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.
For once, a new poll on the political attitudes of young Americans brings some good news. The poll, “D.C.‘s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?”[.pdf] is from the Brookings Institution, and it’s the subject of my Washington Examiner column this week:
“It’s a survey of the type of kids who run for student government and choose to spend their summer vacations working in Washington,” the authors explain, “youth who already have the ‘Washington bug’ and have set themselves towards a career in politics and policy.” In other words … creeps!
If you’re the rare bird who favors limited government at home and abroad, you can hardly expect good news from a poll of this generation’s Tracy Flicks*. After all, aren’t these just the sort of model U.N. types who’ve always wanted to run the world?
Maybe not: The Brookings study contains some surprisingly encouraging findings about the attitudes of our future policy elites.
When given a list of possible foreign policy actions and asked to prioritize them, our precocious politicos put “build a stronger military force to ensure deterrence” near the bottom. Moreover, nearly 58 percent of these “young leaders” agreed with the statement that “the U.S. is too involved in global affairs and should focus on more issues at home.”
Only 10 percent “thought that the United States should be more globally proactive.”
I’ve read a lot of polling data on the Millennials’ politics, and, from a libertarian perspective, they’re a mixed bag. On the plus side, they’re socially liberal, and totally uninterested in culture‐war politics. On the minus, they exhibit higher levels of faith in government than do older generations, leading the Center for American Progress to call them “The Progressive Generation.”
But if, as the Brookings survey suggests, even GenY’s model‐UN types don’t want to run the world, then the future looks less bright for neoconservatives than it does for libertarians.
* reference is to the Greatest Political Movie of All Time, 1999’s “Election”: