Why not an election?

It annoys and perplexes me a little when newspapers report the apparent strong unwillingness of Canadians to have an election this fall. Really, having one isn’t such a big burden. For most people, voting takes about half an hour, total. Furthermore, having an election seems far from meaningless when the country is (a) closely balanced in support for the two main parties and (b) designed such that small advantages in voting outcomes can lead to larger disparities in representation, in Parliament. Minorities are unstable things, so it’s not surprising that they might tilt from one side to the other, and it doesn’t seem inappropriate to ask voters if they want that.

Of course, a coalition would be more desirable, in many ways. If Canada’s political system can no longer produce majorities, it is going to need to learn an alternative way of governing.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

31 thoughts on “Why not an election?”

  1. Will Ignatieff’s bid to stake out higher ground work?

    Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks to reporters on the final day of the party’s summer caucus retreat in Sudbury on Sept 2, 2009. The Canadian Press

    If fleshed out properly, the message of a ‘big Canada’ may strike a chord with voters

    Lawrence Martin
    Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 03, 2009 06:00PM EDT

    Gun-slinging Michael Ignatieff, whose Liberals have been shooting mainly blanks since Valentine’s Day, thinks he has found a theme that can distinguish his party from the intermittently competent Conservatives.

    “We can choose a small Canada – a diminished, mean and petty country,” the leader said in his speech in Sudbury. “Or we can choose a big Canada.” Big as in open, generous, inspiring – all that kind of stuff.

    One thing that can be said for this. Simple messaging in politics is effective – and you can’t get much simpler than big versus small. Mr. Ignatieff is an untested campaigner. But if articulated and fleshed out properly, he may have something here that can strike a chord with the voters. There are reasons why the visionless Harper government has never been able to stir much enthusiasm among Canadians. Among them is its abiding small-mindedness. It’s always been a gang more interested in maiming political opponents than pursuing high ideals.

    Stephen Harper has rarely shown the big side, as he did last week in appointing a New Democrat, Gary Doer, as Washington ambassador, or as he did with his residential schools apology to the native peoples. For the most part, his stewardship has been a joyless, uptight, managerial enterprise – one that leaves an opportunity for an ivory tower type to stake out higher ground.

  2. The inevitable, unnecessary election
    Thomas Walkom

    No, we do not need a federal election this fall. Yes, we will probably have one.

    We do not need an election because, in the broadest sense, the choices have altered little since 2008 when Canadians last went to the polls.

    Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains widely mistrusted. Jack Layton’s New Democrats are still trying to refashion a place for themselves in the ideological spectrum.

    While the Liberals have a new leader in Michael Ignatieff, as a party they have far less to say than they did last year when Stéphane Dion was at the helm.

    Last October we had an unnecessary election because Harper thought he could upgrade his government from minority to majority status. He failed.

  3. “In short, this fall’s election – if it occurs at all – promises to be a curious contest between parties that, in key areas, appear to think alike.

    All parties agree on the need for economic stimulus. All agree on the need to avoid long-term government deficits. The two major parties agree on cutting taxes. The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP agree on the need to subsidize the auto industry, while the Bloc Québécois is amenable as long as Quebec industries get some goodies as well.

    All four parties in the Commons have agreed, in varying degrees, to winding up Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan. On the crime front, the Liberals and NDP have signed on to many of Harper’s law and order measures. Harper, meanwhile, has persuaded his party to downplay the social conservative elements of its agenda such as opposition to abortion.

    By hosting annual photo ops on Baffin Island, Harper is making a great effort to prove he loves the Arctic. But then who doesn’t? Ignatieff isn’t going to campaign against the seal hunt. Given the chance, all three national party leaders will queue up to have their pictures taken eating whale blubber.”

  4. There’s some truth to the assertion that all the major parties are thinking alike, and it’s worrisome. In particular, I am concerned about the dishonest way that everyone is pretending that the stimulus won’t require tax increases or spending cuts in the future. Judging by past deficits, it should require both. The fact that the public had to bail out the private sector also suggests that continuing to cut business taxes might not be the fairest or most intelligent approach – after all, we just saw how they depend on public money when the going gets tough.

    As for auto industry subsidies, I see that mostly as a transparent subsidy to a powerful industry: pork barrel politics, rather than smart economics or good environmental policy.

