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February 13, 2013

Canadian Exceptionalism

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Is there room enough on one continent for two "exceptional" nations?

A recent survey from Angus-Reid found that nine out of every 10 Americans and nine out of every 10 Canadians view their country as exceptional. The British, on the other hand, have a more modest view of themselves, with only half of respondents telling Angus-Reid that they're the best country in the world.

Canadians are also more optimistic about the future than their neighbors to the south: 42 percent believe their best days are ahead of them vs. 36 percent of Americans who believe the same. It's much gloomier in Britain: 58 percent said the country's best days were behind it.

Canada's GDP is expected to grow a modest 1.8 percent in 2013, whereas analysts see the U.S. clocking in at 2 percent. The UK is expected to see just .9 percent GDP growth. In other words, by the end of the year, both the U.S. and Canada should still be happy with themselves, while the British less so.

(AP Photo)

February 7, 2013

Americans, You're More "Morally Conservative" than Canadians, Brits

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A new survey from Angus Reid shows that Americans find hot-button issues like divorce and contraception less "morally acceptable" than their peers in the UK or Canada. From contraception, divorce and prostitution to pornography, the U.S. is consistently less accepting than either state, but when it comes to gambling, the death penalty, medical testing on animals and wearing fur, it's the Brits who exhibit greater moral outrage.

Where opinions seem to most closely converge is on animal cloning, illegal drug use, polygamy, human cloning and pedophilia, where almost no one approves.

You can see the full results here. (PDF)

(AP Photo)

December 19, 2012

Canada Gets a Failing Grade ... on Human Rights

I admit I thought this was a typo when I saw the headline:

For Canada’s international human rights standing, 2012 was an annus horribilis.

This year three UN expert committees rated the country’s performance on meeting rights commitments — and returned a failing grade.

“These mandatory reviews are carried out every four or five years, and it just happened that this year Canada was the focus of three,” said Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty International Canada. “It’s a wake-up call that although we have things to be proud of, there are many fronts where we have long-standing issues that need to be addressed.”

An Amnesty report released Wednesday says that committees on racial discrimination, prevention of torture and children’s rights found “a range” of “ongoing and serious human rights challenges,” especially for indigenous peoples.

“By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis,” it said.

October 31, 2012

If the U.S. Election Were Held in the UK or Canada

Barack Obama would win:

In the online survey of representative national samples, Canadians prefer Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by a 7-to-1 margin (72% to 10%), while Britons favour the Democrat over the Republican by a 10-to-1 margin (62% to 6%).

Roughly half of respondents in the two countries (49% in Canada, 52% in Britain) think Obama has performed at the level they expected.

One-in-four Canadians (24%) and 18 per cent of Britons believe Obama has performed worse than they expected.


September 26, 2012

Let Canada Run America?

Here's the pitch:

In The Canada Party Manifesto: An Intervention From You Continental BFF, which was published last month, authors Brian Calvert and Chris Cannon – and Vancouver residents – continue on their satirical prescription for an ailing America.

Featured in U.S. and Canadian media – including CBC’s The Current earlier this week – their lighter take on the presidential election is attracting a wider audience. A video feature about the group on the BBC news site topped the site’s most-watched video list on Thursday.

The party promises American voters: “One gay couple will be allowed to marry for every straight couple that gets divorced.

“The phrase “job creators” will be changed to “job creationists,” and they will be given seven days to actually create some.

“Corporations will still be people, but if they can’t provide a birth certificate they will be legally obligated to care for your lawn."

September 24, 2012

Contain China, Kill Capitalism?

New America's Barry Lynn argues that the Obama administration's China strategy makes no sense:

The Obama administration, over the last year, has chosen to pursue both of these extreme -- and opposed -- options. On the one hand, it has begun to devote real energy to a new generation of trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which aim to tie the U.S. and Chinese economies together even more closely. On the other, it has begun to meet force with force. As Beijing blusters in the South China Sea and builds up military power, Washington has dispatched Marines to Australia, promised a new missile shield to Japan, and proposed to station a second carrier group in the region.

This is absurd. To tighten the gears of the international production system and, simultaneously, to position more heavy weapons right on the factory floor is a recipe only for catastrophe. Any conflict of any size would almost instantly break many of our most vital systems of supply. Instead, the United States should use its power to force corporations to distribute production capacity more widely. Such a move would reduce China's growing leverage over America -- and it would help stabilize the international system, economically and politically.

Lynn goes on to make the case that diversification of industrial production is what will ultimately guarantee U.S. security:

The only real option is to embrace the logic of industrial interdependence, hence to recognize that the only way for the United States to achieve its most vital national aims -- indeed, to be taken seriously by China -- is no longer to reposition its aircraft carriers, but to force its industrial and trading corporations to reposition the machines on which it depends. The United States does not need to bring all or even any of these systems of production home. But it can no longer continue to live in a world in which many activities remain in one location, under the control of one state, especially a strategic rival.

It's interesting that one of the consequences of shifting China into the "strategic competitor" basket is that it may force the U.S. to sideline free market orthodoxies.

March 5, 2012

A Crucial Canadian-American Divide

According to Angus Reid, Americans and Canadians have differing views over... Bigfoot:

People in the United States are more likely than Canadians to consider that Bigfoot is real, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of representative national samples, three-in-ten Americans (29%) and one-in-five Canadians (21%) think Bigfoot is “definitely” or “probably” real.

The Bigfoot phenomenon is definitely bigger in the United States, where 77 per cent of respondents claim to have heard “a great deal” or a “moderate amount” about Bigfoot (compared to 61% of Canadians).

Clearly Canadians are in denial about the threat.

February 28, 2012

Most Americans, Brits and Canadians See Iran Developing Bomb

According to Angus Reid:

People in the Britain, the United States and Canada hold unfavourable views on Iran and believe the country is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of representative national samples, 70 per cent of Britons, 77 per cent of Americans and 81 per cent of Canadians say they have an unfavourable opinion of Iran.

More than two thirds of respondents in the three countries (Britain 69%, Canada 72%, United States 79%) believe the Government of Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

When asked about possible courses of action, 30 per cent of Americans, 35 per cent of Canadians and 43 per cent of Britons say they would prefer to engage in direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran. One-in-four Canadians and Americans (25% each)—and one-in-five Britons (20%)—would impose economic sanctions against Iran.

The option of launching military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities is endorsed by 15 per cent of Americans, 11 per cent of Canadians and six per cent of Britons. A full-scale invasion of Iran to remove the current government is supported by 10 per cent of Canadians, six per cent of Americans and five per cent of Britons.

September 13, 2011

Oil Is Fungible

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The Alberta-to-Houston oil pipeline has drawn some domestic criticism, but as Peter Fairley reports, the oil has to go somewhere:

Protests in front of the White House earlier this month against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast, brought attention once again to the potential environmental impact of Canada's oil sands deposits. But industry experts say that the fate of that particular pipeline—which President Obama will decide upon later this year—will have little effect on the ultimate future of the vast petroleum resources in the oil sands.

One reason is that the oil will simply go elsewhere. Proposed pipelines to Canada's Pacific Coast could give Alberta's oil producers access to rapidly growing Asian markets. That would accelerate the demand for oil sands crude, which is made into gasoline. If the Keystone pipeline is not approved, says Ralph Glass, director of energy valuation and operations at Calgary-based petroleum industry consultancy AJM Deloitte, "there will be a stronger push for sending the oil offshore."

