You wouldn’t know it from watching American cable television or reading American newspapers, but Canada today held a major federal election to determine who will sit in the House of Commons of the 41st Canadian Parliament.
(For those readers not familiar with Canadian politics, the House of Commons is their equivalent to our House of Representatives… although the two bodies have some significant differences.)
The Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, appears to have won a major victory, becoming the majority party in the House of Commons. The New Democratic Party also had a great night, winning an unprecedented number of seats. They will become the official opposition for the first time in their history.
The Bloc Québécois and the Liberals, meanwhile, suffered huge losses, reshaping the political landscape in Canada. As The Globe and Mail puts it:
Parliament has been radically transformed. The fragmentation of the 1993 election has been reversed, with the Conservatives and NDP emerging as national parties with support across all regions of the country. The Bloc has been reduced to a shadow, and the once-mighty Liberals consigned to redoubts in Atlantic Canada, Montreal and urban Ontario.
The Conservatives appear to have gained twenty-four seats. Their caucus will grow from one hundred and forty-three to one hundred and fifty-five. The New Democrats have tripled their own numbers, gaining sixty-six seats. They will go from a mere thirty-six seats to an astonishing one hundred and two.
The NDP’s gains, as mentioned, have come at the expense of the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. Each party has tentatively lost forty-three seats. That leaves the Liberals with only thirty-four seats and the Bloc with only four.
The Green Party, meanwhile, attained its first seat ever in the House of Commons, with its leader, Elizabeth May, defeating the Conservative Minister of State (Sport), Gary Lunn, in the Saanich — Gulf Islands riding.
Like the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms, Canada has a multiparty system, whereas the United States only has a two-party system. None of Canada’s parties are directly analogous to the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States, though it’s fair to say the Conservatives are right wing and the New Democrats are left wing. The Liberals are more conservative than the New Democrats, but by American conservative standards, they’re Communists.
The Bloc Québécois, on the other hand, are a regional party competing only in Canadian federal elections. Most of the seats they have held since the last election were claimed tonight by the New Democrats.
Among the Liberals swept out of office was Ujjal Dosanjh, who is slated to give the keynote address at the 2011 NWroots Conference on July 9th in Pioneer Square. Earlier this evening, following the release of the election returns, Dosanjh announced his retirement from politics, saying, “I’ve had a great run in political life and I have absolutely no regrets.”
Dosanjh has indeed had a career to be proud of. Born in 1947, he was first elected to office in 1991. He served for several years as British Columbia’s Attorney General before becoming B.C. Premier. During the 38th Canadian Parliament (July 2004 to January 2006), he served as Canada’s Minister of Health.
Dosanjh’s apparent successor is Conservative Wai Young, who he narrowly defeated in 2008 to retain his seat. Young will represent the riding of Vancouver South in the next House of Commons.
Young owes her victory in part to the New Democrats, whose candidate in Vancouver South did better than expected, costing Dosanjh precious votes.
Bill Tieleman, writing for The Tyee (a popular online magazine about news, politics, and culture which is based in British Columbia) sees the election as a defining moment and a decisive loss for Canada’s once-dominant Liberals.
Now the Tories and NDP have four years to solidify their positions — and marginalize their opponents.
[Michael] Ignatieff’s failure to connect with voters means the party will seek its third new leader in three years.
Neither a discredited Bob Rae nor an unremarkable Justin Trudeau can rescue the Liberals.
But the Bloc’s near elimination by the federalist NDP is a death blow to separatism and Gilles Duceppe’s leadership.
Near elimination is a pretty accurate characterization of the Bloc’s defeat. They lost more than ninety percent of their seats. The people of Quebec have dealt their province’s separatist movement a potentially fatal setback.
The Liberals, meanwhile, are still alive, but they’ve been greatly humbled. With their leader Michael Ignatieff ousted and more than half of their seats lost, they’ll be in rebuilding mode for a long time. Tieleman obviously don’t think that they have the ability to recover, and he certainly could be correct about that. His perspective is more grounded than mine.
I don’t follow Canadian politics as closely as I follow American politics, but my guess is the New Democrats will be able to draw a better contrast with the Conservatives than the Liberals. They seem like the future of Canada’s left-wing.
It’ll be interesting to see how they get along with Harper’s government now that they are the official opposition. They’ve never been in such a strong position at the federal level. This is a huge opportunity for them.
POSTSCRIPT: In Canada (and in other Commonwealth realms) they say government, as opposed to administration (like we do). The Harper government is thus akin to the Obama administration.