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Canadian Election Primer (Part 2)

by Ben P Wed Jan 18th, 2006 at 11:18:38 AM EST

from the diaries. There have been complaints that we write too much about America, but surely this is not true of Canada! Go read the earlier Part 1, the title of which has been used here.

I thought that, as a follow up to my earlier post on the landscape of the current Canadian election, I would provide some more background, with some more detailed information about the specific provinces.

Basically, Quebec has about 50% of its vote that will go to the Bloc, which will translate into about 75% of the Quebec seats. The other 25% will be fought out between the Liberals and the Tories.

Ontario is evenly split between the Liberals and the Conservatives, with the NDP pulling a respectable 20 to 25% of the vote. The NDP is strong in Native areas, heavy union towns (Hamilton, Windsor), and inner Toronto. Its much weaker elsewhere. Whoever wins the most seats in Ontario will win the most seats nationally.

Alberta is overwhelmingly Conservative. The Tories currently hold 26 of the provinces' 28 ridings, and will most likely hold them all after the election.

BC's politics are probably the weirdest in Canada. And in some ways resemble the red state/blue state divide in America. BC is often called Canada's California. The interior small town parts of BC tend to be strongly Conservative, but there are pockets of NDP strength, in the heavily native areas and also in some of the old mining/logging regions. Vancouver is very liberal with the contest there being between the Liberals and the NDP. Suburban Vancouver is a "swing" Liberal/Conservative region. The Green Party - which is actually not that leftwing, more like the German Green Party than the American Green Party - is quite popular in BC as well - it is currently polling about 10 to 12%.

The prairie provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have a history of left wing agrarian populism, that still has significant traces. However, especially in the case of Saskatchewan, the province has become quite Conservative in orientation (more at the federal level), largely for cultural reasons and populist antipathy towards "Ottawa". Whereas the Albertan form of Conservative is more economic in nature and revovlves around the issue of oil. This is less so in Manitoba, where the NDP remains a signficant force and will likely do well in Winnipeg and the North.

The Atlantic Provinces, are a whole other ball of wax. They are generally quite poor and isolated from the rest of Canada. There is a singificant French speaking population in New Brunswick.  This will be the one region of the country where the Liberals win. The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP will all win seats here, however.

The Northern Provinces - Yukon, Nunavut, the Northwest Terriotires - are geographically huge but have a very small population which is largely indigenous. They only have 4 seats amongst them, which will go to either the Liberals or the NDP.

By far, Ontario is the largest province. It posseses over a third of the potential seats. Quebec is not far behind, and has about a quarter of the seats. So clearly, for a party to form a government, you have to do well in at least one of these provinces, particularly Ontario.

A final point worth making is that Canadian federal politics is significantly different than internal provincial politics. For example, in BC, the primary battle at the Provincial level is between the BC Liberal Party (which is actually a conservative party, and is not related to the national Liberal Party) and the NDP. In Quebec, the current division is between the leftish sovreigntist party, the Parti Quebecois (not to be confused with the federal Bloc Quebecois), the Liberals (again, who do not have a relationship to the Federal Liberals), who are kind of ideologically amorphous and who are primarily held together by opposition to seperatism, and the Action Democratique, led by Mario Dumont, another rather vague party that is kind of center-right economically (perhaps the best comparison would be with the German Free Democrats), although it is kind of hard to get a handle on where they stand on basically any issue.

I'm still betting that at some point Quebec will declare independence, which will split Canada in two and trigger attemps by both the western and maritime provinces to join the U.S. It probably won't be this time, but in the long run it seems inevitable.
by asdf on Tue Jan 17th, 2006 at 09:48:19 PM EST
I actually think this is very unlikely. Not that Quebec will become independent. But that the Western provinces will become a part of the US. The only province where there is any support at all for seperatism from Canada is Alberta, and even here, most of the support comes in the form of outright independence. However, if Alberta gets to have its way more in national politics - vis a vis a Tory government - even this because non-existent.

As for the Maritimes, this is more likely, but the Maritimes would only become a part of the US if they were forced because of the geographic unviability of remaining in Canada.

Quebec independence is quite a bizarre phenomenon in that the eventual relationship the sovreigntists want is vague and contested. Many sovreigntists imagine setting up something like the present EU, where they would continue to share the Canadian currency.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Jan 17th, 2006 at 10:21:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another problem with Quebec independence is the status of Montreal. Montreal is really the main part of Quebec, economically and culturally, but it is also the most anti-seperatist. When I was living in Quebec during teh '95 referendum, there was talk of Montreal itself seceding from Quebec in the new province of "Maisonneuve."

All in all, the concept is not straightforward and the movement is quite unclear exactly what Quebec's independence should actually mean. I'll try to give you an idea of the confusion by giving you the question from the 1995 sovreignty referendum:

"Acceptez-vous que le Quebec devienne souverain, apres avoir offert formellement au Canada un nouveau partenariat economique et politique, dans le cadre du projet de loi sur l'avenir du Quebec et de l'entente signe le 12 juin 1995?"

"Do you accept that Quebec become sovereign, after having formally offered to Canada a new economic and political partnership, within the framework of the legal project on the future of Quebec and the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?"

So in other words, this question does not suggest - for those voting yes - independence as a "threat" as a negotiating device. Of course, this was not necessarily how many of the people voting "oui" understood the referendum, but the question can certainly be read in this way. And I think its fundamental ambiguity is at the heart of the fundamental longterm ambiguity of the sovreigntist movement.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Tue Jan 17th, 2006 at 10:33:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that it's very unpredictable what might happen. The first step would be for the separatists to get a majority vote, which they haven't quite managed yet. But another big scandal in the capital, at the wrong time, could possibly push them over.

In that case, the form that the separatist Quebec might take is obviously unknown, but the Anglo-Canadians I know have a pretty negative attitude about the whole thing, partly because they feel that English-speaking Canada has already bent over backwards to accomodate Quebec (both on language issues and on federal money transfers), and that it would simply be a case of "ok, you want independence, have it." So Quebec might have some theory about sharing currency or trade zones or whatever, but they might not be able to accomplish it.

Re the maritime provinces, they are both remote and financially non-robust, and could find more in common with the U.S. than with the western provinces. And the western farming provinces are already fairly well aligned with the U.S. on a political basis.

I'm just saying, it would be interesting to see what would happen. The very first thing, of course, would be an army of American tourists wanting to check out the new states...  :-)

by asdf on Wed Jan 18th, 2006 at 08:53:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some Anglo Canadians feel that way, certainly.

I think the maritimes would be more likely to join the US, simply for economic reasons. It would possible that they could join Quebec also, especially Newfoundland and New Brunswick.

As to the West, only Alberta really has politics that are especially conservative. And a lot of this is shaped by federal-provincial questions (although, clearly, ideological differences are at play as well, in at least equal measure).

Still, I would tend not to overrate the signficance of the west's - really Alberta's, or particularly, Ålberta's - conservatism and antipathy to Ottawa as a desire to thus join the United States. Canada isn't simply the United States north, as many in the US - left and right - assume. It has strong, if subtle, cultural and historical differences with the US, that make it unlikely . Also, Alberta is doing quite well within the framework of the Canadian federation, as is BC

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Jan 18th, 2006 at 03:23:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
wouldn't that greatly simplify Canadian politics?  Without the BQ taking up 1/6 of the seats in the House of Commons, wouldn't it be much easier to form a majority government?
by Rick in TX on Wed Jan 18th, 2006 at 11:48:34 PM EST

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