Sunday, December 07, 2008

what is Really going on in Canada

as a Canadian--the only Canadian I might add-- that posts here, let me clarify some things about what's been going on up here.

1. Our situation was caused, in order, this way. Please notice the U.S. role in all of it.

i) the ridiculous (and in my opinion, unnecessary, foreseeable and preventable) financial crisis in the United States that echoed pretty much all over the world, including up here. Keep in mind that the U.S. is our primary trading partner and therefore industries like manufacturing have basically disappeared up here. We have definitely felt the effects of what has happened down south, something we had nothing to do with.

ii) around the same time we happened to elect a new government. Some notes about Canadian government: it does not operate the way a U.S. government does. Our PM came in with a minority lead, which means that his govt has to work a lot harder to get things done, AND his govt could get a no confidence vote at any time which would mean parliament could get dissolved at any time, say when they present the budget or anything stupid. This would force another election. One thing about this past election is the leader of the opposition did so badly that he announced that in May, his party would elect a new leader. What does this mean? This means that the two main parties had tenuous holds on where they sat, not to even mention what was going on with the remaining parties. Confidence in what was going on in the House of Commons was extremely low; not very many Canadians were happy with the turnout of the election.

ii) Our PM goes ahead and makes the boneheaded move of proposing to take away the public funding of all parties, I believe as a goodwill gesture to Canadians to show they are willing to work with less money in hard times. This forces the other parties to form a coalition, because the Conservative Party of Canada has all the access to corporations and private money and would do fine without public funding, but the other parties would not. They could not operate, see this as a super-controlling move (which it is) and propose to take over parliament--meaning PM would get a no confidence and he'd be out of there after just 6 weeks leading the country. This may sound strange, and it's unusual in Canadian politics, but it's definitely fair play.

iii) PM goes to our Governor General, who has the power to dissolve government, to ask for a prorogation (suspension of parliament) until stuff blows over and he can present a budget. This is a pansy move, however, there are a lot of Canadians that don't want the leader of the opposition acting with a coalition leading the government. He gets his prorogation, which is precedent setting, because now when a PM is in power they may be able to just go to the GG. Both the PM and his party and the coalition will present budgets if I am correct, in January. Polls show that no one really knew what they wanted in this situation. Having a stupid PM isn't an awesome choice, but neither is a coalition with a leader who has already announced he is leaving. The third choice is an election but, really? After 6 weeks and during financial crisis? What would you choose?

iv) Let me emphasize, this has been kind of crazy, but nothing even close to what the U.S. has dealt with at all in the past 8 years. In our constitution we honor "Peace, order and good government." whereas the U.S. has written "Life, Liberty and the Pusuit of Happiness". There are fundamental differences there, and I am confident that in a few months, this will get wrapped up and be one exciting chapter in an otherwise extremely boring history of my country. I think everything would have been fine, if the financial crisis in the U.S. had not happened. We might still have had issues with our government, but nothing to the likes of this. And for the record: we're not looting or burning anything, people aren't going crazy because the politicians are behind closed doors thinking of how to fix things. It's fine, but we're all definitely talking about it. No offense meant, but these are the ripple effects that you are seeing of the U.S.s' actions. Statements to the effect of "oh well i can't really feel sorry for them cause they're so high and mighty and now look what happened." don't really hold water because a) we aren't, first of all, if you hold that perception come up here and meet a few of us and b)second of all, it started in your house and moved to ours. Thanks for that.



narrator said...

Of course both the US and Canada suffer from inheriting the ridiculous British "first past the post" voting system, and both suffer from an unwillingness to work with coalitions - also inherited from London.

This results in very strange electoral results. 62% of Canadians vote for left-wing parties, the Conservatives end up in control - without having to align themselves with at least one of those left parties - and thus moderate their positions.

Consider the alternative, a British Empire nation which has rejected first-past-the-post and the anti-coalition bias. Fianna Fail might be the biggest party in Ireland, but they still needed to make a deal with the Green Party to hold power. That impacted - quite positively - environmental policies, health policies, transit policies. It is a better government than it otherwise would have been.