    Oh, and both the Conservatives and Liberals are ignoring the greatest political challenge of our era: dealing with climate change.

  5. Tax hike likely to balance federal budget: Expert

    Surplus won’t come soon, predicts fiscal forecaster


    The federal government needs to acknowledge it cannot return to surplus as early as it projected, and that tax hikes — even temporary ones — or deep spending cuts need to be incorporated to complete the task, said a report Friday from a leading fiscal forecaster.

    The findings from Dale Orr, president of Toronto-based Dale Orr Economic Insight, emerged Friday before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters that he would table a report, perhaps later this month, detailing how the federal government will return to a surplus position. Flaherty was in London, where he is attending a meeting of Group of 20 finance and central bank officials.

    His most recent budget contemplated a return to surplus by 2013-14, but analysts and Parliament’s budget watchdog have warned this is unrealistic based on weak growth and spending plans.

  6. I think it does matter who’s in power. Harper may not have touched hot button social-conservative issues, but he is making the country more conservative in other meaningful but less visible ways. Almost no one knows about the reforms to SSHRC funding, and yet they will have a massive effect on research in Canadian universities. There is change to diplomatic language recently mentioned on this blog, and there is a lack of willingness to connect auto-industry subsidies to the kind of massive re-orientation which that industry must undergo if it is to survive in the long term.

    But perhaps more than this, Harper does not appear to be a serious person. He pretends to genuinely believe that the judgment of God is the benchmark of real importance to his leadership, and yet his political strategy is without principle – he seems to act only for the sake of increasing his power. Certainly he does have an idea of what Canada should be, and thinks that his actions will help bring that about – but his stance on global warming proves that this idea is a naive fantasy.

  7. One reason for my disenchantment with federal elections in Canada is the lack of overall proportional representation. The Green Party and Bloc Quebecois may have roughly the same amount of the popular vote but the Bloc will have 43 seats and the Greens none.

    The further source of discouragement for me is that the Bloc does not hide that it bases its votes on the criteria of what is good for Quebec as opposed to a wider national interest.

    With 309 seats avaialable and 155 needed for a majority the Bloc holds the tremendous ability to prevent a majority government of whatever party. If the Bloc retains 43 seats, there are 262 keft available. To get a majority of 155, the governing party must get 58% of the seats.

    Although disouraged I will certainly take the time to educate myself and vote.

  8. In some ways, the current government is likely to have more democratic legitimacy than a new one.

    In the last election, the Conservatives led the popular vote by 38% to 26%. This time around, things will probably be closer, and the new government will have more power relative to its legitimacy.

  9. As for Harper’s God comment, it gives me the absurd image of God and Harper strolling in heaven, and God saying: “Great job Steve! You cut some taxes a bit, and kept fighting in Afghanistan. If only you had been able to mandate prayer in schools and ban abortion.”

  10. The issue of Harper’s fundamentalism really bothers me – because it means either he’s lying about being a fundamentalist, or he’s lying about his social agenda. You can’t be an honest fundamentalist politician in a non-fundamentalist country.

  11. I also find it odd to imagine Harper’s imagined conversation with god.

    As the list above indicates, the 39th parliament really didn’t do all that much. It fiddled with political donations, extended our presence in Afghanistan (with Liberal support), ended the softwood lumber dispute, said some things about Quebec and the Kyoto Protocol (but didn’t do much on either), fixed election dates and then forgot about that, and passed some traditional gung-ho conservative lock ’em up crime laws. And there was the stimulus.

    That doesn’t really seem sufficient to interest deities of universal standing. That being said, Canadian politicians do sometimes have a deluded sense of how important Canada is, as well as how important their own legislative initiatives have been.

  12. A visit to the White House July 6 by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was intended to signal Canada’s commitment to maintaining security in an uncertain world. On June 29, the Harper government began unveiling a defense spending program, with outlays at a level that has not been seen in decades. Dubbed “Canada First,” the program calls for more than $17 billion ($15 billion U.S.) to acquire strategic- and tactical-lift airplanes, medium-to-heavy-lift helicopters, joint-support supply ships and thousands of army logistical trucks. Once delivered, this equipment will give Canada an independent ability to project its armed forces anywhere in the world.