(AP Photo)

June 17, 2011

World's Most Livable City Burns

Rioting and looting left cars burned, stores in shambles and windows shattered throughout the city center as police fired tear gas to control the mob. One hundred and fifty were injured and close to 100 were arrested. Three stabbings were reported, and one victim sustained serious head injuries. Nine police officers were hurt. Fifteen cars were burned, including two police cruisers. Perhaps as many as 50 businesses were ransacked, with damages easily climbing into the millions.

The local police chief described the instigators as "criminals and anarchists." "Organized hoodlums bent on creating chaos, incited the riot," said the mayor.

The rabble was not roused by the burning of holy books by foreign occupiers. It was not in reaction to brutal and repressive Middle East dictators, nor was it against the imposition of harsh austerity measures within a currency bloc. No, these riots were in response to cross border aggression against cultural heritage. On Wednesday the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final (that's ice hockey) to the Boston Bruins.

It was only four months ago that The Economist awarded Vancouver, for the fifth straight year, the title of the world's most livable city, with Melbourne ranking a close second. The accompanying report explained what makes a high-ranked city:

Cities that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density. This often fosters a broad range of recreational availability without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure. Seven of the top ten scoring cities are in Australia and Canada, where population densities of 2.88 and 3.40 people per sq km respectively compare with a global (land) average of 45.65 and a US average of 32.

Unfortunately, in this case, recreation led directly to high crime levels. But, chin up Vancouver; while Most Livable City 2012 might have just slipped away, there's always next year for the Cup. In the meantime, all the non-anarchists can hide out in Melbourne.

Alim

April 27, 2011

Canadians: Cynical and Distrustful

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At least when it comes to their federal political parties:

As Canadians prepare to cast their ballots in the fourth federal election held in the past eight years, a unique segmentation conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion shows that only one third of Canadians are truly connecting with the main federal parties, while large proportions of respondents hold feelings of mistrust, skepticism and even cynicism towards politics.

According to Angus Reid, which conducted this analysis, the key group in this election is the Mistrustful Middle, "where respondents are currently being courted primarily by the Tories and NDP. This is the biggest of the five groups encountered, and the one where policy ideas are taking a more prevalent role than traditional support for existing parties."

You can read a full analysis here. (pdf)

March 3, 2011

U.S., UK & Canadian Views on Afghan War

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According to a new poll from Angus Reid, more Canadians and Britons oppose the Afghan war than Americans do:

A year ago, a majority of Americans (58%) supported the mission in Afghanistan, while about two-in-five (38%) opposed it.

Now, in a trend that began late last year, respondents are evenly split, with 47 per cent backing the mission, and 46 per cent opposing it. The level of rejection to the Afghan mission is highest in the Northeast and West (both at 49%) and lowest in the South (44%).

For more than a year, a majority of Britons has expressed opposition to the mission in Afghanistan. This month, only 31 per cent of respondents are backing the military operation, while 60 per cent are against it.

This month’s result matches the high level of opposition to the mission, which was recorded in October 2010. Respondents in London (63%) and Scotland (62%) are more likely to reject the military operation.

For the first time since the war began, three-in-five Canadians (63%) voice opposition to the mission in Afghanistan. Support for the military effort has dropped to the lowest level recorded (32%).

This month’s numbers represent a drastic shift from a survey conducted a year ago, where 47 per cent of Canadians backed the war.

Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

February 23, 2011

America & Canada: Securing the Perimeter

It's been understandably lost in the headlines pouring from the Middle East, but the U.S. and Canada have embarked on talks about creating a "conintental security perimeter" that would shift the emphasis from stopping threats from moving between the two countries to impeding threats before they reached North America. The Globe and Mail gives a short overview:

The agreement is big on promises, although short of specifics. It said the two sides would work “together within, at, and away from the borders of our two countries” to toughen security and promote trade.

This could, for example, include creating a single border surveillance agency that transmits data on people entering the United States or Canada to both countries. It could mean joint pre-screening of cargo in European ports before it is sent to North America, or the ability to clear a container from abroad when it arrives in Halifax and send it to the United States without a border check there.

As well, a new agency called the United States-Canada Regulatory Co-operation Council (RCC), composed of officials from both countries, would seek to streamline regulations governing product safety and quality, making it easier to make goods in one country and sell them in the other.

The perimeter talks haven't evoked much debate south of the border, but in Canada, its critics are complaining about a loss of sovereignty. Still, the idea seems to have the support of both Canadian and American publics. A new survey from Angus Reid shows a majority of Americans and a majority of Canadians want the perimeter initiative to move forward:

When asked about the recent meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama to discuss the establishment of a North American security and trade perimeter, half of Canadian respondents (52%) say they support the idea, while 17 per cent oppose it. Three-in-five Americans (59%) support the perimeter while nearly a third (31%) are undecided. Support for the perimeter is highest among men (66% U.S. and 60% Canada) and those over 55 years of age (64% U.S. and 60% Canada).

January 26, 2011

The Great Game - Arctic Edition

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What's Canada's top foreign policy priority? The Globe and Mail reports on a new poll:

A majority of Canadians see Arctic sovereignty as the country’s top foreign-policy priority and believe military resources should be shifted to the North from global conflicts, according to a new opinion poll.

The survey also found that Canadians are generally far less receptive to negotiation and compromises on Arctic disputes than Americans.

What's somewhat amusing is how the poll results have been interpreted:


“That traditional notion of what is a Canadian is kind of challenged by this. We sound more like what people would say Americans would sound like dealing with international issues. That’s quite an eye-opener,” said Neil Desai, director of programs and communications at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Oh the existential angst of sounding American! The survey (available here, pdf) also polled residents of other Arctic nations on their views. Among Arctic nations, almost everyone indicated that the country they felt most comfortable dealing with on Arctic issues was Scandanavia. The one exception: U.S. residents said they felt most comfortable dealing with Canada. The U.S. was also the only Arctic country surveyed where a majority of respondents thought that the Arctic should not be a nuclear weapons-free zone.

(AP Photo)

January 20, 2011

Irish Exodus

According to Inside Ireland, 50,000 people will emigrate from Ireland this year. That's about 1,000 people a week. Where are the Irish going? Canada:

Irish emigrants just can't get enough of Canada. And it seems the feeling is mutual.

Under new rules, Canada has increased its working holiday visa allocation to Ireland by 1,000 and will now also allow Irish people to apply for a second visa.

The unexpected changes will benefit those applying for the one-year visa programme for 18-35 year olds.

Last year, when the Irish quota of 4,000 was filled, Ireland was allocated extra visas that were not taken up by other countries.


December 13, 2010

Canadians Oppose Prolonged Afghan Stay

Canada is supposed to shift to a "non-combat" role in Afghanistan in 2011, but according to Angus Reid, many Canadians are unhappy with the plan:

While just over a third of Canadians support the country’s military mission in Afghanistan, the decision to keep 950 soldiers in a strictly non-combat role after 2011 has split views across the country, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 2,023 Canadian adults, more than half of respondents (56%) oppose the military operation involving Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, while just over a third (36%) support the mission. Strong opposition to the war remains highest in Quebec (48%) while Albertans (19%) and Atlantic Canadians (18%) are more likely to strongly support the mission.

November 5, 2010

Man of Mystery

This story is pretty amazing:

Canadian authorities are investigating an "unbelievable" incident in which a passenger boarded an Air Canada flight disguised as an elderly man, according to a confidential alert obtained by CNN.
He popped out of disguise mid-flight, only to be detained upon landing. Be sure to hit the link for the before and after photos - truly stunning.

