Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Frighteningly Glib Look at the Modern Canadian Political Atmosphere

Or: Everything You Wanted to Know About Canadian Politics but Were Too Apathetic to Ask

Oh, hello there. If I know you, right now you’re probably thinking about the upcoming American elections and how they will shape the coming national, as well as global landscape over the next four years. However, did you know that that’s not the only election occurring over the next month?

That’s right!

Consider, if you will, your friendly neighbours to the North, the ones who control all the lumber and fresh drinking water. On Tuesday, October 14, they too will be having their own election to decide the leader of their free world.

“Well, golly!” I hear you saying to yourself now, “I had no idea! If only there was some handy guide wherein I could be told which Canadian political party is right for me!”

I had suspected you would say that. And now there is.

First, let us start with the basics. In Canadian government, unlike American government, there are no set designated periods for elections, so long as one is called within five years of the previous election. An election is instead called either whenever the ruling party wants there to be one (pretty much the only way during a Majority government), or on the account of a non-confidence vote in Parliament, in which the members of the opposition outvote the ruling party on any old issue (they don’t necessarily have to disagree, they just have to feel apathetic enough on the issue to throw it to the wolves). For example, for this election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament on Sep. 7, and the election is being held only a month later. This is in stark contrast to the American elections, wherein the long, laborious process has been going on for the better part of two years now. Since the run-up to the Canadian election is much shorter, this puts significantly less pressure on the media to waste the considerable time given with sensationalist news stories that have nothing to do with the political values of the candidates in question, and instead focus on the issues that matter.

Like which candidate cares more about their family: the upstanding, well-dressed, well-groomed, and quite frankly gorgeous incumbent (I get lost sometimes in his deep blue eyes), or the French guy who no one can understand and is probably a polygamist? Or whether the current Canadian Agriculture Minister should be fired for making what amounts to a bad pun? (There really should be laws against that kind of stuff)

So now that you know how Parliament is dismissed, why are they being dismissed? Namely, why is Canada having an election now? That’s a good question. There’s really no great political motivation for it; in all likeliness, the Conservatives will win another Minority government, and gain/lose very little power by doing so. My guess is they view it as “better sooner than later” proposition, wherein the Conservative government can only fuck up the situation from here on out. But that could just be me.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that Canada runs on a Parliamentary system. Essentially, instead of directly voting for the Prime Minister, each voter votes for a local representative for their community who belongs to the same party as the candidate they want to choose (or vice versa). The idea being that each riding has an individual MP to report back to, rather than just a national party. There’s some other relevant stuff here too, but I won’t go into it, as the specifics bore me tremendously. Oh yeah, we also run a multi-party system. Which is exactly how it sounds.

So, dear reader, now that you have been acclimated to the basics of the Canadian political process, I hear you wondering now: what of the parties? When I hear that my leader is engaging in diplomacy with the Canadian Prime Minister, who do I want that Prime Minister to be?

What an excellent inquiry on your part! Luckily, I had prepared for such a circumstance.

The Conservative Party:

The current party in charge, lead by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who claimed power two years ago by capitalizing on a Liberal sponsorship scandal. For the past 15-20 years or so, in the aftermath of the horrific Mulroney (and even more horrific Campbell) government, the Conservatives have gone through a very tumultuous time. Much of this was because of a split in the party-base; during the 80’s, in which Alberta was practically bankrupted due to Liberal policies, Western (and by Western, I almost always mean Albertan) conservatives began to view the current system as not only non-representative of their goals, but as one which simply didn’t care about them. This begat the Reform Party in 1987, a religiously right-wing populist party which seeked to fix the inequalities in the system that favoured the Eastern provinces (i.e. Ontario and Quebec) and that thusly caused the main parties to do the same. This, in turn, decimated the vote totals for the Progressive Conservative Party, a far more centre-leaning party which had traditionally catered to its Eastern base. The Reform Party would eventually try to expand its base eastwards, in the hope of drawing away power from the PC’s, with varied amounts of success. This continued on throughout the 90’s, with the Liberal Party easily winning majority after majority government at the expense of the feuding conservatives. At the turn of the century, the Reform Party decided their problem wasn’t one of differentiating values, but one of image, and changed their name to the Canadian Alliance. With this, they overtook the PC’s, but still fell short to the Liberals in the 2000 Federal Election.

By 2003, the two parties put aside their differences and joined to form the Conservative Party of Canada, in hopes of finally gaining enough momentum to oust the Liberals. The current incarnation of the Conservatives is very Western-centric, as their strongest base resides in Alberta. They’re essentially the more moderate version of the American Republican Party in ideology, only with the intelligence and pragmatism to only stray as close to the Republicans as they think the voters will let them (For example, Stephen Harper is an evangelical Christian, the first evangelical Christian, in fact, in over 40 years to lead the country, and as such, has been quoted as being against same-sex marriage. Yet, despite leading a campaign against it early on as leader of the Conservatives, has ceased much of his efforts to do as Prime Minister, well aware that any effort would likely prove fruitless anyway, and would only kill his political career.) The greatest question surrounding the Conservatives at this point would likely revolve around whether they can keep power, or whether this was just a brief flirtation on the part of the Canadian populace, akin to being drunkenly exploited by a smooth-talking lothario who convinces you that the best way to get back at your cheating boyfriend is to have sex with someone else. And just who are they competing against?