    These acquisitions — which likely will include C-17s and C-130J Hercules transports and CH-47 Chinook helicopters — will significantly boost the capabilities of the Canadian armed forces, which have been limited by severe budget cuts made by the previous Liberal government and have had to make do with antiquated and borrowed equipment. Their workhorse C-130s have been relied on for tactical transport since the early 1960s, and many are at the end of (if not past) their life expectancy. A NATO and NORAD ally, Canada has had to rely on contracted strategic aircraft to ferry personnel to and from distant theaters of operations, including their high-profile and sustained commitment in Afghanistan.

    The Canadians also realized this limitation when trying to mobilize and send their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Indonesia following the December 2004 tsunami; the DART team had to wait for days while an Antonov transport aircraft could be located and the terms of its lease finalized. In Afghanistan, the lack of heavy-lift helicopters capable of transporting troops and material on operations in the country’s thin mountain air has underscored the limits of Canada’s current military-transport capabilities.

  13. Iggy should look at the polls – there’s no way he can win

    Where would he pick up the 43 seats that the Liberals need to win?

    By L. IAN MACDONALD, FreelanceSeptember 9, 2009 5:03 AM

    There was another poll out yesterday confirming that the Liberals would be going into a fall election behind the Conservatives, which again makes you wonder why Michael Ignatieff wants to pull the trigger.

    A Strategic Counsel poll for CTV and the Globe and Mail has the Conservatives leading the Liberals 35 to 30 per cent, with the NDP at 14 per cent and the Bloc at 12 per cent nationally, which translates to 49 per cent in Quebec, with les rouges at 23 per cent and les bleus at 16 per cent.

    The Quebec part is wrong, I guarantee it. There’s no way the Bloc is that high, or the Libs that low. At 49 per cent, the Bloc would repeat its exploit of 2004 and win 54 seats. Even with a larger margin of error for regional breakouts, the Bloc’s support is overstated in this poll by about 10 points, while the Libs are understated by at least seven points. And the Conservatives are probably several points higher than 16 per cent here, closer to the 20 per cent threshold they need to retain most of their 10 seats in Quebec.

    But neither are the Liberals leading by seven points in Quebec, as their own pollster, Michael Marzolini, told them last week at the Liberal caucus in Sudbury. While Marzolini has the Conservatives leading the Libs 37-34 overall in the country, he shows the Liberals leading the Bloc 38-31 in Quebec, with the Conservatives at 20 per cent. That’s wrong, too. There isn’t a Liberal in the province who believes it.

  14. Tories to stoke fear of opposition coalition

    Election strategy will feature attack on Liberal propensity for making deals with ‘socialists and separatists’

    Steven Chase and Campbell Clark

    Ottawa — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Tuesday, Sep. 08, 2009 09:33PM EDT

    Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have decided their election strategy will rely in part on reviving the ghosts of last December.

    The fleeting, four-day coalition that opposition parties formed in late 2008 to unseat Mr. Harper’s Conservatives was deeply unpopular outside Quebec. The Tories plan to resurrect its fading memory to rattle voters, warning that backing opposition parties will bring instability.

    This strategy is also the reason that Mr. Harper will not make a deal with the NDP or Bloc Québécois to avert an all but inevitable election.

  15. The idea that coalitions are bad is a puzzling one. After all, I thought coalitions were just what you got in a parliamentary democracy when no single party had enough seats for an outright majority or defensible minority.

  16. Video reveals ‘real Harper’: Ignatieff
    Last Updated: Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 3:40 PM ET

    Candid remarks made by Stephen Harper to Conservative supporters during a private meeting last week reveal the prime minister’s “spiteful” attitude toward Canadians, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said Thursday.

    “This in-camera speech by Mr. Harper has settled once and for all his character as a Conservative leader but also has revealed the true values — the spiteful attitude towards institutions, spite towards Canadians who are helping other Canadians, spite for our institutions,” Ignatieff said in Montreal.

    Harper’s speech, made last week in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was videotaped by someone in the audience who sent a copy to the Liberal Party of Canada, which sent it to CBC News.

    “There have always been two Harpers. The real Harper always comes out when he thinks he can’t be heard,” Ignatieff said.