October 25, 2010

Canadian Views on Afghanistan

According to Angus Reid, Canadian support for the mission in Afghanistan has reached a new low:

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,009 Canadian adults, just over a third of respondents (35%, -4 since August) support the military operation involving Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan—the lowest level recorded over the past two years. More than half of respondents (55%, +2) oppose the war.

The level of “strong opposition” to the war outranks the level of “strong support” by a 3-to-1 margin (34% to 11%). Practically half of Quebecers (49%) say they “strongly oppose” the operation.

Almost half of Canadians (47%, -4) think Canada made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, while one third (32%, -6) believe it was the right thing to do. The only area where a plurality of respondents stands by Canada’s decision is Alberta (43% to 38%). Across the country, 53 percent of respondents feel that they have a clear idea of what the war in Afghanistan is all about.

There was little fluctuation on the question related to the outcome of the war. More than a quarter of respondents (27%) expect to see a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and NATO strength that gives the Taliban a small role in the Afghan government.

Only six per cent foresee a clear victory by U.S. and NATO forces over the Taliban, 15 per cent believe that the Taliban will play a significant role in Afghanistan after the war is over, and the same proportion (15%) think that U.S. and NATO forces will ultimately be defeated.

Full results here. (pdf)

September 21, 2010

Views on Mideast Peace Talks

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Angus Reid surveyed British, American and Canadian views of the peace process:

A large proportion of respondents in the three countries do not express sympathy for either of the two sides in the Middle East dispute. Americans favour Israel over the Palestinians (27% to 5%), while Britons pick the Palestinians ahead of Israel (19% to 10%). Canadians are evenly divided in their assessment (13% for Israel; 13% for the Palestinians).

Respondents in the three countries were also asked about the sympathies of their respective heads of government. Canadians clearly think of Stephen Harper as pro-Israel (36%) and Britons feel the same way about David Cameron (21%). In the United States, 18 per cent of respondents think Barack Obama sympathizes more with the Palestinians, while 15 per cent believe he is more considerate to the Israelis.

A large majority in all three countries feel the talks won't be successful and at least a third in all three nations feel a solution will never be reached. Optimistic bunch. Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

September 16, 2010

Canada Questions Immigration

Angus Reid finds skepticism in Canada on the value of immigration:

Overall, 46 per cent of respondents (+5 since August 2009) say immigration is having a negative effect in Canada, while 34 per cent (-3) believe it is having a positive effect. Albertans (56%) and Ontarians (55%) are more likely to view immigration in a negative light than respondents in all other provinces.

About two-in-five Canadians (38%) believe the number of legal immigrants who are allowed to relocate in Canada should decrease. A similar proportion (39%) would keep the current levels, and 16 per cent call for more immigrants to be allowed into Canada. Ontario (42%) and Quebec (40%) hold the highest level of support for decreasing legal immigration.

A plurality of respondents (44%) think the illegal immigrants who currently reside in Canada take jobs away from Canadian workers, while a smaller proportion (38%) believe they are employed in jobs that Canadian workers do not want. More than half of Ontarians (52%) think illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Canadians.

Almost half of Canadians (47%) believe illegal immigrants should be required to leave their jobs and be deported from Canada, while 23 per cent would allow them to stay in Canada and eventually apply for citizenship. Almost one-in-five (17%) would allow these illegal immigrants to work in Canada on a temporary basis, but would not give them a chance to become citizens.

Ontarians (53%) and Albertans (52%) hold the highest level of support for the deportation of illegal immigrants, while British Columbians are at the other end of the spectrum on this question (39%).


Full survey here.

August 31, 2010

The View from the Anglosphere

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Angus Reid asked Britons and Canadians what they think of President Obama:

Seven-in-ten Canadians believe the American president deserves to be re-elected in 2012, but under half of Britons agree.

Canadians hold a much more positive view of United States President Barack Obama than Britons, a new two-country Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of representative national samples of 1,010 Canadian and 2,012 British adults, 61 per cent of respondents in Canada say Obama’s performance so far has been just what they expected. Fewer people in Britain agree (51%).

In Canada, 14 per cent of respondents say Obama’s performance has exceeded their expectations, while 18 per cent say they have been disappointed by it. In Britain, these perceptions sit at 13 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively.

Three-in-ten Canadians (30%) say the American president has accomplished much since his term started in January 2009. But only 12 per cent of British respondents agree with this assessment. And while only 15 per cent of Canadians think Obama has achieved little, this proportion rises to 25 per cent in Britain.

A large proportion of people in both countries (CAN 48%, BRI 54%) say it is too early to judge Obama’s accomplishments.

I'd certainly endorse that last sentiment.

(AP Photo)

August 12, 2010

Canadians Oppose Afghan Mission

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A new poll from Angus Reid shows that a majority of Canadians (53 percent) oppose the mission in Afghanistan. That's down from 47 percent from a similar survey taken in February of this year.

Among the poll's other findings: 43 percent of Canadians think it was a mistake to send troops to Afghanistan in the first place, while 44 percent don't have a clear idea of what the war is about. Canadians don't have much faith in President Obama to "finish the job" (only 32 percent think he will).

(AP Photo)

July 29, 2010

Canadians Support Burqa Ban

Via the Toronto Sun:

Canada should ban burkas in public, according to more than half of the people polled exclusively for QMI Agency.

The Leger Marketing online poll found 54% of people surveyed said the government should follow France's lead and not allow women to wear burkas in public for safety and transparency reasons.

Only 20% of respondents said Canada shouldn't consider a ban because it's an issue of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and 15% said it didn't affect them either way.

Older Canadians were more likely to agree with a ban, with 71% of those 65 years and older choosing that option. Only 40% of Canadians 18-34 years old said burkas should be banned.

Leger Marketing vice-president Dave Scholz said the poll surprised staff at the research firm.

"This is Canada -- we don't ban anything," he said.

Sentiment was particularly strong in Quebec, where the debate over reasonable accommodation for new Canadians has been raging, with 73% of respondents saying they want a ban.

July 13, 2010

Soft Power and Espionage

Martin Regg Cohn has an interesting column in today's Toronto Star on the fine line between espionage and soft power in Canada:

Forget the stagecraft of spy novels, or the make-believe machinations of those captured Russian sleeper agents. China targets Canadians with more mundane tactics ranging from sumptuous free lunches to package tours of China. Last month, a so-called “opinion leader” told me excitedly that he’d been invited on a tour of China. MPs go all the time. So do freelance journalists. All on China’s dime.

Call it soft power. But spying can be a deadly serious business when it tars entire communities. The canard of “dual loyalties” has dogged Canadians of Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Jewish descent over the years — with many innocent citizens unjustly detained in wartime.

It’s a mistake to single out diasporas. While the Chinese and other governments shamelessly target émigré groups to aid the motherland, they spend at least as much time and money trying to win over the “landed gentry” — the white folks who make up the Canadian establishment going back generations.

Read the whole thing here.

June 21, 2010

Canadian Support for Afghanistan Slips

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While U.S. support for the war in Afghanistan has held fairly steady since late 2009, Angus Reid found a fairly steep drop in Canadian support since February:


Fewer adults in Canada are supportive of the military mission in Afghanistan, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 59 per cent of respondents oppose the operation involving Canadian soldiers, up 10 points since February.

Angus Reid also found that the strongest opposition to the war was in Quebec, while Alberta was the most supportive area of the country. Additionally, 48 percent of Canadians thought the country made a mistake in committing troops to Afghanistan and 31 percent expressed confidence that the Obama administration will "finish the job."

