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11/29/2005 Archived Entry: "Canadian government falls on no-confidence vote"
You have probably heard by now that the 17-month-old Liberal government in Canada received a no-confidence vote after losing the backing of the extra-liberal New Democratic Party due largely to 1) a continuing financial scandal and 2) the PM's refusal to oppose in sufficiently strong terms the advance of private medical care. So...it is election time up here, which is a very different matter than 'down under' in the States. The campaigning time is severely limited by law, comparatively little money is tossed about, at least four political parties of significance will split the vote with the Bloc Quebecois very likely to swing Quebec, and few voters are passionate about the outcome. They are saving their passion for expressing disgust with the political wrangling and the sudden election. Indeed, it is rather nice to be among people so cynical about their leaders and the political process. [Click on 'more' to continue.]
The fact that campaigning will take place over Christmas and New Year, with the election occurring in late January (probably the 23rd), means that few people will start following the campaign until January 1st. The timing may also have a real impact on voter turn-out; reporters up here are already talking about people being 'disenfranchised' by the weather. Right now it is raining outside my window in S.W. Ontario and temperatures hover in the high 40s (F) even at night but in late January there will be a few feet of snow in most areas and bitterly cold winds will howl. Some people may well be snowed in; certainly travel will be difficult for those in rural areas, like me (not that I intend to vote). Moreover, many older Canadians -- who tend to be more conservative -- will be in Florida, Arizona or another warm State for the winter months. Some areas of Canada almost empty of old people after Christmas. (An exaggeration, I admit.)
I suspect that Martin and the Liberals will regain a minority government on the sheer strength of the Canadian economy, which is robust and has been for some while. The dollar keeps rising, unemployment is unusually low, there is a budget surplus, and Alberta is waddling neck-deep in cash due to its vast oil resources. Moreover, Canadians are wary of Martin's only credible rival for power: the Conservative Harper. Martin can be a bit of a wimp when it comes to Bush but he has continued the Liberal policy of opposing the Iraq War and he has taken a few stands against American demands re: the border etc. Especially by contrast, Harper is hawkish. Canadians are overwhelmingly against the War and hostile to Bush, who has attempted to get what he wants up here through bullying.
But even if the Conservatives somehow prevail (which I doubt), they will form a weak, minority government. Both the NDP and the Bloc are fed up with Martin. Nothing short of absolute fury would have made them align with the Conservatives who are their natural opponents. But, when push comes to shove, I believe the NDP will back Martin again because of their distrust of Harper on war/terrorism and their loathing of his conservative economic views. I can't see the Bloc backing Harper either. The man doesn't even speak French and that is a kiss of death for a politician who wishes to cultivate a relationship with Quebec. Harper's strength is and has always been the Prairie Provinces; elsewhere he is not well liked not merely politically but also personally. The Toronto Star may be correct in stating what it perceives as the bottomline, " In an age of personality politics, he's [Martin's] more likeable than Stephen Harper. Not being Harper gives Martin an immediate advantage."
Until the election, however, Parliament will be more or less paralyzed. Normally, I'd call this "an unconditional good" but it means a bill to decriminalize marijuana, which might well have passed, is utterly stalled. After the election, I expect at least one political leader's head to roll. If Martin doesn't get a majority government, then the Liberals will almost certainly want to replace him before the next election. If Harper loses two elections in a row, the same will be true of him.
Best to all,