    In the speech, Harper said if the Conservatives don’t succeed in getting a majority the Liberals will govern in a coalition, “propped up by the socialists and the separatists,” referring to the the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois.

  17. Ignatieff rules out coalition
    Sep 11, 2009 11:07 AM

    Tonda maccharles
    Ottawa Bureau
    OTTAWA — In a bid to deflect Tory attacks, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff declared today he would not form a coalition with the other opposition parties, saying he rejected it last January because it was not in the national interest.

    “Let me be very clear, the Liberal party would not agree to a coalition,” he said. “In January we did not support a coalition and we do not support a coalition today or tomorrow.”

    Ignatieff said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is once again warning that the Liberals are out to form another coalition with “the separatists and the socialists” in order to scare people into giving him a majority government.

    Last fall, the Conservatives successfully propelled a wave of popular anger against the Liberals who, under former leader Stephane Dion, signed a coalition agreement with the NDP. The Bloc Quebecois promised vote-by-vote support, but was not a formal partner.

  18. Election talk rampant as Parliament resumes

    Updated Mon. Sep. 14 2009 8:38 AM ET

    CTV.ca News Staff

    Election speculation is reaching a fever pitch as the House of Commons resumes business for its fall session, with some political observers suggesting federal politicians could be hitting the campaign trail within weeks.

    Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has made it clear that his party will no longer support the Conservatives, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe has said he, too, is willing to bring down the government if necessary. That means the Tories will likely have to court support from the NDP if they wish to hold onto power for any length of time.

    Globe and Mail political reporter Jane Taber said there are a number of ways that the Liberals may attempt to bring down the government in the near future — perhaps within a few days.

  19. Election tension slackens with NDP poised to support Conservatives
    By Jennifer Ditchburn (CP) – 1 hour ago

    OTTAWA — The NDP is likely to support the Conservative minority government in a confidence vote this Friday and avert another federal election – at least for now – party sources told The Canadian Press.

    The highly anticipated ways and means motion later this week clears the way for a future vote on budget items such as tax credits for home renovation and the working poor.

    The Liberals will vote against the motion after Michael Ignatieff said his party can no longer keep the government afloat. The Bloc Quebecois are still uncertain which way they’ll go.

    But the NDP sent a signal that it will vote to support the Conservative government on a confidence measure for the first time since Prime Minister Stephen Harper formed a government almost four years ago.

    There may be little lasting political damage for the NDP in voting for popular tax credits. Nor would it be difficult to back a new change to Employment Insurance proposed Monday by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

  20. Conservatives buy some time

    Election tension eases as NDP indicates it will likely back government over EI improvements

    Sep 15, 2009 04:30 AM
    Les Whittington
    Richard J. Brennan
    Bruce Campion
    Ottawa Bureau

    OTTAWA–Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives set the stage for their first parliamentary survival test on Friday, but the threatened political showdown that could lead to an early election appeared to be losing steam.

    The pre-election fever eased a notch yesterday when the New Democrats suggested they might be willing to back the government – thus averting a vote of non-confidence in the Commons – because of new help for laid-off workers being proposed by the Conservatives.

    Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his party remain committed to voting out Harper and forcing an election at the earliest opportunity.

    But the Conservatives, who hold 143 of the Commons’ 308 seats, need only one of the other three parties to vote with the government to avoid being toppled in a confidence vote. The Liberals have 77 seats, the NDP, 36, and the Bloc Québécois, 48. (There is one Independent and three vacancies.)

    NDP Leader Jack Layton signalled his party might prop up the Conservative minority after Human Resources Minister Diane Finley used yesterday’s return of MPs to Ottawa to reveal additional help for laid-off workers.

    “The announcement today appears to be a step in the right direction,” Layton said in a prepared statement. “There is much more that needs to be done as well.

  21. Tories rebuff talks with NDP

    NDP Leader Jack Layton questions Conservative Leader Stephen Harper during the English-language election debate in Ottawa on Oct. 2, 2008. The Canadian Press

    Email from Layton’s chief of staff to Harper’s goes unanswered with election hanging in the balance

    Bill Curry and Jane Taber

    Ottawa — The Globe and Mail Last updated on Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2009 11:53AM EDT

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed there would be no backroom deals with the NDP, but it appears the edict even extends to emails.