Complete results here. (pdf)

April 27, 2010

Fewer Brits Believe in Climate Change Than Americans

Angus Reid has found an interesting divergence:

People in three countries hold differing views on climate change, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 58 per cent of respondents in Canada believe global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities, but only 41 per cent of Americans and 38 per cent of Britons concur.

Moreover, more British believe that climate change is a theory that hasn't been proven yet than Americans.

I'm surprised by the UK findings given that the three leading candidates for Prime Minister have all sought to emphasis their green bona fides. Complete poll here (pdf).

March 26, 2010

Canadians Spend More Time Online

A new poll finds that Canadians spend more time on the Internet than on the boob tube:

Respondents to the online survey, carried out by Ipsos Reid, spent an average of 16.9 hours watching television in comparison. Men are spending more time online than women, at 20 hours compared to 16.

The study also found that those aged between 18 and 34 are spending 20 hours a week online compared to 18 hours for those above 35, and that those with a university education watch less television each week compared to those without university education.

February 19, 2010

What's America's Favorite Country?

According to Gallup, it's Canada:

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I want to know what the other 6 percent have against the place?

October 8, 2009

With a Little Help from My...Prime Minister?

Canadian PM Stephen Harper—presumably sending this dedication out to all of us here in the States—does a surprisingly good rendition of The Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends; with, of course, a little help from world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma:

(h/t TPM)

September 14, 2009

Canada's Tories Go “All-in”

The odds of an early election in Canada have increased sharply over the last few weeks. Now, it seems that the minority Conservative government lead by PM Stephen Harper could be defeated on a vote of confidence as soon as Friday, thus plunging Canada into election turmoil.

The Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, announced weeks ago that he would no longer support the government in the House of Commons. The other opposition parties, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats (NDP), are unlikely to support or assist the Tories in any way. In fact, a so-called secret recording of one of Mr. Harper’s speeches (no media were allowed in the room) has just been released. Harper's adjusted message is rather clear: the fire breathing reformist is back in business. In a particularly intense show of passion, Stephen Harper urges his supporters to help him win a majority, or else Canada would be left at the hands of a Liberal government supported by separatists (Bloc) and socialists (NDP) that would nominate left-wing ideologues to critical federal institutions. The tone has been set.

Clearly, Mr. Harper - who has been serving as Prime Minister ever since the beginning of 2006, but has never been able to secure a majority in the House - has decided to use every last tool in the box. If he were playing poker, he would be going “all-in”.

At the beginning of the last campaign, the Tories were riding high against a weak Liberal leader, Stéphane Dion, and a Bloc Québécois that appeared on the defensive. In the end, they did clobber the Grits, but their approval ratings sank dramatically in Quebec after some separatist-bashing comments were made, thus paving the way for (yet another) Bloc landslide which effectively prevented them from obtaining a majority. But this time around, Mr. Harper has decided to focus his energy where he can actually win seats: Ontario (108 seats), as opposed to Quebec where 45 to 50 of the 75 ridings remain solid Bloc territory. Not much room to grow for the Tories there; Le Devoir reported last week that an internal report from the Conservative party analyzed that at least 6 of its 10 Quebec MP’s were in danger. Not because of a surge in Bloc support, mind you, but because of a stronger showing of the Grits in the province -- which might split the federalist vote, thus allowing the Bloc to consolidate its nationalist base and win key battleground constituencies.

Right now, democraticSPACE’s poll of polls gives us this picture of the relative strength of parties in Canada (155 seats required for a majority):

Tories: 35.2% (136 seats)
Grits: 30.7% (94 seats)
Bloc: 9.4% (38.4% in Quebec, 45 seats)
NDP: 15.2% (33 seats)

If voters were called to the polls today, the Canadian House of Commons would look much as it is today. With the Bloc’s solid grip on most of Quebec’s ridings, a majority is pretty much out of the question, unless one the two main federalist parties sweeps Ontario as the Liberals under Jean Chrétien did in the 90’s. But right now, the Grits and the Tories are locked in dead heat in Canada’s most seat-rich province.

Once more, Ontario will determine who gets the keys to 24 Sussex Drive.

August 10, 2009

Canada: Great Power or Smart Power

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If you haven't already done so, you should read this piece in the Globe and Mail from J.L. Granastein that ran on the home page this morning. It tackles the question of why Canada is not a great power:

That matters because great powers see themselves as mission-oriented. Sometimes, they play imperialist as Britain and France did. Sometimes, they seek global domination as Germany and the Soviet Union did. Sometimes, they aim to spread their capitalist/democratic vision of the world, as Washington does. But they all had or have a vision of the world they want. Canadians can't even agree on the kind of nation – or deux nations – that they desire. It's difficult to tell the world how to act in such circumstances, and Canadian moralizing that “the world needs more Canada” can only be a poor substitute.
I think the notion the Washington assumed "great power" status for the purpose of spreading democracy and capitalism obscures an important reality. America acquired great power from a variety of sources, not least was that it avoided the steep costs of having two World Wars fought on its soil. When WWII ended, we understood that the gains from that war would be lost if the Soviet Union swallowed up the weak but pivotal states in its wake. We then undertook a massive military and diplomatic program to check the Soviet Union, which in turn propelled the U.S. into the great power we see before us.

But the point is that America took on this role for largely defensive reasons. The missionary zeal for capitalism and democracy was always latent, as champions of that zeal have argued, but it became a central rationale only when the defensive one (the Soviet Union) collapsed. This, I think, explains why America's post Cold War foreign policy looks both rudderless and reckless.

The purpose of a country's foreign policy is to ensure an international environment conducive to the security and prosperity of its people. Powers that take on missions beyond that scope - or define their security needs so broadly as to constantly put them in conflict with other nations - burn out. Literally. Look at the great powers listed by Granastein: all fell from their perch after extraordinary violence (the Soviet Union "collapsed" peacefully but only after six decades of constant conflict, and bloodshed, with the West).

It's important to have "great power" insofar as it affords you security and prosperity. But it is very difficult to acquire great power and not fall prey to the hubris and over-extension that traditionally accompanies, and ultimately undermines, that power. I can understand why a Canadian would look at the trajectory of great powers and say, "thanks, but no thanks." After all, as Granastein goes on to note of Canada: "We are now what we will continue to be – a developed democratic nation-state with a high standard of living, and that is no mean estate."

Far from it.

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Photo credit: AP Photos

January 18, 2009

Canada: Coalition and Equalization

The French World Beat is taking a break this week, as news are pretty slow on the other side of the Atlantic, aside from the Gaza crisis, that is. But some interesting issues have come from up north. Less than two full months after two elections (federal and provincial in Quebec), let's discuss the forces involved in Canadian and Quebecer politics for 2009.

Ten seats short of a majority in the House of Commons, Mr. Harper's government was almost overthrown by what Don Martin from the National Post describes as a "hodge-podge coalition led by the Liberals" just before the Christmas holidays. Drawing his last card of 2008, the Prime Minister suspended Parliament for a month in order to buy time and hoped for divisions within the Liberal Party over Mr. Dion's leadership to soar and disrupt plans for a coalition. Now, Mr. Harper's plan at least partially worked, as prospects for a coalition government overthrowing the Tories in the House are slimmer now than they were a month ago. How is that?

