Skip to comments.It's 1972 all over again (Canadian Election)
Posted on 05/26/2004 3:24:49 PM PDT by GMMAC
EDMONTON JOURNAL Wednesday 26 May 2004 p. A19
Should history repeat itself, which past election may we look to?
It's time for pundits to pore over the entrails, finding parallels to spark our minds.
There have already been several parallels drawn between the federal campaign begun Sunday and campaigns of the past. Michael Bliss, the dean of Canadian political historians, likened the Liberal launch to Sir John A. Macdonald's 1891 campaign, the first national campaign to demonize America in an effort to scare voters away from one party or the other.
In what would be his final campaign, Canada's first prime minister accused his Liberal opponents of treason for pledging a free-trade treaty with the United States. The successful Tory slogan that year was The Old Man, the Old Flag and the Old Policy -- Macdonald, the Union Jack and the protectionist National Policy.
Tactically, this is probably the most apt comparison, given what we have so far seen from the Liberals. Sunday at the Liberals' national campaign launch, and during speeches every day since, Prime Minister Paul Martin has been short of policy ideas and long -- really, really lo-o-o-ong -- on America bashing, both veiled and not so veiled.
Even though Martin has made better relations with the U.S. one of his top priorities, even though he has forbidden his caucus from slanging America and Americans the way Jean Chretien's Liberals did, now that the election is on, Martin is only too willing to do some Yankee bashing for his own political gain.
Opponents of Alberta's Conservative governments often criticize the way its premiers pick fights with Ottawa whenever an election is near in an effort to drive up the Tory seat total. Well, federal Liberals do much the same with America. They don't exactly pick fights. Rather, every four years they start portraying the Americans as bogeymen against which only they can protect the peasantry.
Wanting lower taxes, Martin has insinuated, is un-Canadian. Every good Canadian should love to pay his or her taxes, he implied. Thus everyone (such as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, hint, hint) who promises lower taxes must be guilty of harbouring a hidden agenda to remake Canada into American North, of being a disloyal Canadian.
And everyone (such as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, hint, hint) who does not believe that health care must not only be paid for by government, but must also be delivered by government is guilty of a sin against Canada.
Sunday, Martin proclaimed: "I love that we are Canada and we're going to stay that way." Oh, please. This is an election campaign, not a beer commercial. We all love Canada, even those of us who desire changes here and there.
For Martin, it's 1891 all over again, at least rhetorically.
Electorally, though, others have drawn a parallel with 1949. Like Martin replacing Chretien, who had won three consecutive majorities, Louis St. Laurent replaced William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1948.
King, like Chretien, was a brilliant political practitioner, but an indifferent governor often accused of being corrupt. King, too, had won three elections in a row.
Like Martin, St. Laurent was touted as more honest, competent and intelligent than his predecessor -- even if it was he and his supporters who were doing most of the touting.
The following year, 1949, when St. Laurent sought a mandate of his own (as Martin is doing now) the Liberals won an overwhelming majority, their fourth consecutive win. (In 1945, King had won 122 of 245 seats, just one shy of a majority, but the next biggest caucus after the Liberals' was the Tories' at just 66 seats.)
But the 1949 vs. 2004 comparison doesn't work entirely. The big difference between then and now is Adscam. St. Laurent had no big scandal to test whether he was indeed an improvement over King. He cruised to the level of victory that Martin had expected before the sponsorship scandal broke. St. Laurent also went on to a fifth consecutive Liberal government in 1953.
Perhaps the best parallel, though, is to 1972. By then, the bloom had come off Pierre Trudeau's rose. He was unpopular with many voters.
Yet Tory leader Robert Stanfield was seen by many others as too dowdy and unimaginative to be trusted with government.
The Liberals ran a terrible campaign. Their theme, The Land is Strong, was like their entire election strategy, undisciplined and unfocused. The result was an effective draw -- 109 Liberal seats, 107 Tory. Ontario was split down the middle. Almost half of the Liberal total came from Quebec.
If I had to guess what will happen June 28, I would look to the 1972 campaign.
The Liberals, again, have a real record that they can be held accountable for -- should be held accountable for. Being master fear-mongers, they will escape at least some of the punishment they have coming to them by making just enough voters frightened of the alternative.
Anger with the Liberals over their many scandals and wasteful boondoggles is, I suspect, greater than the polls are showing, but not great enough to signal a sure win for the Conservatives.
A misstep by Harper, or a political self-immolation by one of his candidates (it's been known to happen), could stall them short of their own win.
But right now, if I had to guess, I'd say we're headed for a hung Parliament, a la 1972: a virtual dead heat between the Tories and the Liberals.