    The Globe and Mail has learned that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Guy Giorno, has yet to return an email sent to him several days ago by his NDP counterpart.

    The fate of the 40th Parliament hangs on whether this week’s Conservative government announcement on employment insurance reform is enough to win the support of at least one opposition party.

    Yet the NDP says an email sent last week to Mr. Giorno by NDP Leader Jack Layton’s chief of staff, Anne McGrath, has so far been ignored.

  22. For this election, it’s a bit challenging to apply my flowchart for Canadian elections.

    I don’t think my riding is really contested. It’s a safe seat for the NDP’s Paul Dewar. Last election, he got 39.7% of the vote, compared with 26.0% for the Liberal candidate and 23.6% for the Tory.

    Last election, I thought the Liberals had the best platform – largely on account of the ‘Green Shift.’ So far, Ignatieff has been disappointing when it comes to climate change. Given that I don’t support the Tories or the NDP, I am not sure if there is any party really worth endorsing in Ottawa Centre, in the event of another federal election.

    In Dewar’s defence, he has been quite active on improving cycling in Ottawa.

  23. ‘Jack and Gilles have gone up the hill’

    NDP Leader Jack Layton, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are show in a photo combination voting for the minority Conservative government’s budget motion in the House of Commons on Sept. 18, 2009. The Canadian Press

    Liberal Leader scoffs after minority Conservative government’s budget motion passes with support of the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois

    Bill Curry

    Ottawa — The Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Sep. 18, 2009 02:40PM EDT

    The Conservative government survived a confidence test Friday morning – as expected – thanks to the support of MPs from the Bloc Québécois and NDP.

    The 224-74 vote approves a ways-and-means motion that contains measures tied to the January, 2009, budget.

    Following today’s vote, Michael Ignatieff said it felt good to vote no-confidence in the Conservative government for the first time as Leader of the Opposition.

  24. Why no one wants an election

    Rick Mercer

    For years now, after every election, faced with increasingly dismal turnouts, journalists and pundits ask the same questions: Why are Canadian voters staying home? What is wrong with us?

    Maybe it’s time to ask not what is wrong with Canadians, but what is wrong with our leaders. Or better yet, let’s just start placing the blame squarely at their feet.

    It’s not like we choose the leaders, the parties do. And apparently this is as good as it gets.

    No wonder people are apathetic. Elections aren’t the problem, our choices are.

  25. “The Liberal leadership’s macho push to bring the government down would, if successful, more than likely bring the government down on the Liberals’ head. Having essentially agreed with the government’s basic foreign and economic policies, leaving the rhetoric aside, the Liberals have nothing to run on, except to appeal to those who long ago decided they did not like the Prime Minister.

    As for the NDP, it is posing as the party that wants to make Parliament work, having spent most of the previous three years demanding an election at every turn to let Canadians throw out the Conservative rascals. The reason the New Democrats have changed their position has nothing to do with principle or with changes the party might extract on unemployment reform, but because the NDP feared the realization of its own loud rhetoric in favour of an election.”

  26. It is disappointing that mainstream media focus on whether or not there will be an election. That stems from what is reported in the polls. With the focus of media coverage on whether there will be an election and who would win, we lose track of what is important – the actual direction of the country and the policies that would best work, regardless of party of origin.

    Can someone identify for me a media or internet source where I could obtain coverage of a more substantive variety, perhaps one that does not hesitate to go into depth and also present different points of view.

  27. I don’t think a single news source is capable of providing what you want.

    That’s why I read The Economist and and Stratfor and Slate, check Google News several times a day, skim the major stories in The Globe and Mail, scan a smattering of blogs, and try to read major books in areas that interest me.

    Of course, that takes up a lot of time, and doesn’t necessarily provide comprehensive understanding

  28. Stephen Harper’s election that never was
    Under PM’s rules, Canadians should be going to polls today

    OTTAWA–Today is election day. Or at least that was the plan back in May 2006 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper put Canada on a regular schedule of fixed election dates.

    Fresh off his January 2006 election win, Harper proposed at the time that Canadians go to the polls every four years, starting on Oct. 19, 2009, or sooner if a minority government lost a confidence vote.

    Fixing election dates would mean transparency, predictability and fairness and put an end to the days when a government could call a snap election for its own partisan advantage, he said at the time.

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