First, the Liberals have themselves a new leader in the person of Michael Ignatieff. It was widely known that while Mr. Dion, still the leader of the party, signed the coalition deal with the NDP and the Bloc, Mr. Ignatieff was the least enthusiastic of liberal heavyweights regarding this situation. Second, the liberal MPs, especially Ontarians, can read polling numbers: The idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition supported by the Bloc might get some traction in Quebec and liberal Toronto, but the majority of Canadians remain opposed to the idea. And who could blame them? In the ROC (Rest Of Canada, outside Quebec), electors favored the Tories over the Liberals or the NDP by a significant margin. Especially for Westerners, the idea of handing over the government to a Liberal-NDP coalition is tantamount to a coup d'etat. Third, Mr. Harper modified the initial budget propositions that started the fire. He backed down on cutting public financing for political parties and he is now promoting a stimulus package to jump start the economy in 2009.

Regarding this latest issue, it is interesting to note that Mr. Harper's right-wing ideological zeal, prominent at the end of 2008, has paved way to a more pragmatist approach. Indeed, Mr. Harper, instead of cutting a budget deal with the opposition, launched a series of discussion with the country's 10 provincial PMs. His guess was, and still is, that if he can satisfy the demands of most provinces with his budget, Ignatieff will have no choice but to back down and and vote with the government.

How did the provinces answer to Mr. Harper's economic stimulus package and plans to reorganize equalization* payments? Most did so positively, as PMs from British Columbia and Ontario labeled the discussions as productive and very constructive.

But, yet again, when you read the Quebec media, you get a whole different story.

"Charest hits a wall," titles Le Devoir. After the first few rounds of discussion, it became quite clear that Mr. Harper's equalization program changes did not cut it for PM Jean Charest's government, leading him to qualify the Tories' brand of federalism as "not so open" to traditional Quebec nationalist demands. Coming from a PM whose defense of federalism and Canadian unity in front of sovereigntists came in the form of enchantment by Mr. Harper's apparent "open federalism" just two years ago, this would be funny if it were not so sad.

Quebec will probably lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year in equalization payments with the new formula, which amounts for at least two preliminary conclusions:

First, after suffering a crippling defeat at the hands of the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois in Quebec in the latest federal elections, the Tories have mostly given up on Quebec. They bet that the 10 ridings they lack to form a majority government could be won in Ontario, B.C. and the Maritimes, but not in Quebec. The "open federalism" concept (an updated version of the "renewed federalism" from the '90s), praised by Tories and Quebec federalists just a few years ago, seems long gone.

Second, Quebec federalists, and especially Mr. Charest and his Liberal Party, have lost one of their main argument against sovereigntists. This amounts to the desert of ideas that is now crossing the federalist option in Quebec. While sovereignty as a political option is not showing upward or downward signs, federalism definitely lost the initiative in the last few months.

With a newly reinvigorated Parti Québécois and its 51 MPs in Quebec, sovereigntism and nationalism could be headed for a comeback in the coming months and years.

*Note : Equalization is a constitutional obligation of the federal government to redistribute revenue from wealthier provinces to poorer ones.

December 15, 2008

Liberals Couldn't Win It All in Quebec

Just a week ago, on December 8, Quebecers were called to the polls. They reelected PM Jean Charest, from the Liberal Party, for a third term. But what do these results mean? Let's take a look (63 seats are needed for a majority):

Liberals (centrist federalist): 66 seats (42.05%)
PQ (centre-left sovereigntist): 51 seats (35.15%)
ADQ (centre-right federalist): 7 seats (16.35%)
QS (far-left sovereigntist): 1 seat (3.79%)

At first glance, one could conclude that Mr. Charest won his bet. He was able to boost his party's popularity by 9% compared to the 2007 results. These numbers got him almost 20 new seats and of course, a majority government. Plain and simple: Mr. Charest won't have to barter for the support of either the PQ or the ADQ for the survival of his government, as was the case in the former minority government.

Anywhere else in the world, this would be called a victory. ... But here again, this is Quebec.

If you had been sitting in the ballroom where Liberals gathered to celebrate the results, you would have been able to hear mosquitoes fly (never mind the fact that mosquitoes are all dead come December). Up until the last moment, Mr. Charest's top operatives had hopes for 75 to 80 seats. They wanted not only a majority government, but a strong one to top it all off. The polls that came out in the last week of the campaign mostly suggested such a scenario. However, nobody in the Liberal Party saw the surge in support for the PQ in the last few days of the campaign. And it almost cost them their majority.

So despite having suffered a defeat, PQ officials read into the 2008 results some encouraging signs, even calling the defeat a "moral victory." Indeed, had you been sitting in the ballroom where PQ militants gathered to celebrate the results, you truly would have believed yourself to be sitting in the winning party's room. Some have called this enthusiasm a little bit hubristic, but none could deny that the PQ effectively stopped the slide in public support that it had been suffering since 1998.

That year, the PQ got 42.87% of public support, in 2003 it went down to 33.24% and it got to an historical low of 28.35% just last year, in 2007. At 35%, the PQ is back in business and it can certainly hope for a government mandate in 4 years. PQ militants did have reasons to celebrate last Monday.

But the main narrative of these results isn't the slim victory of the Liberals or the moral victory for the PQ; it is the hellish downward spiral in which the ADQ is plunged right now. At 16.35% in public support with 7 seats, the ADQ is in the exact opposite situation that the PQ is in. In 2007, the ADQ, under the leadership of Mario Dumont, got to an historical high of 31% of support, winning them 41 seats. Last Monday, the ADQ got only half of what it had in 2007. And Mr. Dumont, who was the most popular politician in Quebec a little bit less than 2 years ago, resigned in the face of these grim results.

What happened in just 18 months?

First, the image of a "one-man-show" stuck to the ADQ. The weakness of the ADQ team strongly contrasted with Mr. Dumont's apparent strength, therefore reinforcing the idea that as good as Mr. Dumont was, he was the sole player on his team. Second, Mr. Dumont's ability to channel public anger towards the government did not compute this time around. In 2007, the public rage over "reasonable accommodations" awarded to ethnic groups translated into growing popularity for Mr. Dumont and his party. This time around, voters did not have a ballot issue on which the ADQ was able to play.

Third, the issues that Mr. Dumont put forward in 2007 such as families and the defense of the Quebecer identity are now strongly attached to the PLQ and the PQ's electoral programs. Indeed, even Mr. Charest, the former leader of the Progressive-Conservative Party of Canada, was able to reinvent himself as a nationalist. Between a PQ that advocates for independence and a PLQ that is now playing the nationalist card, there simply was not that much room left for Mr. Dumont's grassroots nationalism.

Overall though, the ADQ's demise was caused more by ADQ supporters who stayed home last Monday than by the PQ or the PLQ stealing them away. Among those who voted for the ADQ in 2007 who did not repeat their gesture, about half chose the PLQ and half chose the PQ. My guess is, these nationalist voters who were hesitating between the PQ and the ADQ were mobilized to vote for the PQ as a nationalist response to the "separatist-bashing" and "Quebec-bashing" that unleashed its fury in western Canada in the last few weeks.

Mr. Harper will never acknowledge this, of course, but he may have been the PQ's strongest ally on December 8 by stirring up anti-Quebec feelings in the ROC (Rest of Canada).

December 2, 2008

Harper Reaps What He Sows

Canada is, well, in political turmoil, again. Not because of the Quebec general election, mind you, but because the conservative government that was elected just a little more than a month ago is about to be overthrown by an uneasy coalition formed by the Liberal Party (centre-left federalist), the New Democratic Party (leftist federalist) and the Bloc Québécois (centre-left sovereingtist).

