Greetings from north of the 49th parallel. As you down there in America are looking more and more like you are about to make a drastic change in your national political landscape in the next presidential election by switching from the arch-conservative to the liberal, we here in the land of igloos and ice-hockey are poised on our own cusp. On October 14th Canadians will head to the polls to choose our next Prime Minister, and there is a chance that we could be electing our first ever really conservative government.
In the past a party that called itself the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada has formed governments, and while they might have been what some people in Canada would have considered fiscally conservative, they have always been far more liberal socially than even the most liberal of Democrats in the United States. It was a Progressive Conservative Prime Minister in the 1960s who instituted our system of universal Medicare after all, something that very few politicians of any stripe in the States dare to even talk about, let alone implement.
The party calling itself the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Steven Harper won the most seats in our House of Parliament in our last election, but failed to win enough to have the outright majority required to rule uncontested and do whatever they wanted. What they want to do is remake Canada in the image of George Bush's America – somewhere safe for God-fearing, white, heterosexual Christians who want to profit at the expense of others. In the two years they've had a minority government they have managed to scrap Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Accord, rescind The Kelowna Accord (legislation that the previous government, the provinces and native leaders had negotiated that would have given native Canadians a chance to dig out from under years of poverty), cut 50 million dollars in funding to the arts, divert funding from HIV/AIDS prevention programs, extend and expand Canada's military mission in Afghanistan against the wishes of the majority of Canadians, increase military spending, and cut funds to social programs for women and children.
Of course there are some things they have failed to do; rescinding the legalization of same sex marriages, instituting legislation that would have given people the right to discriminate against others on the basis of sexuality, and closing North America's only safe injection facility, Insite. In each case it wasn't any of the opposition parties in the House of Commons who prevented them from enacting these pieces of legislation, but the courts upholding the constitution and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This has led to the familiar conservative call to reform the courts on the grounds they are interfering in the government's ability to rule. While this is a seductive argument, because it has some basis in truth, it is up to the courts to ensure that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is respected and the Constitution is upheld. If any government complains because they aren't allowed to contravene their country's constitution and do what they want, shouldn't one wonder about them instead of wondering about the courts? I would think that we should be grateful that the politicians have someone, or somebody, holding them accountable.
For those of you not familiar with Canada's form of democracy, we are what's called a Constitutional Monarchy, with the Queen of England being our titular head of state represented in Canada by a Governor-General. This is a figure head position with no real power, and the real authority lies in the hands of whoever is Prime Minister. As we have a parliamentary system of government our Prime Minister is the leader of whichever political party elects the most members to sit in parliament during an election.
The country is divided up into electoral districts based on what is supposedly the fairest means of proportional representation possible – but as certain parts of the country have a higher population density than others it doesn't really work out – with each district representing one seat in parliament. If a party wins a clear majority of the seats they are said to have a majority government and can pretty much do as they please for the next four and half to five years when they'll have to call another election.
When no one winds an outright majority, as what happened in the last election, the leader of the party with the most seats in the house forms the government. Under normal circumstances they will try and negotiate a deal with another party with seats that together they form a majority. However after the last election the Liberal party of Canada, who finished second to the Conservatives, were too busy stabbing each other in the back and electing a new leader to risk an election being called, so the Conservatives didn't have to worry about making nice with anyone.
In fact the Conservatives could probably have gone on ruling for quite some time without having to call an election, but they thought they could win a majority government if they called an election now. So claiming that parliament was unworkable, Steven Harper asked the Governor General's permission to dissolve the current parliament and call an election. As I said before, the Governor General is only a figure head and no matter what he or she might think they have to go along with the Prime Minister, so he was allowed to call an election.
It's been a perfect campaign for the Conservatives – boring and tedious. They haven't promised anything, haven't even said what their plans are if elected. Oh they make vague comments like, we're the best party for the economy, or Canada has become more conservative in the last while and the newspapers report them as gospel. Nobody is calling on them to explain how they plan on being the best party for the economy or even asking why anybody should vote for them, and the most recent polls still show them flirting with a majority government.
The good news, for those in opposition, is that the polls are by no means anywhere as near as conclusive as they were earlier in the campaign. Where it once looked like they were a pretty sure bet to form a majority, the other parties are making enough inroads into Conservative support that the chances of that happening are decreasing. Tonight the leaders of the four national parties, Conservative, Liberal, New Democratic Party, and The Green Party, will face off in a debate over the issues that will go a long way in deciding whether or not Steven Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada form a majority or have to make do with another minority government.
If the other four leaders are able to make the country realize that Steven Harper isn't actually saying anything and wake everybody up enough to notice that he could be on the verge of winning a majority government, there's a good chance it will be enough to prevent it from happening. On the other hand if nobody is able to do anything to wake people up, to make them pay attention to what's going on, to care enough to vote, Steven Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada could very well have a majority government by October 15th.
It would be supremely ironic if on the eve of an historic breakthrough for liberalism in the United States, the election of a black president, Canada, historically the far more liberal country, elects its most conservative government ever.