Will Canadian Liberals benefit from the Obama buzz?
A guest article by Jack Peterson
This week, the eyes of the free world will shift from Denver, where Morus has been keeping tabs on the Democrats for PB, to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul, where John McCain will accept the Republican nomination and try to distance himself from President Bush. However, political punters would be well advised to keep an eye on events a few hundred miles to the north, where Canada stands on the brink of an election call.
Having survived a series of confidence votes, the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper, in office since February 2006, seems set to dissolve parliament and take its record â€“ of cutting the federal sales tax, taking tough stands against inner-city crime, and extending Canadaâ€™s Afghan mission â€“ to the country. Monday 20th October has been mooted as a possible election date.
Liberal leader StÃ©phane Dion, a francophone former academic, has made notable moves to burnish his partyâ€™s centre-left credentials since taking over in December 2006. Last November he launched a poverty plan designed to cut child poverty by 50% over the course of a Liberal government, and this May he outlined proposals for a national carbon tax â€“ taking his case for action on the environment into the Conservative oil heartland of Alberta in an impressive act of political courage (or recklessness).
However, whilst Stephen Harperâ€™s net approval rating of â€“10% suggests that the government is eminently beatable, Dionâ€™s rating continues to plummet almost as quickly as Gordon Brownâ€™s, reaching â€“50% in the most recent Angus Reid poll. Overall, the Liberals and Conservatives stand neck-and-neck, with even Stephen Harper predicting that the election will result in another minority government â€“ and few Liberals are confident enough to believe that their party will wrest back power.
The fascinating thing about Canadian politics is that national trends are by themselves an inadequate indicator of party performance, with party fortunes differing widely between regions and provinces â€“ especially when energy and the environment become major campaign issues. Poll data on the excellent Paulitics blog suggests that the Liberals have bolstered their position in their Ontario and Atlantic Canada strongholds since the January 2006 election, making it harder for the Conservatives to win a majority, but have failed to dent the Conservativesâ€™ lead in British Columbia and the Prairies.
In Quebec, the Liberals will look to regain seats from the separatist Bloc Quebecois in Montreal, but the Conservatives are the stronger challengers to the Bloc in most of the rest of the province. To the left of the Liberals, the NDP secured over 17% of the nationwide vote and 29 seats in January 2006, and it will also be interesting to see whether the Green Partyâ€™s poll surge in the relatively liberal provinces of Ontario and British Columbia (to 11-12% in each province) can be sustained, and turned into seats on election day under the first-past-the-post voting system.
There is also the Obama factor. Will Dionâ€™s Liberals benefit from having an articulate and charismatic young Democrat make the case for liberalism and an active federal government south of the border? Or will Obamaâ€™s star quality make Dionâ€™s scholarly and slightly patrician manner look tired and uninteresting by comparison?
The invaluable Election Prediction Project offers a seat-by-seat breakdown of party prospects, with input from local activists. As far as I know there are no betting markets open on the Canadian political scene at the moment, but itâ€™s worth watching for future developments.
Jack Peterson is a regular poster on PB and will be keeping an eye on Canada as the autumn political season unfolds.
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