How did we get here? First, keep in mind the results in terms of seats from the election last October (155 needed for a majority):

Tories: 143
Liberals: 77
Bloc: 49
NDP: 37

The Tories won, but they fell short of a majority, mostly because of the Bloc's strength in Quebec. After the election and during his inaugural address, Mr. Harper pledged that he would govern for all Canadians, regardless of their party affiliation. But last week, in his economic address, he did the exact opposite: he antagonized all three opposition parties by trying to cut off public funding for political parties, eliminating the right to strike for government employees and announcing a total of zero measures to meet the current economic crisis. At the moment he uttered these words, all three opposition parties made clear that they would never vote for such an economic plan, therefore vowing to overthrow the government.

How could Mr. Harper, known for his strategic sense, not have realized that all three opposition parties would league against him? My only guess is that Mr. Harper's arrogance made him overreach. He tried to push the opposition too hard, and the chickens came home to roost. Within a few hours, the Tories backed off on the most controversial part of their plan, the one regarding public financing for parties. But it was too little, too late.

The Liberals and the NDP leaders, Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton, quickly met and put on paper an agreement to form a coalition in the event that the Harper government would be overthrown by a vote of no-confidence. Now that this vote, which is going to take place on December 8 (the same date as the Quebec elections), will almost surely be lost by the conservatives, we know for sure that the days of the Harper government are numbered.

But in order for this deal to be sealed, Dion and Layton negotiated for the support of the Bloc Québécois and its leader Gilles Duceppe, who has pledged not to vote against the coalition government for a period of 8 months. The Bloc, a sovereigntist party, wants no part in the coalition but is willing to cut a deal in order to make gains for Quebec. Effectively, Mr. Duceppe will hold the balance of power in the Canadian House of Commons.

This has led to mass hysteria in some parts of Canada, as in the most conservative newspapers such as the National Post. Some have called this coalition a "Deal with the Separatist (Bloc) and Socialist (NDP) Devils".

But whatever grievances western reactionaries may have against the Bloc or the NDP, they cannot get around the fact that their champion, Mr. Harper, made his worst mistake ever by pushing the opposition too hard. They say that the Bloc should have no say in the government of Canada because they advocate for an independent Quebec.

Let me just remind them that this author's vote went to the Bloc last October and that my vote is just as good as their vote. As long as Quebecers pay taxes in Ottawa, we will have our say in the affairs of Canada. The Tories tried pandering to Quebec soft nationalist voters and it got them absolutely nowhere - they did not make any gains in Quebec. The Bloc got the vote of almost 40% of Quebecers and 50% of the votes of Quebec Francophones.

My word to the Tories who lash out at us evil separatists is: we cast our vote, we wanted the Bloc to represent us in a minority government. Deal with it.

Obviously, the reactionary ideologues who seem to have taken over the Conservative Party do not understand what a minority government means: it means the government must cut deals with the opposition in order to survive. Mr. Harper remarkably failed at this job, and for that he will be shown the door by the majority of the House of Commons. This is very good news for the 62% of Canadians (that includes 78% of Quebecers) who did not vote for Mr. Harper's right-wing agenda.

As an observer of American politics, you know what this situation reminds me of? I believe Mr. Harper overreached in the same way that Newt Gingrich did when he tried to have President Clinton impeached. It hurt the GOP brand just like Mr. Harper is now hurting the Tory brand in Canada.

November 20, 2008

Quebec Sovereigntists Mounting Comeback

As most of our readers are aware, there are about 9 millions North Americans who share French as a first language. Among them, 6.5 millions of them live in Quebec, a Canadian province which came very close to gaining its independence in 1995 (the NO got 50.4% and the YES got 49.6%).

Since then, the sovereigntist movement has suffered from diminishing enthusiasm, not to mention two electoral defeats for the Parti Québécois (PQ), leader of the movement. In fact, in the last Quebec general election, the PQ got 29% of the vote and 36 seats in the National Assembly (out of 125), its worst showing in 40 years.

However, the party that represents the sovereigntist movement on the federal level, the Bloc Québécois, has won landslide majorities both in terms of popular vote and seats in the latest federal elections. Will the PQ be able to pull itself up in Quebec City the way the Bloc did in Ottawa?

For now, it does not seem likely. The Quebec campaign, already halfway through, has garnered very little enthusiasm from Quebecers. And who could blame them? Before the Assembly was dissolved by Quebec PM Jean Charest (Liberal Party), a poll showed that 75% of Quebecers opposed elections. But this does not seem to have translated into a tangible anti-Liberal feeling among the population, since today's Léger Marketing poll shows Mr. Charest gaining traction among some voters:

Liberals : 44%
PQ : 33%
ADQ : 15%

However, the remaining half of the campaign might have a few surprises up its sleeve. For starters, the PQ is still ahead by a 2-point margin among Francophones, the ultimate key constituency that must be won for any party that wants to form a majority government. Indeed, 80 of Quebec's 125 seats are occupied by overwhelming Francophone majorities. That is why, even with an 11-point lead among Quebecers overall, the Liberal party might still fall short of a majority (63 seats). democraticSPACE's latest seat projection did give them a majority, but by such a slight margin that a minority government remains likely:

Liberals : 65 seats
PQ : 50 seats
ADQ : 10 seats

Looking at these numbers, some may conclude that the sovereingtist movement is on the decline. But what is interesting though is that independence remains popular among Francophones (close to 50% of them remain in favor of it), even more popular than sovereingtist parties themselves. Therefore, it seems that it is the PQ that's pulling independence downward, and not the other way around. With renewed leadership and upcoming tough fights between Quebec City and Ottawa, who knows what could happen? In 1994, independence was at 38% in the polls. A year later, the referendum got 49.6% support.

Conclusion: You can't kill a people's aspiration for independence.

As Jacques Parizeau, former Quebec PM and leader of the PQ during the 1995 referendum, once famously said : "Let us never underestimate the capability of the federal government to disappoint us."

November 12, 2008

What Should We Remember?

Today is Remembrance Day. So let me just start by honoring all soldiers who died defending their country during war, be them Quebecers, Canadians, Americans, Frenchmen, Japanese or Russians. On a more personal note, I would like to honor my two great grandfathers who served in the Canadian army during the First and Second World War. I am honored by their sacrifice and will forever cherish the freedom that they fought to protect.

But this day is also a good day to reflect upon the apparent changes in Canadian foreign policy since the coming-to-power of the Harper government in 2006. I'm writing this because many progressive Canadians and Quebecers believe that what used to be a peacekeeping Canadian army has, under Harper's leadership, turned into an Americanized, ruthless killing machine. In fact, I think this assertion is wrong: Aside from a surge in spending, there are not that many differences between the way things are right now and what they supposedly were in the "golden age of Canadian peacekeeping."

First of all, a lot of this perception has to do with the Canadian army's presence on Afghan soil. May I remind our readers that it was in 2001, under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government, that Canadian soldiers were sent to Kabul? It was only weeks after the tragedy of 9/11, and most Canadians were at that time eager to serve along their American allies and friends in capturing or killing those responsible for the death of 3,000 innocents. I would also keep in mind that during the last general election campaign that took place just a month ago, the differences between Harper and Stephan Dion on Afghan policy were almost nonexistent. Both agreed on a 2011 withdrawal from combat missions, both draped themselves in Lester B. Pearson's legacy of a peacekeeping and democracy-protecting Canadian army.

Second, under any Canadian government, the Arctic Sea would have been militarized. Paul Martin's government gave such signals in 2004 and 2005, and Harper effectively captured the issue during the 2008 campaign. So here again, not much difference.

