The conventional wisdom is that the United States is a center-right country while Canada is a center-left one. Yet, even as the most-left-wing president in history occupies the White House, last night the Conservative Party of Canada -- which had already been steering its ship of state in a fiscally prudent direction despite only having a plurality of seats in Parliament -- won a decisive victory. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will thus lead the first first majority government by any party since 2004 (after the first election creating a majority government since 2000).
How can this be?
The answer comes down to three main factors:
- Electoral system. Canada has a multi-party first-past-the-post parliamentary system that currently features one united center-right party and an opposition split among two major left-wing parties, Quebec separatists, and a not-inconsequential Green Party. Thus, the Tories' 40% of the popular vote (up 2% since the 2008 election) translated to 166 of the 305 seats in Parliament (a gain of 23). Recall that John McCain won 45.7% of the vote in the 2008 presidential campaign.
- Timing of terms of office. If President Obama had run for re-election yesterday -- well, maybe not yesterday, the day after announcing the end of Osama bin Laden -- he might very well have lost (depending on the vagaries of the electoral college and who the GOP ran against him). As it was, of course, the Republicans did win big in the 2010 midterms and stand to do so again in 2012 regardless of the result of the presidential election. Also, one of the themes of this year's Canadian election was that the opposition forced an election that Canadians "did not want" and considered to be a waste of money.
- Leadership/personality. Barack Obama was a singular individual at a unique time (financial collapse, Bush fatigue, etc.). The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, meanwhile, former Oxford and Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, who hadn't lived in the country for 30 years before entering Parliament in 2006 (see the Conservatives' hilarious and devastating attack ads), was a wooden campaigner who failed to connect with the average voter.
And so, even as 60% of Canadians voted for a party other than the Conservatives -- 31% New Democrats (socialist/labor), 19% Liberal, 6% Bloc Quebecois (separatists), 4% Green -- they will have a Tory majority government until (probably) October 2015. Given that social issues don't play much of a role in Canadian public affairs, this is generally a good result for friends of liberty. Now that he has his majority, we'll see how much more Prime Minister Harper moves in the free-market direction he has long said he would if given the opportunity.
For those interested in more than that basic synopsis and US/Canada comparison, read on below the fold.
Here are a few other tidbits from Canada's 41st federal election:
The Conservative Party
- Won a majority based almost exclusively in Ontario (72 seats) and the West (also 72 seats), a feat -- i.e., winning without Quebec -- heretofore thought impossible.
- Won 30 of 44 seats in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), including my former riding of Eglinton-Lawrence (where my dad still lives and which has been a Liberal seat since its inception in 1979) and Ajax-Pickering, picked up by former ambassador-to-Afghanistan (and youngish alum of my high school) Chris Alexander. Such a strong performance in the 416 and 905 area codes -- as the central and suburban parts of the city are labeled -- was unexpected, to say the least, and is being attributed to successful courtships of so-called New Canadians (especially Asians) and a strong pro-Israel position.
- Won 27 of 28 seats in Alberta, 13 of 14 in Saskatechewan, and 11 of 14 in Manitoba, painting the West blue.
The New Democratic Party
- The NDP won a record 31% of the vote (up 13% from 2008) and 102 seats (a gain of 65), for the first time becoming the Official Opposition.
- Of those 102 seats, 58 are in Quebec, up from 1 (one!) going into the election. Thus, the Official Opposition is essentially a Quebec-based group.
- The NDP leader, and therefore Leader-elect of the Opposition, is former Toronto city councillor Jack Layton, who, the media discovered three days before the election, had in 1996 been found by policy lying naked in a "bawdy house." Layton explained that he was just getting a shiatsu massage.
- The party had some other colorful characters unexpectedly elected to Parliament, including a former(?)-Communist karate instructor, a cocktail waitress elected in Quebec who doesn't speak French and went on vacation to Las Vegas during the election, and at least one college student.
The Liberal Party
- The Liberals, the longtime "natural party of government," were decimated, reaching record lows of 19% of the vote (down 7% from 2008) and 35 seats (down 32).
- Liberal leader Ignatieff lost his own seat, setting up a leadership race between Bob Rae, former premier of Ontario (as a New Democrat) and Justin Trudeau (son of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, considered by many Baby Boomers Canadians to have been Canada's JFK).
The Bloc Quebecois
- The Bloc were utterly defeated, losing 40% of their vote, all but four of their seats (down from 49), and "official party status" in Parliament (important procedurally and also for public funding formulas).
- Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, the first MP elected under the Bloc banner (others had "crossed the floor" from other parties), also lost his own seat, and promptly resigned the party leadership.
- The conventional wisdom is that most Bloc voters were social democrats and so, tired of flogging the one-issue separatist horse, moved their anti-Conservative voices en masse to the NDP. Maybe. If this were any other province, probably. There are, however, plenty of nationalist, separatist conservatives here (perhaps better described as populists), so it could be that, as usual, Quebeckers voted in a way they thought would maximize their power and autonomy within the federal system.
The Green Party
- Although the Greens lost nearly half their popular vote (down from 7% in 2008), they did manage to elect their leader, Elizabeth May, in a British Columbia riding previously held by a Tory cabinet minister. How a seat can swing from Conservative to Green is beyond my ken, but this is the first Green seat ever in Canadian history.