If you know what these colours mean, you probably share my surprise:

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Canadian politics, past and present, here’s a quick brush-up. (If parliamentary democracy or constitutional monarchy is new to you, Rick Mercer gives a great explanation.)

Liberal Party (Red Seats)

  • Politics: More liberal than the American Democrats, but not by a huge amount.
  • How they usually do: They’ve won elections so many times that they’re deemed “Canada’s natural government”. Whether it’s a majority or a minority, a Liberal government is the rule, rather than the exception.
  • What happened on Monday: 34 Liberal MPs were elected – only 11% of the available seats. The leader of the party, Michael Ignatieff, wasn’t even elected in his riding – a rare (but not unprecedented) occurrence.

Conservative Party (Dark Blue Seats)

  • Politics: Somewhere between American Republicans and Democrats. Canada’s most right-wing party that’s mainstream enough to win seats.
  • How they usually do: When it’s not a Liberal government, it’s a Conservative one. The last time they had a majority, it was under Brian Mulroney – an event that eventually led to the party’s collapse and division. The two halves of the party rejoined for the 2004 election, under Stephen Harper, the leader of the more right-wing of the two. Since 2006, he has held seemingly never-ending minorities. Again, Rick Mercer hits the nail on the head.
  • What happened on Monday: They got their first majority – 54% of the seats, but with only 40% of the popular vote.

Bloc Quebecois (Light Blue Seats)

  • Politics: Diverse, as the party’s sole platform is the intent to make Quebec a sovereign nation. These days, it’s pretty liberal.
  • How they usually do: Fifty-some seats in Quebec.
  • What happened on Monday: Only four Bloc were elected – most seats were lost to the NDP. The leader, Gilles Duceppe, lost the election in his riding. Now they don’t even have enough seats for party status.

New Democrat Party (Orange Seats)

  • Politics: The most liberal of the mainstream parties, they subscribe to social democracy. If Tea Partiers think Obama’s a socialist, I wonder what they’d say if the NDP swept the US Congress.
  • How they usually do: Twenty seats or so, scattered throughout the country, but rarely any from Quebec.
  • What happened on Monday: The NDP unexpectedly swept Quebec, and won 102 seats – for the first time, they’re the Official Opposition. Many of their MPs are brand new and never expected to get elected. Some are still university students. One spent her campaign in Las Vegas, but ended up winning the riding. Their growing popularity wasn’t limited to Quebec, but in many ridings – most notably some in Ontario – they split the vote with the Liberals, giving a lot of seats to the Conservatives.

Green Party (I’ll let you work out their colour of seats)

  • Politics: Not quite as left-wing as the NDP. They focus on environmental issues, climate change mitigation, and the legalization of marijuana.
  • How they usually do: Over the past few elections, they have held between 1 and 10% of the popular vote, but have never had an MP sit in Parliament. Once a Liberal MP switched to the Green Party, but Parliament was dissolved for an election before he got to sit in it as a member of the Greens.
  • What happened on Monday: Elizabeth May, the party leader, won the election in her riding, defeating a Conservative cabinet minister. She is the first elected Green and will be the first to sit in the House of Commons.

If that isn’t enough to convince you of what a massive change this election was, look at the diagrams on this page. Start at the bottom for the most recent Parliaments.

It is arguable that, although the Conservatives only have 40% of the popular vote, Stephen Harper has 100% of the power in the federal government. They hold a majority not only in the House of Commons, but also in the Senate – their five years of minorities have ensured that only Conservatives get appointed to the upper house. It is common for party leaders to demand that their caucus vote the party line on important issues, so Harper can pass pretty much any bill he wants. Also, unless his own party turns against him, he doesn’t have to call an election for another five years. Despite a more left-wing opposition that will be stronger on issues such as climate change (Elizabeth May, in particular, is a fabulous debater), they can’t actually sway results away from what Harper wants. Additionally, the new NDP MPs will have to prove their worth quickly if they want to be taken seriously.