I'm not sure why Anglos distrust coalitions. To my history eye they achieve things single party governments often cannot. Just the French Fourth Republic - one of the most maligned series of coalitions ever - managed to rebuild France's free university system, its free health care system, and create European unity, all in less than 20 years. Ireland's coalitions have led it highly effectively for much of the past 35 years. Germany's coalitions, whether "Red/Green" or "Grand" seem to have done a pretty decent job.

To me it is simple. If three parties can assemble a legislative majority, they get to rule. If they can't, vote again. But perhaps adopt multi-member constituencies and proportional representation first, and give up on the notions of the Brit Elite Republic.

clairev said...

a) Unlike the U.S., the gap between our two major parties is not that wide. We are a much more moderate country, and that is reflected in our political parties. This was one of the first things Rufus found out when he came up here. I kind of laughed when you gave that quote about "left-wing parties", because there is only one right wing party. that means 48% vote conservative and 62% spread it around between the following parties: Liberals, NDP, Bloq Quebequois, and Green. I would say that's a pretty even split considering. All of these parties get seats in the House of Commons, though usually it is a close race between the conservatives and the liberals, who pretty much say the same thing except the conservatives are slightly more tight with money and down on social programs and the libs are slightly more willing to give to social programs. Therefore it's really a stretch to say that the ruling party would even need to align themselves; you pretty much get the same election results every time, the only excitement is in how the seats for the smaller parties will pan out. Additionally, the concept of a no-confidence vote is very real up here. We don't have automatic full-term sessions. Our last election was held after less than two years just because the PM wanted to. If the party in power doesn't behave, generally those on the other side of the house have much more power than in the U.S. system.

b) I don't really have much to say about distrusting coalitions, because that's not what I was getting at. Canadians are distrustful of this particular coalition due to the fact that the leader of it has performed spectacularly badly lately and is leaving the party as leader--there are already talks about who will replace him. His party includes two that seem to have completely different agendas (New Democrats, popular in the North and in blue collar areas as well as the Bloc Quebecois, a party that exists only in Quebec for Quebec that has had in the past a not so hidden agenda of leaving Canada) Knowing the small nuances of these parties and where they stand politically, this is an extremely tenuous situation. If he was seen to be a strong leader, I'd have no problem with it. The fact that he isn't makes me understandably nervous. The last coalition we had was in '85, under Bob Rae, who coincidentally is up for re-election as party leader for the Liberal party this time. He did my commencement speech for my masters degree and I like him quite a bit. I would say overall, my opinion of coalition depends on the circumstances, as you can see here.

so i suppose what i'm saying is: i agree with you; but the structure and the trust from the people has to be there, and in this case it really, really isn't.


narrator said...


Yes, I realize that the US, even being as fully far right as both parties are, has a wider gap in intentions between the two parties than Canada has between its five, Ireland between its six, and Germany between its six. Which makes coalitions seem all the more likely, at least to me. You need some kind of shared vision to make it work, which is why you can see a Grand Coalition in Germany, but not in the UK. So, in Canada - if majority governments were required - the most likely group might by a Liberal-Conservative coalition. No?

Then there's the issue of leadership, and why certain nations need "a leader" with appeal while others do not. Angela Merkel?

But mostly, I think first-past-the-post voting is so essentially undemocratic. I read a report - might have been Soros Foundation (or maybe not) - that noted that 97% of Irish voters had a "first choice" candidate elected to the Dail, while the equivalent in the UK was 44% for Commons. I suspect that has a huge impact on a population's willingness to support that government, and specifically for Canada, I think it would break up the regional masses in Commons. With PR and MMC you'd have Liberal members from the west and even a few Conservatives from Quebec, and that might make a huge difference on how national unity is maintained.

clairev said...

Majority governments are not required to rule in Canada, nor are they even usually tenuous when they do. They simply change the way things proceed in house, so the assumption that one strong party made up of either one elected party or several smaller ones can be the only way to be effective is also not true in the case of Canada. In my initial post, I point to the fact that the U.S. financial crisis as well as a unique situation in the house contributed to our situation, not just the latter.

That being said, I will reiterate that I don't believe there's a strong opposition here to coalitions--simply to this one. Everything I'm hearing on the news and on TV seems to point to exactly the same thing I'm saying, which is a coalition would be tolerated if it was seen as one that would actually be a viable alternative. But none of them are! Not the PM, not the coalition, not an election. This is our situation.

