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Canadian Conservatives Win North America's Other Election:

Most Americans haven't noticed. But there has been another election going on in North America the last few weeks, and yesterday Canada's Conservative Party government won it. Here's a summary from the liberal Toronto Star, and one from the conservative National Post.

Despite the ongoing economic crisis, which is usually the sort of event that damages incumbents, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper managed to win reelection and even increase his party's seats in parliament from 127 to 143. On the other hand, he still has only a minority government and must get support from other parties to pass legislation. The Conservatives also managed to prevail in large part because three left-wing parties split 51% of the vote amongst themselves, enabling the Conservatives to win many ridings (Canadian electoral districts) by plurality votes.

From an American point of view, the Conservative victory is probably good news because the Conservatives are more willing to support a close alliance with the US than the left-wing opposition parties, and in particular more willing to continue the combat role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan (Canada, along with Britain, is one of the few NATO allies whose troops in that country actually engage in active combat operations). Barack Obama, who wants to greatly increase troop levels in Afghanistan, may be secretly happy about Harper's victory for this reason. The Conservatives are also relatively more pro-market and pro-free trade than their opponents.

Canadian libertarians tell me that Harper and his Tories have serious flaws, and I don't doubt it. But the Conservatives north of the border sure look a lot better to me than either American party does right now. Their policies are probably more pro-market than those of Bush's "big government conservative" GOP. Harper's plan to address the current economic crisis (he promises to "cut taxes, fight inflation and balance [the] budget") seems to be less interventionist than the massive Paulson bailout. Even before the crisis, Harper's Canada may have surpassed the US in economic freedom, especially in the field of protecting property rights[though it's important to recognize that Harper and the Ottawa government are not solely responsible for this, since Canada, like the US, is a federal nation with a lot of policy diversity between regional governments].

In addition, the Canadian Conservatives don't have nearly as much of a social conservative/religious right streak as the Republicans do. And libertarians have to give at least a little love to a prime minister who took a lot of flak for cutting government subsidies to the arts - a goal the Republicans weren't able to achieve with their campaign against the NEA.

As a longtime supporter of North American Free Trade, I wonder if it's too late to trade the Bush-McCain GOP for Harper and the Canadian Tories? The latter surely have lots of shortcomings, including some that are probably more visible up close to Canadians than they are to me. Nonetheless, I suspect that in this case the grass really is greener on the other side of the border.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I should mention that I wasn't counting the secessionist Parti Quebecois [correction: known as the "Bloc Quebecois" at the federal level] as one of the three "left-wing parties" that split the opposition vote; I know that it's primarily an ethno-nationalist party rather than one based on economic concerns. I was counting only the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens (who did indeed win 51% of the vote between them); these three do focus primarily on social and economic issues and might have been able to defeat the Conservatives had they united.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Why Don't Canadian Conservatives Support Quebec Secession?
  2. Canadian Conservatives Win North America's Other Election:
Cornellian (mail):
I'd take Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper over McCain for the job of US president, in a split-second. Harper is younger, smarter, more energetic, and a serious student of policy.
10.15.2008 7:36am
deepthought:
. . . the Conservative victory is probably good news . . . . to continue the combat role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan . . . .Barack Obama, who wants to greatly increase troop levels in Afghanistan, may be secretly happy about Harper's victory for this reason. . . . .

The US better not get used to the Canadian presence, as Harper has said Canadian troops will not remain in Afghanistan after 2011. The Conservatives and Liberal opposition agreed to his date, so it really wasn't an issue in the campaign. Most Canadians oppose their country's involvement in Afghanistan and the 2011 deadline (according to a September 2008 CBC News poll, 56 percent of Canadians opposed their country's involvement, the highest ever.)

So the next US Adminisration can't count on the Canadians to bail them out of Afghanistan. The number of non-US troops seems to be declining, rather than increaseing.
10.15.2008 8:11am
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
"Nonetheless, I suspect that in this case the grass really is greener on the other side of the border."

At least until it snows, which will happen next week or so.
10.15.2008 8:15am
Ilya Somin:
The US better not get used to the Canadian presence, as Harper has said Canadian troops will not remain in Afghanistan after 2011.

