Yo, Canada!

By Beacon Staff

So we got Osama … but did you notice that Canada got a new government?

Canada is a democratic constitutional monarchy, a commonwealth currently under Queen Elizabeth II. Canada has a 308-seat House of Commons that must stand for election at least once every four years, but elections can be triggered any time by a “no confidence” vote in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister (Stephen Harper of Alberta) is the leader of the party with the most seats (or ridings) in Commons.

Canada also has a Senate, to which members are appointed by the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) with consent from the Prime Minister – but the big show is in the House of Commons.

If America had the same system, current House Speaker John Boehner would be in the White House, and his cabinet would all be sitting congressmen. Judges would be picked by the king or queen with advice from the Prime Minister, while our senators would mostly take naps.

When one party (Canada has four major political parties) wins an outright Commons majority (155 seats), then that party runs the agenda. An engineer friend of mine from Fernie calls this outcome an “elected dictatorship.”

If no party wins a majority, the other parties can choose either to form a “coalition” and working majority, or form an “opposition” to a “minority” government. Losers can theoretically boot out the winner with a “no-confidence” and another election … but that would be bad form.

So, in late March, Harper’s Conservative minority government presented a new budget. All the other parties voted to slap Harper’s cabinet with a party-line, first-ever-for-Canada “finding of contempt,” which in turn triggered a “no-confidence” vote and Canada’s fourth national election in seven years.

After a short six weeks of campaigning (not two years), Canada voted.

The biggest loser was the Liberal Party. Long considered the “natural ruling party” of Canada, Liberals are akin to old-line Democrats in the United States, as in pro-industrial, good-jobs, good-and-big government. Carrying 77 seats into the election, they crawled away with 34. Their party leader, who spearheaded the no-confidence vote, not only resigned, but lost his home election, too.

Bloc Quebecois, or Bloc, is best described as an ethnic, provincialist “states’ rights” party. Ever since France conceded Canada to Britain after the Seven Years War in 1763, French-Canadians have resisted cultural and linguistic assimilation into English-speaking Canada. This resistance has cycled up – for example, in 1995, a Quebec provincial referendum to separate from Canada failed with a narrow 50.6 percent vote – and now down.

Of 47 seats before the election (all in Quebec), Bloc kept only four, a stomping that strips the Bloc of “major” party status.

The big winner was the New Democratic Party (NDP), a “democratic-socialist,” leftist party that is similar to the “progressive” wing of U.S. polity. NDPs gained 66 seats, for a new record total of 102, with many coming in Quebec – including a seat won by a lady who runs an Ottawa (Ontario) pub and has never visited her riding! Wow!

Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative Party went from 143 seats to 167, Canada’s first conservative majority since 1993.

Canada’s Conservative party is relatively new, resulting from the 2003 merger of the Reform nee Canadian Alliance and old-line Progressive Conservative parties – both right-of-center, fiscally and sorta-socially conservative, with “suit” conservatives and rednecks all under one happy tent. Yeah, right.

Will NDP’s and Conservatives cooperate for the next four years? Well, one pet project of Conservatives is to elect rather than appoint an empowered Canadian Senate, in order to give rural/Western Canada the sort of representative power small-population states have in the U.S. Senate. The urban/populist NDPs want to kill the Canadian Senate outright.

Further, let’s consider our British Columbia neighbors. While the ruling BC Liberal provincial government is less liberal than federal Liberals, and even though Victoria voters elected Canada’s lone federal Green over a Conservative, BC otherwise voted in 21 Conservatives, 12 NDPs, and only two Liberals. With the next provincial election in May 2013, or sooner, new Liberal BC Premier Christy Clark should be busy.

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