But this is nothing new. It’s nothing specific to Harper. This concentration of power happened before with all the Liberal majority governments, as well as the Conservative exceptions such as Mulroney. This is the way majority governments in Canada work. They will pass a great deal of legislation in their favour, much of which will be undone when the opposing party eventually takes over. I am just worried because, given the Conservatives’ stance on climate change mitigation, we will likely move backwards on an issue where we don’t have time to waste. These decisions, or lack thereof, cannot be undone or reversed.


Data from Elections Canada

More coverage from CBC News


12 thoughts on “Change

  1. High time to abandon the winner-takes-all voting system!

    When I lived in Canada, Harper was the leader of the Canadian Alliance if I’m not mistaken. Good to get an update on Canadian politics.

    • “High time to abandon the winner-takes-all voting system!” I agree. But sadly, I don’t think that will ever happen, since Those In Power will never voluntarily change a system that put them there.

      Here in the UK we have a referendum, tomorrow, on whether to adopt the alternative vote (AV) for Parliamentary elections, instead of first past the post (FPTP), which IMO we’ve had for far too long. (See for instance this YouTube video for a — humourous — explanation of AV.)

      This is the first time ever that ‘we the peeps’ in the UK have ever been ‘consulted’ by our leaders as to how we are going to elect them…

      This referendum on the change to our electoral system has only come about because we had a hung parliament in 2010; the Liberal Democrats made a deal with the Conservatives to form a coalition government. Part of the deal involved the agreement to hold this referendum (which, I understand, was originally scheduled by the Labour Party while they were in power. Confused? I am). The Liberal Democrats have, for many years, been campaigning for proportional representation (PR), and I’m sure would have preferred to have had the referendum ask the question “PR? Y/N” rather than “AV? Y/N”; but as the UK’s Conservatives, in the main, don’t want to change from FPTP (as they tend to do very well under that, thankyouverymuch) there was never much chance of them agreeing to a referendum on PR.

      Me, I’m going to be voting for change, even though AV is not much of a difference from FPTP.

      Meanwhile, back on planet Eaarth: we in the UK have just had our warmest April on record.

      Change? I don’t think the politicians, whatever their colour, will ever change, Not until it’s way too late.

  2. Their are many similarities with both the 2010 Australian federal election (which resulted in a hung parliament, the Greens taking their first seat ever and 3 independents, and although the lefter of the major parties ended up taking power without a majority). and also the 2010 UK general election (which also saw the unexpected rise of the Lib Dems and the Greens winning their first ever seat in the Commons).

    The same general theme can be seen in all three: on one hand a dramatic abandoning of the left-sided major party by the educated class particularly around population centres. On the other, a certain class hardening against what they see as ‘elitist’ ‘inner-city’ types, and thus becoming more inclined to vote for the right.

    In my view, all parties need to do some soul-searching, specifically:

    * The Labor party of Australia (i.e. the lefter of the two major parties), needs to move further left and try to win back some of the 13% of voters who voted Greens at the last election, or they will face the fate of the UK + Canada center-left major parties.

    * The Greens (in all countries) need to decide whether they are happy with their 1 or 2 seats, or whether they would prefer more. If they want more, they need to start winning over regional voters and the millions people who work for the companies they demonise.

    * The right-wing parties may be happy in the UK and Canada that they are in power, but they have achieved it without actually winning over the majority of voters. Harper one his majority, but had a 16% increases in seats with only a 1.96% swing. Similar disparities for both the UK Conservatives and the Australian Liberal party (the Liberals confusingly being the right wing party here btw).

  3. We wont move backwards on climate change, we will just stand still.

    Under the Conservative Majority we will be one of the only countries where the government talk on climate change matches our actions. The Conservatives have stated that Canada wont do anything to reduce our GHG emissions until the US passes a cap-and-trade bill. I am pretty sure we can live up to that ‘lofty’ goal.