That is true. But he and the Tories are nonetheless more supportive of continuing the Canadian presence than the opposition parties, which is all I said in the post. In any event, if we haven't won by 2011, it's not clear to me at there's much point in continuing a large US presence either.
10.15.2008 8:30am
newscaper (mail):
I don't think "winning" Afghanistan in the sense that we are doing with Iraq, is as important as it is in the latter case.

Afghanistan is more a case of, perhaps periodically, slapping down their troublemakers, which may be about the most that can be expected with a troubled Pakistan next door spilling over. Iraq OTOH is so strategic, apart from the general stability of the regional trade in oil, because it is so well situated to have a moderating influence, by example on, on the other problematic countries in the region, whose mischief can do a lot more harm than Afghanistan's.

It's the same mistake as the wishful thinking that if we just bag Bin Laden all our troubles over there go *poof*. (Believe me I'm all for his head on a pike.)

BTW I don't put *any* credence whatsoever in Obama and the Dems trying to play to the right of the Bush admin on hawkishness. It is nothing but opportunism -- when the fact is that many of the half-measures &missteps by Bush &Rummy were in part motivated by heading off wailign &gnashing of teeth by the liberals and thr MSM is they *had* been more forceful -- just think about the original post-invasion looting in Baghdad. The same guys talking tough now would have been screaming 'war crimes' even louder if we'd started shooting civilian looters. I rest my case.

Every last bit of tough talk from Obama &co is BS.

We are now seeing that the Euro's preference for Afghanistan as 'the good war' is a sham. As Iraq is well on its way to winding down and resources are being freed up, they are welshing even more on Afghanistan. Afgh. was only good as an anti-Iraq war club &distraction.
10.15.2008 9:24am
David Hecht (mail):
"The Conservatives also managed to prevail in large part because three left-wing parties split 51% of the vote amongst themselves, enabling the Conservatives to win many ridings (Canadian electoral districts) by plurality votes."

Given that this electoral system is the same as it has been for years, and is similar in its essentials to that of France, Britain, and--yes--the United States, I'm not quite sure what your point is.

The only obvious point you seem to be making has to do with the misleading characterization of the oppo as "three left-wing parties". While not incorrect in a technical sense, it would be somewhat like describing the GOP and the Ross Perot Party in 1992 as "two right-wing parties": it overlooks the essential differences in favor of superficial similarities.

The Bloc Quebequois may be "a left-wing party", but its significance is as a strongly regional party representing a self-identified ethnic minority. Regardless of any superficial similarities in their economic platforms (which is what I take you to mean), the Liberals hate the Bloc and vice-versa: indeed, the Bloc may be said to have been the boulder that smashed the seemingly immovable edifice of Liberal supremacy in the Canada of the 1970s.

I may add that the existence of the Bloc is a refutation of the principle that all plurality-win, first-past-the-post electoral systems produce two and only two major parties. As any student of psephology knows, it represents one of the notable exceptions to the rule: a strong regional party, typically based on a criterion that cuts across the major-party divide (in this case, Quebec's independence).
10.15.2008 9:35am
JB:
In addition, the Canadian Conservatives don't have nearly as much of a social conservative/religious right streak as the Republicans do. And libertarians have to give at least a little love to a prime minister who took a lot of flak for cutting government subsidies to the arts - a goal the Republicans weren't able to achieve with their campaign against the NEA.

I think the two are highly related. The flak you get for cutting the arts is of a different nature when you're also seen as trying to ram your religion down people's throats.
10.15.2008 9:35am
Ilya Somin:
The only obvious point you seem to be making has to do with the misleading characterization of the oppo as "three left-wing parties". While not incorrect in a technical sense, it would be somewhat like describing the GOP and the Ross Perot Party in 1992 as "two right-wing parties": it overlooks the essential differences in favor of superficial similarities.

The Bloc Quebequois may be "a left-wing party", but its significance is as a strongly regional party representing a self-identified ethnic minority. Regardless of any superficial similarities in their economic platforms (which is what I take you to mean), the Liberals hate the Bloc and vice-versa: indeed, the Bloc may be said to have been the boulder that smashed the seemingly immovable edifice of Liberal supremacy in the Canada of the 1970s.


