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Elections in the Anglosphere
Elections Approach in Canada

As election day draws near, the margin between Canada’s conservative Tory party and the center-left Liberal party is growing tighter. But the threat to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative party is twofold, with the far-left National Democratic Party a close third in the polls. The CBC:

The polling cacophony may be quieting down, as the discordant polls of earlier this week have moved into greater harmony.

But while polls may no longer be disagreeing on the overall picture of the race, the gap between the Liberals and Conservatives is tight enough that it is impossible to say right now which party has the better chance of winning on Oct. 19.

The Liberals narrowly hold the edge in the CBC Poll Tracker, with 32.9 per cent support against 32.4 per cent for the Conservatives. The New Democrats stand at 24.3 per cent, with the Greens at 4.8 per cent support and the Bloc Québécois at 19.3 per cent in Quebec.

The election of a PM in Canada, like the UK, is based on the number of parliamentary seats won—it isn’t the votes you win in the national election but the number of seats in parliament that your party wins that determines the PM. Thus, every district (“ridings” as they call them in Canada, “constituencies” in the UK) is on a first-past-the-post, winner-take-all basis.

Also unlike the U.S., Canada has four significant parties. The Conservatives under PM Harper have spent four consecutive terms in power, and though the Canadian Conservatives have moved a bit to the right over the years, they fall closer to the center than U.S. Republicans. The Liberals are more like the U.S. Democratic Party, with a center-left agenda, while the New Democratic Party falls far to the left of the Liberals. The final major party is the Bloc Québécois, which is essentially a party organized around the idea of an independent Quebec.

This mix of several strong parties, regionalized voting patterns, and winner-take-all elections makes Canadian politics interesting to watch and hard to predict. In ridings where all four parties make a significant show, a candidate can be elected to parliament with much less than a majority of votes cast. Moreover, a 35 percent national vote can give a party a solid majority in parliament. As noted above, the top two parties (Liberal and Conservative) are currently virtually tied in the polls, with the Liberals having a small but statistically insignificant lead. In the last few weeks, voters have been moving away from the NDP, which now trails the top two, after having been in a three-way tie for much of the campaign.

A big factor in this election is the economy; Canada (like Australia) is a country that has suffered because of the commodity crash. That has weighed on the prospects of the Conservatives for re-election, as the Canadian economy is in the midst of a technical recession with two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Ultimately, the significance of this election is this: Under Harper, Canada has changed its international profile. It has become one of Israel’s staunchest friends, embraced a tough stance against Russia and for NATO, and actively supported U.S. led efforts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. If Justin Trudeau, an MP and the Liberal candidate, wins, the country is likely to move towards a more traditional center-left approach on some of these geopolitical issues—though Trudeau has spoken out against the rise anti-Israel rhetoric on Canadian college campuses and the large Ukrainian community in Canada will keep a focus on that conflict as well. But the election is not really about relations with the U.S. There are irritants between the two countries (like the Keystone Pipeline, which Canada wants the U.S. to build), but, on the whole, the U.S. is popular in Canada and the two countries broadly share common values and world views.

Canada remains one of the world’s rising powers. The population is growing and the mix of huge natural resources, a skilled and educated work force, and a strong network of basic legal, financial, and political institutions give it strong prospects. In geopolitics, the rise of both Canada and other Anglo-sphere countries like Australia is more than offsetting the continuing problems facing Great Britain. It is helping to ensure that the 21st century, like the 19th and 20th, will be an era when the English speaking world will play an outsized role in world affairs.

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  • Angel Martin

    good summary. one small correction is that the official name of the NDP is the New Democratic Party.

    one minor additional point. The Canadian Conservatives follow the US Republican pattern of greatest strength in the rural areas of the country. Unlike the UK Conservatives, in Canada the Conservatives have less support, the closer you get to the wealthy urban core of the large cities.

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