by Ben P, Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:04:31 PM EST
My seat predictions, a week out from the voting.
Conservatives: 130 to 140
Liberals: 80 to 90
Bloc Quebecois: 55 to 60
NDP: 30 to 35
Why are the Conservatives going to win? Well, to put it very simply, the (centirst, in a Canadian context, center-left in an American context) Liberals have now been in power for something going on 12 years. While Canada has generally done well under their leadership, and while the Liberal Party is considered the "natural party of government" in Canada (having been in power for 78 of the last 110 years), the Liberals have been wracked by a series of scandals. On their own, the Liberals might have been able to whether these scandals, but combined with being in power for such a long strech of time, many Canadian voters have come to believe that is time for another party to be in charge too ensure that Canadian democracy remains vibrant. Liberal dominance during the '90s (sometimes having overwhelming majorities, at one point controlling 101 of 105 "ridings" or seats in Ontario) was greatly aided by a split between the traditional party of the center-right, the Progressive Conservatives (typically called the Tories, as in Britain) and a new more explicitly right wing party, called, over time, Reform and the Alliance, largely born in Canada's most conservative province, Alberta, whose goal was largely to create a party in the mirror image of the American GOP. This project largely failed, as the Reform/Alliance were viewed as too closely aligned to the sectional politics of the Canadian West and too right wing by most Canadian voters, especially in the crucial province of Ontario. In 2004, Reform cum Alliance thus merged with the Progressive Conservative Party to form the new Canadian Conservative Party.
In 2004, the Conservatives looked poised to win power, but new leader Stephen Harper's ties to the old Reform Party, his ideologically-driven think-tank past (largely seen as advocating the kinds of policies - vis-a-vis Canadian federation as well as more conventional right wing policies), his poor campaigning, the undiscipline of his newly formed party, doomed the Conservatives to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. However, the subsequent Liberal minority government - while not especially bad in terms of economic management, and quite good from a progressive social perspective - has continued to be dogged by scandal, a lack of new ideas, and new PM Paul Martin's generally mediocre leadership skills. Thus, in 2006, with a newly revamped party, platform, and campaign style, Stephen Harper appears set to become Canada's 22nd PM.
What does this mean? Certainly Harper is ideologically sympathetic to the right, mostly in terms of the economy. He is also ideologically a "decentralist," as in the past he has advocated a strategy of building a "firewall" around the province of Alberta, protecting it from federal imposition vis-a-vis the use of the province's extensive natural resources (oil, above all) and undesireable "welfarist" mandates (from whence he hails). However, his recent campaign has largely tried to muffle (what in Canada, although not in the US) are regarded as extreme social/cultural positions, if not from Harper (who is not esp. seen as an agent of the the Canadian cultural right), but from his candidates, upon whom the Party has imposed a strong and effective discipline. Certain of the more "flamboyant""socons" have been deselected as candidates. His campaign has largely focused on the following: Liberal corruption, arrogance, and sleave, targeted tax cuts (for the "masses," a reduction in the national sales tax, for business a reduction on capital gains), a small increase in the Canadian military's size, a stipend of $1,300 to all Canadian parents with small children, some noises on law an order, and a promise of a "free vote" on the recently passed Same Sex Marriage law passed by the Liberal government. He is also recently backed away from earlier (in 2003) support for the Iraq War and has promised not to send Canadian troops to the conflict if elected. Frankly, there is not much here that will look out of place in the Democratic Party campaign in 2006 and 2008.
Many in Canada remain skeptical of Harper, not believing that the new Conservative agenda will in fact be the agenda once elected, and that a "secret platform" will be unveiled. There are good reasons for this skepticism, as Harper past work with the Reform Party and as think tanker, particularly in the 80s and 90s, suggests he would (or at least, would have) desired to replicate a kind of northern Gingrich-style revolution. However, in must be said that even though I think Harper would like to govern to the right of where his current platform is, I think he changed to a degree since becoming more intimately involved in electoral politics, esp. on a national stage. The Reform project failure, the experience of 2004 in particular have chastened at least elements of the old Reform Party/Albertan wing of Canadian politics, recognizing that, in order to govern Canada, one has to make compromises with the ex-Progressive Conservatives (who are a not insubstantial part of the new Conservative Party) as well as with "middle Canadian" sentiment, esp. in Ontario. Finally, the fact his government will almost certainly be that of a minority will limit any "secret agenda" he may possess. While I personally think Harper's calculations and what he believes is possible (if not his fundamental ideological orientations) has changed over time, we really will not know the upshot until he begins to govern. Evidence for a "stealth agenda" exists (and some have made the comparison to Bush's 2000 "compassionate conservatism" schtick, although I think this comparison is quite superficial), but I personally think that something like the Bush in 2000 vs. 2001 will not play out, for reasons of principle, electoral calculation, and internal Conservative disagreement.