I wasn't counting the PQ as one of the three. I was counting only the Liberals, NDP, and Greens (who did indeed win 51% of the vote between them). The PQ won an additional 10%.
10.15.2008 9:57am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Do the Canuckians use American or British political parlance? I.e., is the Liberal Party equivalent to Labor, as it would be in Americanese, or does it refer to classical liberalism?
10.15.2008 10:32am
Mat Siscoe (mail) (www):
Our language is similar to American/British. Conservatives are more classically Liberal, Liberals are closer to Labour.
10.15.2008 10:55am
Dave Ruddell (mail):
<blockquote>
Do the Canuckians use American or British political parlance
</blockquote>

Yes.
10.15.2008 11:08am
Bill2:

In addition, the Canadian Conservatives don't have nearly as much of a social conservative/religious right streak as the Republicans do.


Which is probably why (so far) the Sarah Brady's of the US haven't gotten as far as their fellow travellers in Canada, support for the RKBA being a "socially conservative" trait in Anglophone North America. Personally, I will happily put up with the Christian Right's preordained-to-fail crusade against abortion if I get to keep my more of my RKBA.
10.15.2008 11:32am
PhantomObserver (mail) (www):
Point of clarification: the Parti Québécois is a provincial organization that's the major opposition in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is a separate national organization. The PQ and the BQ are two distinct political entities.

Sean O'Hara: the Liberal Party of Canada is generally centre-left but usually prefers a "big-tent" approach -- economically conservative but socially progressive. It's sort of to the right of Britain's Labour Party but more left leaning than the Obama Democrats.
10.15.2008 11:55am
Robert Shaw:
The same argument applies to British conservatives and the Scottish Nationalists, and probably elsewhere too. Scotland is currently to the left of England, politically. Giving it independence would give the conservatives complete dominance for the forseeable future, but they oppose the idea vehemently. A large chunk of their voters would be happy to see the back of Scotland, but the majority of the party are more interested in preserving Great Britain than in political pragmatism.
10.15.2008 12:44pm
DavidLJ (mail):
Americans should be amused by one difference between Canada and the US:

Prime Minister Harper is a conservative Presbyterian, and is certainly an evangelical Christian -- though not, perhaps an Evangelical in the American sense. Where the American variety tend to think that Jesus of Nazareth is a bought and paid for operative of the Republican Party, Canadian evangelicals know that Jesus of Nazareth was a working man. Harper is Prime Minister only by virtue of the fact that he, like roughly 80% of the Canadian population, supports our Single Payer health insurance program. (This is not, incidentally, socialized medicine. Canadian medicine is far freer than America's enslaved to the insurance companies system. Canadian medicine is paid for by socialized insurance, a far different proposition.)
10.15.2008 2:13pm
Greg Q (mail) (www):
In addition, the Canadian Conservatives don't have nearly as much of a social conservative/religious right streak as the Republicans do.

Gee, I wonder, does Canada have something similar to Roe v. Wade? Or have the Canadian courts stayed out of the culture wars more than US courts have?

I wonder if there's a level of causation there?
10.15.2008 4:17pm
David Hecht (mail):
"I wasn't counting the PQ as one of the three."

My mistake, professor Somin. I confess I had not realized the Greens had achieved such significance: I assumed that to get to a majority of left-wingers, one would have had to include the BQ.

That'll teach me not to check the numbers myself! :-)
10.15.2008 4:29pm
Paul Barnes (mail):
Greg Q: There is no abortion law in Canada. Whatsoever. From my understanding, you can get an abortion when you are 8 months pregnant, notwithstanding any professional standards that are applied by the medical community. Similarly, these policies may differ dramatically, since health care is administered provincially (with further decentralization from the LHIN (Local Health Insurance Networks), basically regional administrative units who determines where spending is done).

Furthermore, Harper has deliberately distenced himself from social/religious conservatives in his policies and electioneering. (See Tom Flanagan's "Harpers Team" on Harper's political history). Flanagan was his campaign manager and "mentor" (loosely speaking) during his rise to power.

