincial finance minister, to lead the new party. Day reminds me of a slightly-more-animated Steve Largent, a young, attractive, earnest and honest conservative, whereas Manning is a bit crusty and had (I'll use past tense, haven't seen much of him since 2000) a cockiness that reminded you of the American Reform party founder Ross Perot. Chretien decided to call an early election later in 2000 to catch the new party before it could get its sea legs. In both British and Canadian systems, their has to be an election at least every five years, but the government can call an election before its five-year mandate is up (dream on, Dubya) if it wants to. Day was a bit awkward as a campaigner, and the Canadian press was not friendly to a Bible-believing evangelical, goaded on by the secular Chretien painting Day as out-of-the-mainstream. The link-up with the Harris crowd earned a rousing two seats in Ontario for the Alliance and none further east. While the Alliance gained seven seats to get to 67, the Liberals took seats from the NDP, BQ and Conservatives to move its majority up to 172. The Conservatives got exactly the 12 seats needed to be recognized as a party in parliament. The last 15 months haven't been kind to Stock. A handful of Alliance members have quit the party and formed a de facto partnership with the Conservatives. The remaining Alliance MPs grumbled enough to make Day resign as party leader and call a new party leadership election for March 8th in which he will run to get his job back with a fresh mandate from the party rank-and-file. This should be a decent knowledge base to link to for future reference. Canadian Blogistanis are welcome to critique my analysis- reading the National Post and sporadically getting "The National" CBC 10PM news on my local cable are my primary sources, so I'm not the best connected.

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