_______________________ Lorne Gunter Columnist, Edmonton Journal Editorial Board Member, National Post tele: (780) 916-0719 fax: (780) 481-4735 e-mail: email@example.com 132 Quesnell Cres NW Edmonton AB T5R 5P2
I would love to think the pendulum is swinging in Canadian politics, but I'm afraid I'll have to see it to believe it. The anti-American liberals, along with most of the media, have controlled the country for far too long.
Canadian elections appears to be about as competitive as Mexican elections were until recently. With a first post the post election based on population Ontario basically runs the whole show.
Don't worry, Australia is far more supportive of the US as an Australian FRer put on the current Australian political climate:
"The Greens are way out on the lunatic left. They are lead by a guy called Bob Brown who is a complete fruit loop.
The Australian Democrats started off as a centralist party but have now moved so far to the left that, from my point of view, they are little different to the Greens. They now call themselves "the lie detectors" which is hilarious because if you asked any of them if they support their leader they would all lie and say "yes". Their leader is Senator Andrew Bartlett who recently physically assaulted a female senator on the floor of the senate and told her to F#%k-off. He was drunk at the time and has since admitted that he has a drinking problem. He is their leader because no-one else wants the job.
Next we have the Australian Labor Party which contains about 16,000 different factions ranging from far left to far right. On some issues, such as welfare, their current leader Mark Latham sounds further to the right than the Government. The last two ALP governments of Hawke & Keating could hardly be described as left wing and were certainly pro US. I suspect that if the ALP do win the next election that they will be similar to the Hawke/Keating governments. They will of course, as all ALP governments do, totally screw up the economy.
Finally we have the unfortunately named Liberal Party (and their almost indistinguishable coalition partner - The National Party). They are the current conservative Government and are far from "liberal" in the sense that it is used on Free Republic. They are the good guys.
As far as I can make out, the major parties (ALP & Liberals) have moved further to the right in recent years and the minor parties have moved further to the left."
We only have two viable parties here, and we'll only have two viable parties here. If a third party develops and prospers, it will kill one of them. We know that from our history, and I could also explain why it must always be so in another post.
Coalition governments are always weaker, because they necessarily require compromise with people who disagree with at least some of your policies. There's rarely such a thing as a mandate under that system.
I really do wish the Liberal Party of Australia wasn't named that. It's confused me for years, although I think I've finally got it now.
Unfortunately, we now have extremely uncompetitive elections, and I wonder if this is such a problem in parliamentary countries. House members (and, I suspect, state legislators) are routinely re-elected at 90%+ rates. Even Senators, who can't benefit from scientifically precise redistricting but otherwise reap incumbency's rewards, get returned at rates in excess of 2/3 of the time IIRC.
I seriously wonder whether political competition is dead in the legislative branch. Lately I have wondered whether the bitter divides over Presidents are in part a function of the fact that Presidential contests are about the only democracy we have left.
I wonder what incumbent reelection rates are in other western countries.
Senate seats are more up for grabs than House seats, although you're absolutely correct about the power of incumbency. It's inexplicable to most of us why Louisiana has never elected a Republican Senator while reliably voting for the Republican presidential candidate. Still, it does happen more in the Senate as both Max Chambliss and John Ashcroft can attest.
I do not know, but I'd be willing to guess that the power of incumbency does not play such a pivotal role in other western countries. The money isn't as big a factor, for one thing, and the variety of parties to choose from is far greater. Under most parliamentary elections, voters must choose from the survivors of the first round, neither of which might be from their preferred party. That's simply not the case here.
In fact the traditional Westminster system (as opposed to continental proportional parliamentary systems) also discourages third parties. In Australia the "true" third parties are both lunatically left-wing (Australian Democrats and Green Party, about equiv to US Green Party or Canada's NDP) and on the right the reason it has National Party as well as Liberal Party is because historically Liberals is the "urban/suburban" right and National "rural right. The two parties have a pact that neither will pit candidates competing with the other party's in the event of an election.
Here in NZ before the introduction of proportional representation we only have two significant political parties: National Party on the right, and Labour Party on the left. Everyone knew if you opted for the third parties your votes are wasted. Similarly in Britain it is either Labour or Conservative (or Liberal or Conservative in the 19th century).
So in theory the Westminster system is also a two-party system and is very stable. The bad point is that Westminster-style political parties have "party whips" that enforces its party's reps to vote on the party line when a bill comes. It has a degree of party discipline that is unthinkable to Americans. Unless the bill is a conscience issue (eg abortion, pornography) everyone has to vote for his party line. It then becomes very predictable as to what bills pass and what don't. In theory, the executive (headed by the cabinet, which in turn is headed by the Prime Minister) is responsible to the parliament, but since in practice since the party in government (which produces the cabinet) controls the majorities in parliament, this means the executive branch effectively controls the parliament and the one "in opposition" are reduced to speaking out why the policies are bad.