Third, does anyone believe that after stretching our army into Afghanistan and suffering a toll of more than 100 casualties, Canadians wold be ready to embark upon dangerous peacekeeping missions in Darfur or Congo? I think not!

I'll just conclude with these words from an op-ed piece in the National Post this morning:

For too long, our politicians, academics and educators have tried to bury or even deny our true military history, insisting we have never been a warrior nation. And while it is true that we have never as a culture glorified war, neither have we backed away.

Lest we forget.

November 5, 2008

NAFTA, Canada and Obama

It is now official. Barack Obama will become the 44th US President in January. Up north, this was largely expected and hoped for. When reading newspapers across the board (from left to right, sovereigntist to federalist) this morning, one could not come across anything remotely resembling bitterness over McCain's defeat.

Of course, we all know that if it were the free world that elected its leaders, only Democrats would sit in the White House. The same is true in Canada and Quebec. For instance, the political arch-enemies that are Parti Québécois (sovereigntist) and the Québec Liberal Party (federalist) would definitely be on the same side - the Democrats' side - were they involved in US politics.

Le Devoir, a Quebec sovereigntist newspaper, reports that "A Democratic Wind Has Swept the United States," while the National Post (right-wing federalist) reports that "Obama's Victory is a Proud Day for America."

One thing is obvious: Canada would have overwhelmingly supported Obama. With the expectations very high, let's just hope that the 44th President will not impose a renegotiation of NAFTA, as he has promised, as this would deliver a crippling blow to his popularity in Canada.

It was probably good news for most Canadians to learn that the GOP was able to retain four seats in the Senate. This could prevent Mr. Obama from applying his protectionist policies; potentially halted by a coalition of free-trade Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

But for now, enough about politics; for now, let's congratulate Mr. Obama on his incredible campaign and for the historic moment we all witnessed last night. Hats off!

October 30, 2008

Quebec Votes 2008

A few days ago, there definitely was en election 'buzz' in Quebec. Today, this 'buzz' morphed into an utmost certainty.

As is the case in all Westminster-style democracies, the Quebec legislature's fate lies in the hands of its Prime Minister Jean Charest. Many signs show that Mr. Charest has already made his decision, and that Quebec voters will go to the polls on December 8.

Why should international readers bother on what happens in federalized sub-states elections? First of all, because no election is completley uninteresting. Second, the results of Quebec elections will give us an idea of the relative strength of the sovereingtist movement (whose goal is Quebec's independence from Canada) versus its federalist adversaries (whose goal is constitutional status quo).

Let's take a look at the makeup of the present National Assembly (Quebec's sole legislative body), which holds 125 seats total:

Liberals (centrist federalist): 48
ADQ (centre-right federalist): 39
PQ (centre-left sovereigntist): 36
Independents: 2

The current minority government is formed by the Liberal Party and lead by PM Jean Charest.

Mr. Charest's main argument to dissolve the Assembly goes as follows: "During an economic crisis, Quebecers need a strong majority government." The main problem is, federal elections just took place ywo weeks ago and some liberals fear that forcing elections will encounter a backlash of voters who have grown election-fatigued. Of course, the only reasons why Mr. Charest wants to go to the polls is that he believes the actual polling numbers are good enough to allow him to form a majority government.

What about the polls? The latest from CROP gives this picture:

Liberals: 38%
PQ: 32%
ADQ: 17%

These numbers may seem favorable for the Liberals at first glance, but when broken down regionaly and by linguistic groups, the story becomes a bit different. Liberals owe their lead to their popularity in urban centres, mainly Montreal and Quebec City. However, among Quebec's Francophones (which make up to 83% of the population), the PQ is ahead with 38% as the Liberals trail at 30%. With these kinds of numbers, many rural ridings that went for ADQ in 2007 could swing back to the PQ, therefore effectively blocking a Liberal majority government. Depending upon the campaign, the PQ has a good shot at winning this election, or at least to come back as the official opposition after the historic beating it took back in 2007.

As far as Mr. Dumont's ADQ is concerned, 17% is a nightmare number that throws the ADQ into the back seats of the National Assembly. In a first-past-the-post electoral system, 17% means not more than five or six ridings. This would be a major setback for Mr. Dumont and his party.

Now, the campaign buses are rented, the candidates' official photos are taken ... Nothing can stop the electoral train when it starts. Of course, Mr. Charest could back off at the last minute. But his recent declarations suggest nothing of the sort. Quebecers, get ready, because we're going to vote on December 8 - for the fourth time in two years.

October 28, 2008

Canadian Liberals: Who's Next?

The Liberal Party of Canada, a once formidable money-raising, power-grabbing machine, suffered its heaviest seat loss since 1984 (40 seats under John Turner's leadership). At 77 seats, Mr. Stephan Dion was able to save a few strongholds but this is mainly due to Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system, as the Liberal Party's performance in 2008 (26%) is even worse than it was in 1984 (28%).

After such a crippling defeat, it was inevitable that Mr. Dion's leadership would be questioned. Six days after the election, under intense pressure, he announced that he would step down as party leader, thus launching a leadership race. For now, all we can do is offer a brief survey of the top contenders since the election date and the finance rules are to be announced later on by party officials. I have separated them in categories, because the list is getting longer everyday.

Leftovers from the last leadership race, in 2006

- Michael Ignatieff: Both a leftover from the last race AND party heavyweight, Mr. Ignatieff is one of the most respected members of the House of Commons. This is somehow exceptional because Mr. Ignatieff has been in politics for only three years now. A former international law academic, he does have the credibility and the ideas usually found in acclaimed intellectuals. As opposed to Mr. Dion, who also was a respected intellectual figure, Mr. Ignatieff also has political instinct and charisma. He will definitely be one of the top contenders.

- Bob Rae: Mr. Rae also is both a leftover from the latest race AND party heavyweight. He has a few advantages over Mr. Ignatieff, but mostly experience. Indeed, Mr. Rae is a former NDP PM from Ontario, which makes him one the contenders with the most executive experience. However, Mr. Rae's years as Ontario PM are remembered by Ontarians as years of plunging deficits and economic crisis. His adversaries will pound him relentlessly on this issue.

- Gerard Kennedy: Mr. Kennedy finished 4th in the first round of the liberal leadership race in 2006. By aligning himself with Mr. Dion, who finished 3rd, he effectively made a king-maker out of himself. He still hasn't stated his intentions for 2008, but I would be very surprised not to see him enter the race.

Party heavyweights

- Frank McKenna: Mr. McKenna is a 10-year former PM of New Brunswick, former ambassador to the US and a successful businessman. Although he chose not to enter the race in 2006, pundits believe he might want to make the jump in 2008. Although his résumé is very interesting, he would start behind his opponents when it comes to his mastery of the French language: Mr. Mckenna is an unilingual anglophone, and that pretty much disqualifies him from winning anymore than 10 seats in Quebec. He pledged to learn French if he were to enter the race, but this factor will definitely play against him, especially when compared to anglophones such as Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae who speak good French.

- John Manley: Former foreign affairs and finance minister under the Chrétien government, Mr. Manley is part of the party establishment. I would not count too much on his candidacy though, as his lack of charisma and warmth have not allowed him to connect with base party members or voters.

New comers

- Dominic LeBlanc: A Liberal MP from New Brunswick, Mr. LeBlanc is the first officially declared candidate for party leader. He stated that he would run as a centrist, effectively attacking Mr. Dion's green shift that he perceived as a move too far to the left. For those seeking alternatives to Ignatieff, Rae, Mckenna and Co., he might be an interesting voice in the race. He also is fluently bilingual, which makes him a potentially competitive contender.