Finally, Harper was previously an intellectual/policy wonk. He has a masters in Economics and was the president of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a free-market think tank.
10.15.2008 4:52pm
JPG:
In addition, the Canadian Conservatives don't have nearly as much of a social conservative/religious right streak as the Republicans do

That would be generally true, but the Conservatives's last government attempts at controlling the cultural industries for the sake of virtue has been mocked quite a bit by their opponents.
10.15.2008 5:16pm
JPG:
Greg Q wrote: Gee, I wonder, does Canada have something similar to Roe v. Wade? Or have the Canadian courts stayed out of the culture wars more than US courts have?

Here is what you might be looking for, although it is not clearly an equivalent to Roe v. Wade.
10.15.2008 5:30pm
Donald Clarke (www):
Being from Canada, I'm glad to see VC giving this election more priority than the New York Times, which didn't manage a single word about an election in the US's largest trading partner until page 4. But even recognizing the inevitable limitations of generalizations, I don't think it's useful to call the Liberals a "left wing" party. They may of course take positions that are regularly labeled "far left" by VC commentators, but so do the Conservatives; the entire political spectrum in Canada (and in most of the rest of the world's democracies) is in a very different place from where it is in the US. In the Canadian context, they are centrist; maybe like the Democrats minus (in the old days) the Dixiecrats and (now) the almost-Naderites, who in Canada can vote Green or NDP without feeling they are completely wasting their vote. They get votes from people who would never in a million years consider themselves "left wing".
10.15.2008 6:34pm
Duncan C. Coffee (mail):
One thing it's important to note about the victors in this election is that they're the Conservative Party of Canada - a merger between the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives. The former actually beat the latter in an election or two, with the Liberals dominating and, for a time, the Bloc Quebecois as the country's Loyal Opposition. Once the two right-of-centre (presumably calling them "right-wing" would fall afoul of the same weird American semantic hangups that prevent us from calling Obama a "socialist") parties joined forces, electoral fortunes began to shift. Should the ever-so-slightly teensy-weensy-bit left-of-center parties ever merge (unlikely) or form an alliance (logical but historically unlikely), electoral fortunes could swing the other way. Cooperation is rewarded (in a different way than it's rewarded in France, for example).

Westminster-style elections (simple plurality to a Yank, first-past-the-post to a Brit) elections do have unpredictable effects. Pretty much every smallish party to win seats under such a system will be regional in nature ... ditto for electoral votes (the Presidency being apparently an ideal starting place for small parties in the US?) "The system likes" George Wallace, the BQ, and the Scottish National Party and "dislikes" Ross Perot and the Greens.

Small/new regional parties will often be on the wrong side of a tipping point ... look at the predecessors to the Reform Party, concentrating votes in a large but thinly-populated region and winning few (or no?) seats. After a time, people from the region can get fed up, and suddenly your medium-sized regional right-of-center (like, what else is it going to be right of? right-of-left? right-of-top?) is bigger than your medium-sized national right-of-center party.

It's more apropos of another thread, but I do think a time will come when the Conservatives of Canada will start smiling upon secession.
10.15.2008 7:14pm
da wolfe (mail):
Yeah there is no abortion law in Canada. It seems that its unconstitutional to outlaw abortion at all. The provincial courts also largely declared same-sex marriage to be in the constitution. (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was left out of the original document for this reason and was later read in) The Liberal government at the time took the step of asking the Supreme court if the traditional definition violated the constitution. The court's response appeared to sense that they were being asked to provide political cover for gay marriage in my view. They said that revoking marriages already performed would be a taking of rights but did not say what the Liberals wanted them to say. And the debate proceeded on the assumption that gay marriage is a "fundamental human right", as the last Liberal Prime Minister would say. I like to call it a secular pseudotheocracy.

Harper also promised at the outset of the election to end our involvement in Afghanistan after our current mission ends in 2011. I don't like it but it's good enough. We've already lost more guys there than any countries but you guys and Britain. Maybe the rest of NATO will wake up, although my understanding is that our involvement has been a real factor in the Netherlands also actually fighting there, as well as France's recent increase in troop level. The Canadian Army went through Holland in WWII and the Dutch don't forget.