I'm not sure where you're going with your comment our national unity. It seems pretty strong at the moment. Perhaps a different way of counting votes would matter, but I bet it would be by a fraction. I'm from Alberta, I know it and the people well. It is a conservative province, and a powerful one. There are just not enough people in Sask. to make a difference and Manitoba already votes NDP. BC is of course mixed. The point I was trying to make by mentioning the Bloc was, it is risky to have a party who has such self-serving interests that would impact well, everyone in Canada, involved in a coalition. They are there for Quebec's interests, not Canada's. For the record, they do not dominate in Quebec either. Still, it is an inappropriate choice.


Rufus said...

So, wait a second honey- Canada doesn't have states?

narrator said...


I'll surely yield to your superior knowledge. The only Canadian politics I was ever close to were those in Quebec, which is a different thing altogether. I realize Canadians don't often make radical shifts - though closing down the parliament to prevent losing a vote seems - to the rest of the world - rather "coup like" and thus fairly radical.

But I still am troubled by governments which have not embraced some form of proportional representation. First-past-the-post elections probably looked democratic in the 18th Century, but they don't quite look the same now. Still, mighty hard to get Anglos to change that.

So I wonder, if a US auto industry bail out shuts Canadian plants unless Canada contributes, will Harper call Commons back in?

clairev said...


The closing down of Parliament is definitely, to use your phrase, "coup-like". There is a lot of talk about what an idiot our PM is and how he should have just taken what was coming to him, which was a no-confidence vote. Instead he asked for a bail out and got it due to the extraordinarily horrible other alternatives. I was with my mom the day it happened and we were listening to the canadian NPR and swearing left right and centre about the whole damn thing. No party acted well which is why this is such a huge thing for us; usually when one fails the other is there to pick up the slack. While it is doubtful that he or his party will be around much longer (by this I mean I suspect the libs will pull out a golden boy to run in the next election and they'll win by majority) it is still really irritating that he could even get away with this crap.

As for the first past the post voting, I will have to admit that this is not my area of expertise. I hope I am speaking of the same thing you are when I say I always found it odd that PEI got just two small seats in the house despite being a province the same as Ontario, which gets many many more. Switching it to equal seats may not change national unity but it may definitely change the proverbial chips the smaller provinces carry on their shoulders with respect to the larger provinces, which in my opinion is a larger issue.

As for your last question, I believe that we are bargaining separately with our automakers, even though they are from the same company. I am unsure of how that would work if parliament is not supposed to meet until January. sorry.


narrator said...

Last thoughts -

What election was that when you went from a Conservative majority to them holding 20 seats? It would seem the right Liberal leader could do something close. Of course Pierre Trudeau isn't around anymore, is he?

"First-Past-the-Post" the Anglo voting system is simply the idea that the person with the most votes wins. This is so ingrained in Anglo thinking that people say, "of course," but for most nations, it doesn't work that way - at least not for legislatures. That's because "democracy" seems to mean "majority rule" in the Anglo-World, but "defense against majority tyranny" elsewhere.

So, if you were voting for the Dail in Ireland, your district would probably be electing five people. Each big party would probably run 3 candidates, maybe 4 if they were very confident. Smaller parties might run 1 or 2. Voters then rank the candidates, 1,2,3,4,5... And the votes are counted, but if your "first preferences" don't have enough votes to win, your vote shifts to your "second preferences" ("single transferrable vote") and, of course because, in this voting the representation from the district ends up roughly reflecting the voting in the district, its called "proportional representation."

This almost guarantees coalitions, since under this system majorities are almost impossible.
is a pretty good explanation

- Ira

Toronto realtor said...

Financial crisis - you know what? Maybe this situation will be finally helpful. Instead of government's pumping billions into half bankrupted companies, creating thus fiscal disaster and changing currency into toilet paper, we can simply let it come - and let it leave. There are some excessive investments and production in our/world's economy, which were created artificially and which will definitely disappear, today, tomorrow or in three years. Trying to save them is just prolonging the suffering. The sooner it comes, the sooner it leaves...
Take care

Merry Christmas :)