    On the plus side 4-5 years with no threat of an election gives the Liberals a chance to really re-build. They should have started in 2006 when Paul Martin lost the election but they didn’t. Hopefully they finally will.

    Even better Elizabeth May is the first elected Green party member in North America!

  4. Well Kate, if you want some good news – like Dan said, we’re not likely to move BACKWARDS on climate policy.

    In fact, hard as it is to imagine, I think you are looking at the government that will usher in a federal Canadian carbon pricing policy towards the end of this mandate. That will largely be driven by external forces, but the tick-tock of time, physics, chemistry, observations mean this is a one-way street. For instance, BC, Quebec and Alberta already have carbon taxes in place – albeit modest ones – and more ghg schemes will be forthcoming from other provinces. There will be demand from industry for some national coordination. I know, I know – they say we won’t act unless the US does and it’s unlikely the US will act in this congress or the next? But look, fossil-fuel-exporter-and-ghg-heavyweight Australia just passed a carbon tax beginning in 2012. There will be less and less cover for Canada.

    Furthermore, I think Elizabeth May getting a seat was vitally important in this regard. She will be a bulldog on this issue and having her in question period, press scrums is great. Remember, the Conservatives want to win the next election too!

    I know, this seems improbable now, but I sincerely believe that Stephen Harper is going to be the PM that gets this done, as astonished as I am to be saying this.

  5. Judging by the massive switch in left wing seats, I’m guessing it is this division that caused the Conservatives to win seats, with some 40-30-30 wins.

    I agree. Ever since the PCs and Alliance recombined to form the Conservative party, Canada has no choice but to move towards a two-party system, otherwise the left won’t have a chance. I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not. -Kate

  6. The New Democratic Party are the minority party. That is interesting.

    Recently I have been reading John Nichols’ book regarding the history of socialism in the United States,”The ‘S’ Word.” In his book while speaking of the history of the socialist party control of the municipal government of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the so called sewer socialists, he used an interesting phrase. He said (I am paraphrasing) the socialists actually want government to work. In Milwaukee Wisconsin under their tenure government did work. They boasted of the effective delivery of clean drinking water, and of the sewerage system which they created and which was wholly owned and controlled by the government. They emphasized the control of polution and free public education.

    In the United States the phrase “the socialists want government to work” has a particular resonance because of the comment by a prominent conservative that he hoped that the current President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan would fail. So perhaps as the minority party the New Democrats of Canada will have an influence and find a policy for reducing carbon emissions that will work. As a minority party it seems unlikely that progress will be made on emissions, but to the extent that individual politicians vote as individuals there is hope.

  7. Great summary! One minor correction – the previous green party MP, Blair Wilson, was not elected in a by-election. He was originally a Liberal MP, but was thrown out of the party over a whole series of allegations over financial irregularities during his election campaign. He sat in the house as an independent for a while, then switched to the Green party just before the 2008 election, in which he was defeated. Technically speaking, he never sat in parliament as a green.

    Thanks to both of you for this correction – apparently it was before my time! -Kate

  8. One small correction. May is the first member of the Green Party to be elected to parliament. The previous green party member Blair Wilson was originally elected as a liberal, but later switched
    to the greens. He was never actually elected as a green member of parliament.

  9. The big thing I worry about most from Harper is that he will shred Canada’s election expense laws and open things up to big money.

  10. @rustneversleeps – I hope you are right. Perhaps the media will grab on to sound bites of Elizabeth May’s strong stance on climate action, and all the attention will force Harper to take a serious look at the issue. That is the hope.

    I felt sad and deflated on election night, worried for the future, worried that nothing will be done for four long years, when action is required right now, this minute, yesterday even. But today is a new day, and I must hold onto the hope that change will march on, and that Harper one day will see the light, and think of his children and their future, and the need to transition to a clean, green economy.

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