The Liberal Party:

I don’t have the facts to back me up on this, but I’m pretty sure party leader Stephane Dion has it in his platform to end charisma once and for all. Jesus, why do the Liberals keep picking French people with only the most basic command of the English language? At least Chretien was entertaining. You know what? It’s fucking arrogant is what it is. Like they know the general population has no other choice of who to vote for if they don’t want Conservative, so they can throw the least electable candidate out there and you’ll have no fucking choice.

Liberal ’08: Nyah nah nyah nah nah nah.

Okay, to be fair to Dion and the Liberals, it’s not like there were great candidates just leaping onto the boat to get whacked by the oar. Being a Liberal Party candidate post-sponsorship scandal is like being lost in one big fucking desert. The party has been directionless, aimless, and completely resting on its laurels in the post-Chretien years. Their big idea to get back to the top? A carbon tax. In addition to practically spitting in Alberta’s face (“You’re not going to vote for us? No? WELL, FUCK YOU! Let’s see how you like living in Alberta once your economy collapses, fuckwads!”), it doesn’t exactly scream ‘out of the desert and back on course’. In fact, it’s more of a “These are my principles. And if you don’t like them, I have others” kind of deal.

Fun Fact: The Liberal catch phrase for many of the MP’s in this election has been “It’s time for a change.” And if I need to point out the irony in a party who has been in control of the government for 13 of the past 15 years pulling the “change” card, well…

The Libertarian Party:

Ha ha, just kidding. Nobody gives a fuck about them here either. I'm surprised I even found a logo.

The New Democratic Party:

I’ll keep this history lesson shorter than the Conservative one: Tommy Douglas was the Premier of Saskatchewan for 17 years. Tommy thought socialized medicine might improve things. The people agreed. When he left office in 1961, the NDP was born, eventually rallying enough support for the Liberal minority government to create Medicare in 1966. Ever since, the NDP has kind of been the designated third party, the socialist little brother who goes off to college and comes back with all kinds of ideas and dreams that no one else in the family ever pays attention to.

In this election, the NDP’s role has been that of an attack dog. Their ads actually seem more prominent than the Liberals (seriously, it’s almost as if the Liberals aren’t even trying), despite the much smaller stature of the party, and have focused almost entirely on attacking Harper and the Conservatives (“We need a new kind of strong.” Catchy shit). Of course, considering that the Conservatives and the NDP often aligned with one another in order to pass bills through a minority Conservative government, chances are that they aren’t too steadfast in their attacks. I wonder if Jack Layton will change his tune if (and likely when) we see yet another minority Conservative government emerge victorious?

The Bloc Quebecois:

Their power has waned since the go-go seperatist days of the 70's-90's, but they still exist to play their unique part in Canadian politics: that is, the role of the complete dicks whom everyone hates, but is afraid to say anything about for fear of offending Quebec's delicate cultural sensibilities. Ah, Jacques. If only you had done a better job of fixing the ballots, maybe you'd have your own country to hold hostage. Dare to dream.

Fun fact: In the 2006 election, the Bloc Quebecois received 10.5% of the popular vote. The NDP received 17.5%, and the Green Party received 4.5%. Both the NDP and Green Party are national parties, whereas the Bloc Quebecois runs only in Quebec. The Bloc ended up with 51 seats, compared to the NDP’s 29 and the Green Party’s ever-majestic zero. Furthermore, the Bloc was invited to the Federal debates, despite having no Federal policy and no desire to ever run the country. The Green Party was not.

Viva la democracie!

The Green Party:

Is probably pretty pissed off right now.

So those are your Canadian parties. Feeling confident and excited about which one you want to have a faint say in the governing of the free world? I hope so. Because nothing fights off political apathy like the facts of the matter. Like how, if you live in a district that votes overwhelmingly to one party, your vote doesn’t count in electing your chosen candidate. Or how, if you live in a Western province or, god forbid, one of the territories, your vote ultimately matters less than someone in Ontario or Quebec. That kind of stuff.

And if you still don’t see the reason to care about the upcoming Canadian election, and you’d rather spend your time on “Barack v. McCain: The Bloodening”, we won’t blame you. As a matter of fact, we feel the exact same way.


*#..(brad said...

that maple leaf is actually is a sickle and hammer isn't it?

cretin said...

we were originally going to go in that direction, but felt it might give away our plans for world domination. our marketing department eventually decided on a good ol' non-threatening maple leaf. that way it comes as a surprise when we enslave the sorry lot of ya.

you have been warned.

gabbagabbahey said...

since Canada has taken the same Westminister model of parliamentary democracy as Ireland, that's all pretty familiar to me.

however, you seem to lack the inclusion of proportional representation voting to make the whole thing even more confusing and make the voters even more apathetic.

also, you at least have two parties theoretically on opposing ideological sides. in Ireland, thanks to a civil war some 85 years ago, we have two main parties called 'Fianna Fail' and 'Fine Gael' (and most Irish people don't really know what the names mean, not that they really mean anything either) which have always had pretty much the same politics except for those issues involving the aforementioned civil war...

cretin said...

oh? are we to be having a "which political system fosters the most apathy" THROWDOWN? if so, I shall respond with the strength and dexterity of Samson himself, except instead of slaying armies with the jawbone of a donkey, I will slay your argument with the trachea of a mule!

I'm not high, I swear.

(btw, interesting stuff on the Irish political history front gabba. I find this all revoltingly intriguing from a sociological perspective, how a nation's history and self-image tends to form the basis for the political views of its citizenry, and so forth.)