Canada's polling shows instability coming after the Harper decade

Canada has been lucky to have 10 years of good governance by Stephen Harper, the man who took the brand new Conservative Party of Canada and won elections with it. But 10 years is a long time to govern a country, and the polling is looking grim. On the plus side, the situation is so unstable, anything could happen.


stephen harper photo by michael_swan flickr

Having checked up on our allies the UK and Australia, we might as well continue our political tour of the Anglosphere with an update on the coming election in Canada. The election will be on October 19, electing the entire (newly enlarged) 338 member House of Commons.

Canadian elections work a lot like United Kingdom elections. They have single-member ridings apportioned across the provinces. They also have three major national parties: the Conservative Party of Canada (conservative), the Liberal Party of Canada (center-left), and the New Democrat Party (cuckoopants). In Quebec there is also the Bloc Quebecois, the “sovereigntist” party that supports the secession of Quebec from the Confederation.

The Conservative Party of Canada is actually a relatively new party. Long story short, it started out as a breakaway conservative party in the west, fighting for conservatism and flat out good government reforms. It was even called the Reform Party at first. It crushed the Progressive Conservatives, became the Canadian Alliance as it tried to reunite the right under its banner, then absorbed the rump PC to become the new Conservative Party of Canada.

Stephen Harper was the first permanent leader of that party, having led it since 2004 (it had an interim leader in 2003). He’s won three of four elections contested, thus serving as the Prime Minister of Canada since February of 2006. But it’s not looking good now.

The Conservatives are enduring a cyclical recession, along with the natural weakness that comes with winning too many elections. What do you run on when you’ve run the government for 10 years? It’s all hurting the party nationally. Everywhere across the map they’re set to bleed seats. The Liberals are turning Ontario and the Atlantic provinces red, and the New Democrats are painting British Columbia orange, having already taken Quebec from the BQ. Contrary to left-wing hopes after the Alberta provincial election, the CPC is holding serve there, and is mostly doing okay in the Prairies.

Still Ontario is, in the words of Canadian poll analyst Eric Grenier, the Ohio of Canada. More than that actually. It’s like the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida combined. The conservatives cannot lose the province if they want to win the election, but right now they are set to win far fewer ridings there than they did last time.

However Grenier’s poll tracker is showing some hope. The opposition is split. People just wanting to teach the Conservatives a lesson, along with the leftists, are dividing pretty evenly between the New Democrats and the Liberals. So neither party is actually breaking away and looking set to take a majority.

All three parties are operating regionally right now in fact. The New Democrats aren’t breaking out of British Columbia and Quebec. The Liberals are stuck in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. The Conservatives have Alberta and the Prairies. It’s such an unstable three cornered race, that nobody can win, and that’s the best chance the Conservatives have.

There is no doubt that the New Democrats plus the Liberals will be able to combine for a strong majority of the Commons next month. But will they be able to work together? Both parties have new, headstrong leaders. Each is set to have good victories in parts of Canada, with a mandate to push for their preferred policies. So how will Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau possibly share power, when they will have spent the last year sniping at each other?

That’s the great conservative hope right now. That whoever wins will end up with a weak minority government, or an unstable coalition of some sort. That will give the Conservatives time to let Harper retire so they can bring in a new leader. Then when the next election comes (hopefully soon), the party will have a fair shot to retake Ontario and the country.

Photo by michael_swan on flickr