Economically though, well : ) Master's degree baby! I understand congress and the senate lost the few economists they had. We had Obamas named Deifenbaker and Trudeau back in the 60's and 70's. Essentially, they left us with a 500 billion dollar debt. Times that by 10 to get the American equivalent. We've already learned the hard way.
10.15.2008 11:44pm
Carson (mail):
A couple points of clarification. Harper was head of the National Citizen's Coalition, not the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The NCC is a libertarian free market lobby group.

Canada does have something similar to Roe v Wade. The abortion law was challenged and overturned in the late 80s (much later than in the U.S.) with the Morgentaler ruling.

There is no law, but it wouldn't be unconstitutional to have a law, all the court said was that the previous law was unconstitutional. A new law was drafted in 89 (I think) but it died in the Senate and no one has wanted to return to it.

Now, while late term abortions are legal, they are rarely perfomed. Doctors, as per the policy of the Canadian Medical Association, will not perform abortions (in general) after "fetal viability" which as I understand is how the law works in the U.S.

Social conservatives (using abortion and gay marriage as the benchmark) exist in both the Conservative and Liberal parties. In the Liberals they keep their mouths shut. During the 90s, the small portion of SoCons in the now defunct Reform party were relatively noisy, but now that Reform merged with the old Conservative Party, social conservative party members tend not to say much.

Harper is sometimes lumped in with the social conservatives, but there is little to suggest that his policy interests reflect something other than free market economics and decentralized federalism.
10.16.2008 12:47am
Nathan_M (mail):

Yeah there is no abortion law in Canada. It seems that its unconstitutional to outlaw abortion at all.

This isn't really true. The SCC struck down the existing laws regarding abortion in R. v. Morgentaler, but they did not rule that all restrictions on abortion would be unconstitutional. There was heated debate at the time, probably comparable to what happened in the U.S. after Roe v. Wade, but Parliament did not pass any new restrictions on abortion. It came very close; the House of Commons passed a bill but the Senate did not (it is extremely unusual in Canada for the Senate not to pass a bill approved by the House).

Since then, however, a consensus has largely developed that abortion should be legal. None of the major parties supports any restrictions on abortion. The last time abortion was a major political issue here was before Harper was elected Prime Minister for the first time. The Liberals suggested that Harper would try to restrict abortion and override the courts to ban gay marriage. Harper promised he would not, and he has kept his word on both counts.
10.16.2008 12:51am
da wolfe (mail):
"Harper is sometimes lumped in with the social conservatives, but there is little to suggest that his policy interests reflect something other than free market economics and decentralized federalism."

True. He opposed gay marriage but that issue isn't likely to be returned to. His response to a question on abortion in an interview with Kevin Newman before his first minority was that his views were complex, and that it wasn't an issue for the Conservatives. Thanks for explaining the nuance of the court decision. Things like harsher penalties for crime are the pastel streaks of social conservativism in his classic liberalism. I still smile to think that Hayek was one of the first sources of his political philosophy.
10.16.2008 1:12am
Paul Barnes (mail):
Carson, thanks for the catch.

For some reason, I have it in my head that he was head of CTF. I blame it on a friend who does work for them. And it does seem like something that Harper would be part of.

Funny story though: I was at a Conservative MP's victory party Tuesday night (he received over 50% of the votes) and I was discussing the many media that were there with some of his assistants. Apparently, they were nearly all rude and had difficulty in comprehending that people would vote Conservative. Not only that, but hearing them talk only reinforces my opinion that ignorance in journalists has little bearing on actually being a journalist.
10.16.2008 1:45am
da wolfe (mail):
Why are there so few conservatives in journalism? When people who tend to a conservative worldview take up the cloth they become priests. When liberals take up the cloth they become journalists.

It explains a lot. Particularily the experiences of Bernard Goldberg and John Stossel. Heresy! Everything I've heard about the media coverage of the Conservative win has been about the disappointing miss of a majority. With over ten more seats than the highest pollster prediction? When the big headline in the Edmonton Journal just before the election was that the Conservative lead had nearly evaporated because of the economy? Not that its a bad thing. They should have claimed it was a huge suprise - not a poor performance, if the reflex was to deflate the importance of the win.
10.16.2008 11:09pm