Because of party disciplines and effective fusion of executive and legislative branches of government, it means in a Westminster when you have a unicameral legislative branch (pre-1996 New Zealand) or a bicameral legislature in which one house is largely symbolic (Britain and Canada) the country becomes a temporary dictatorship when whoever party is elected in one election. Coupled with the fact that this "dictatorship" comes with popular mandate, the governing party can put whatever fashionable fads it (and therefore the electorate) wants into bills and thus laws. This is very dangerous when a very bad fad is popular with the public and why Canada (or NZ or Britain) all had very very entrenched socialism.
The American system introduces checks-and-balances to government and there are more constraints to enacting new laws quickly. But it also prevents whatever popular fads of today become laws immediately tomorrow, which considering that we all have a bad impulse of favouring feel-good socialism, isn't exactly a bad idea. Furthermore, the United States never has Westminster-style party discipline in legislature (that's why we see RINOs and DINOs) and they in a way actually also stops impulsive bills becoming laws quickly.
The situation you described also applies here, sorry. The "run-offs" you described is only seen in some continental countries but in the Westminster countries we elect the parliament (or its lower house if it is bicameral) by first past the post (at lesst for pre-1996 NZ, but Britain, Australia and Canada still use that) which is the same method you elect the House of Reps members as well. In such cases usually an all-partisan electoral commission headed by non-political civil servants draws up electorates (equivalent to your districts) boundaries so that everyone is happy about it.
When an election comes everyone knows that certain seats will be "safe" seats for the Right, and so-and-so seats are firmly in the Left's hands. The key to fight for the so-called marginal seats, which means you have about equal numbers of left and right supporters in that electorates. All politicians (particular party parliamentary leaders) CONCENTRATE their campaignings in these marginal seats. All Westminster systems' elections are won or lost through these marginal seats (if you see even safe seats falling, it means a very very big trouble for the party traditionally controlling that seat). So it is equally bad here that you almost can't defeat an incumbent.
My take on American electoral models is that the districting model produces no (or very few) marginal districts. it is either Republican safe seats, or Democrats safe seats.
How is party discipline so rigidly enforced in the parliament? What would be the penalty for not voting the party line?
Do you know what the incumbent re-election rate is in NZ or the UK? If it's 90% I'll certainly concede that it's not a uniquely American problem.
But it's a problem just the same. Along with federalism, checks and balances and the Bill of Rights competitive elections are part of the constitutional package designed to protect our liberties, and eliminating them from the mix bodes ill for the health of our republic in the long term.
Heh, you want me to recall everything I learned in my 4th Form social studies about 11 years ago! ;D
In a Westminster system, "essential to the job of being party whip is the ability to flex party discipline through close ties with the party leader. Party discipline comes in several forms, suspension from caucus, denial of responsibilities, or even all out expulsion from party caucus." Now due to the dynamics of Westminster system, people normally choose John Smith because he is of whoever party rather than because he is John Smith - they choose party platform. Because of this, if a rebelling MP is expelled from a party caucus he automatically loses his influence in parliament. Next time in an election unless he has power to organize a new political party, or that he can convince his original party to accept him back he is virtually a dead meat (most Westminster systems don't have many independent MPs for a prolonged time). Therefore most Westminster systems' MPs follow the party disciplines very strictly.
found here: http://www.mapleleafweb.com/features/democracy/partywhip.htm
In all "safe" seats the incumbant re-election rate is 100% (unless s/he retires). It is a different story in marginal seats - it depends on how the governing party is doing. But since marginal seats constitute only about 30% of all parliament seats assuming 60% of marginal seats are at risk this means the re-election rate among Westminster systems is typically around 82%. (But more typically only 1/5 of all seats are marginal. If that's the case then re-election rate is around 88%)
If their analysis is correct, the U.S. clearly has a problem even worse than in other Anglosphere countries.
I think this may be attributable to "landside" elections that occues once every 3/4 election cycles in Westminster countries - not sure about it, but in NZ we typically see 85% to 90% of the same MPs back after an election.
And given that the Westminster system is effectively less republican form of government (although it is one step better than continental European systems) I would advise strongly against you guys adopting a lot of its practices.
I think I broadly agree with that assessment, but an American system with competitive elections would still be better than what we have now, an American system without them. I'm at a loss as to what to do about it. The incumbents make the rules (witness campaign-finance "reform"), so dislodging them is hard. Term limits is commonly suggested, but it doesn't address the underlying problem of insulated representatives.
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