June 05, 2006
Canada Elects Narrow Conservative Minority

A few months ago, an editor at a left-wing Austrian student union newspaper contacted me out of the blue, asking for a 400 word summary of the then-recent Canadian elections. I posted the resulting German translation the other day, but just came across the original. Summing up an entire political situation to people who likely have no idea what's going on in the country in question was a challenge. Here's what I came up with.

* * *

On January 23, 2006, Canadian elections resulted in the first defeat for the reigning Liberal Party since 1993. The Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, gained the support of an additional 6% of electors from their 2004 result and formed a minority government with 124 out of 308 parliamentary seats. The social-democratic NDP also gained ten seats, and is one seat short of holding the balance of power.

The Liberal Party had declined in popularity after a series of well-publicized scandals involving millions of dollars in contracts granted to major Party donors. The Party was particularly hard-hit in Quebec, where the seperatist Bloc Quebecois won a majority of the seats in the 2004 election.

In 12 years, the Liberal Party had presided over a period of significant economic growth, though real wages declined and inequality increased. Major budget cuts and privatization led to major cuts to unemployment insurance, welfare, education and other social programs. Subsidies to oil companies continued, and a measure to force Canadian mining companies' overseas operations to comply with Canadian human rights and environmental laws was voted down. The Liberals also presided over a major shift in foreign policy, increasing military spending to the highest levels since WWII and advancing integration with the US military. Canadian forces have operated in close cooperation with the US in Afghanistan, and took the lead in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Haiti and taking control of its government.

Parliament has yet to be called into session, but the Conservative government shows signs of expanding on the Liberals' pro-US movements. Stephen Harper has promised further increases to military spending, and said 5,000 newly-arrived Canadian troops will not be leaving Afghanistan. Harper also appointed a former defence industry lobbyist as his Minister of Defence. The strengthened NDP has called for a debate about Canada's role in Afghanistan. While Liberals spoke in favour of Kyoto, Canada's carbon emissions increased at a greater rate than those in the US. Conservatives, with even closer ties to western oil companies than the Liberals, explicitly oppose Kyoto, despite popular support for the treaty.

It remains to be seen what other changes Harper will make, though it is likely he will remain cautious due to his precarious minority. The future of the Conservative government rests on its ability to make gains in Quebec. That said, Harper has surrounded himself with right-wing advisors, and has a long history as an advocate of economic and social conservatism. While the Conservatives have more seats than any other single party, a significant majority of the seats in Parliament belong to parties to the left of the Conservatives. The Conservatives are widely regarded as having won by moving to the political centre, promising to support public health care, which some argue the Liberals had begun to privatize.

Under the Liberals, the genocidal policies of forced integration, expropriation of land and economic devastation of Canada's native populations continued, though some victims of residential schools--where children were forcibly abducted, and often beaten, raped or killed--received compensation. One of Prime Minister Harper's inner circle of advisors, Tom Flanagan, has called native civilization inferior to European civilization, and said that colonization was inevitable and justified.

posted by dru in canada