- Justin Trudeau: A political newbie, Justin Trudeau is the son of former Canadian PM Pierre-Elliot Trudeau. His last name is synonymous with multiculturalism, thus making him very popular among ethnic and religious communities and with the traditionaly liberal party base. But that which is seen as good in Ontario and in ethnic communities is not necessarily seen as good elsewhere: In Quebec, he is mostly perceived as arrogant and careless about Quebeckers as a national minority. Many in his party fear that his election would be tantamount to handing back Quebec to the sovereigntist movement.

If I had to rate these candidacies, from best to worse (in the perspective of a Liberal who wants to win a majority in the next federal election):

1. Ignatieff
2. McKenna
3. Rae
4. LeBlanc
5. Kennedy
6. Manley
7. Trudeau

October 19, 2008

Sarkozy Chooses His Side in Canada

French President Sarkozy arrived at Camp David yesterday to met with US President Bush on the topic of the financial crisis. He did, however, make a quick stop in Quebec City in which he changed two fundamental aspects of the Quebec-Canada-France love triangle.

First, let's remember why Sarkozy actually came to Quebec City. Celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding, Quebec City is this year's host for the annual summit of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of Francophone States). Given the very nature of this institution committed to building bridges between French-speaking states, the French President has always been seen as its natural leader. However, ever since Mr. Sarkozy took office, the French government's interest in the institution and the promotion of the French language worldwide have waned.

Among the first policy review that it conducted, the new French government sent all Francophonie files from foreign affairs to international cooperation (a much less well funded department). Also, Mr. Sarkozy, in an apparent bipartisan gesture, took Bernard Kouchner, founder of Doctors without Borders, as his foreign affairs minister. This is the same Kouchner who said a few years ago that English would be the new language of work in the Francophonie.

Persisting up to this year, the low interest shown towards the Francophonie by this French government took a new step forward this last week. As foreign leaders gathered in Quebec City, Mr. Sarkozy, who at first insisted that he would be there, then changed his mind, then changed it again, finally settled for a quick stop before he would go see President Bush. The very fact that he only passed by shows how little he cares about the Francophonie. Also, his speech never mentioned the future of the French language; it only spoke on the ongoing financial crisis. To say that Mr. Sarkozy does not care about the Francophonie would be an understatement.

Second, in a press conference along side Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Mr. Sarkozy made a plea for Canadian unity, saying that "the world does not need more divisions", a clear reference to Quebec's sovereigntist movement. Of course, this was music to Mr. Harper's ears, but as much as it delighted the federalist side, this quotation spurred some outrage on the nationalist side.

Former Quebec PM Jacques Parizeau reacted by asking Mr. Sarkozy if unity was the goal, why did France abandon its colonial empire? Does Mr. Sarkozy believe that in the name of unity Algeria and Haiti should give up on their independence? He also pointed out that France recently recognized Kosovo's independence. Personally, I would have liked to ask the French President how he would feel if nationalist leaders from Quebec went to France and called on Corsicans to separate from France?

In this way, President Sarkozy changed yet another aspect of France's foreign relations. Ever since the 70s, France's position towards Quebec had always been one of support, regardless of the party in power or of the popularity of either political option. Now Mr. Sarkozy changed that by throwing all his support behind the federalists who are now in power in Ottawa and Quebec City.

Waning support for the Francophonie, important changes in the Quebec-France-Canada love triangle, all that in the few hours that he spent in Quebec City this weekend. It seems that to Mr. Sarkozy, restoring relations with the US ally is much, much more important than keeping good relations with its French-speaking cousins in Quebec, Central America, Africa and Europe.

My guess is, Mr. Sarkozy knows not one thing about what it means to be a national minority whose language is constantly threatened by the growing popularity of English.

October 15, 2008

Canadian Election Results

Canada's election results are in, and Conservatives have secured a minority government:

Tories : 143 seats
Liberals : 76 seats
Bloc : 50 seats
NDP : 37 seats
2 independents

Overall, the Tories came 12 seats short of a majority. Harper delivered Ontario (51 out of 108) and British Columbia (22 seats out of 36), but the Bloc effectively stopped the Tory tide in Quebec. With 10 seats in Quebec (75 seats), this was the province in which the Conservatives thought they could make the most gains. Without Quebec’s support, they could not form a majority government. Had there been no Bloc, Harper would be the PM of a majority government today. Yesterday clearly was a vote of confidence for Mr. Duceppe, as the Bloc sailed to a victory by a very large margin. But still, if you leave Quebec aside, yesterday was a victory for Mr. Harper.

Mr. Dion, on the other hand, lost almost everything. Liberal strategists, knowing they were heading for a defeat, had put the bar at 95 seats. Dion only delivered 76. It's the worst Liberal showing since 1988, when John Turner only got 40 seats for his party. You can expect Mr. Dion to hold on to his job as the leader of the Liberal Party; there are signs, however, that other Liberal heavyweights might want to force him out. No sooner than last night, after receiving news of the crushing defeat suffered by his party, deputy leader Michael Ignatieff made clear that leadership would be an issue to discuss in the coming months. The message is clear: Dion’s worst enemies are now within his own party, and the leadership struggle has already begun.

Will the conservatives prevail in the U.S. election as well? All signs point to the contrary, but what Mr. Harper’s victory showed yesterday is that in spite of polls, right-wing parties always tend to do a better job of motivating their base to go out and vote, as the results indicate that the Tories got more support than polls suggested. Add this to the so-called “Bradley effect” affecting black candidates in America, and McCain could still win in November despite polls giving Obama a 7 percent lead.

Only time will tell.

October 9, 2008

Majority Out of Reach for Harper

The Canadian election recently entered its last phase, as likely voters' intentions measured by polls now slowly but surely become reliable votes for Oct. 14.

A lot of movement in public opinion since last week's debates: The French debate seems to have solidified the Bloc's base in Quebec, making them the most likely winner in the province on Oct. 14. After a hard campaign start on the defensive, Mr. Duceppe's troops can now think of actually winning more seats than in the 2006 election. They are targeting key swing ridings in Quebec City and Lac-St-Jean, where the Tories made gains in 2006.

democraticSPACE's seat projection for Quebec (75 total) :
Bloc at 49 seats (38.8%)
Liberals at 14 seats (22.9%)
Tories at 10 seats (19.2%)
NDP at 1 seat (12.2%)
1 independent

A similar movement in public opinion has followed the English debate too. Mr. Dion's Liberal Party has made big gains in recent polls. In fact, the trend now suggests that the Tories and the Liberals are locked up in dead heat in Ontario. As I have stated before, Ontario will most definitely be the battleground province that will decide the color of our next federal government. Up to very recently, everybody conceded that the choice facing voters was between a majority and a minority for Mr. Harper. But now, talks of a Dion government are being taken with much more seriousness.

democraticSPACE's seat projection for Ontario (108 total) :
Tories at 44 seats (33.4%)
Liberals at 44 seats (32.2%)
NDP at 18 seats (20.9%)
2 ridings are real toss-ups

All added up, the numbers make for a seat projection for the whole of Canada (308 total):
Tories at 130 seats (33.8%)
Liberals at 92 seats (26.2%)
Bloc at 49 seats (9.6%)
NDP at 35 seats (19.4%)
2 independents

So we're still looking at a Conservative minority government, but Mr. Dion's shot at becoming PM have increased steadily over last week. Will he be able to turn the tide completely in his favor in just 5 days? Only time will tell.

What is sure though, is that the surge in support for Mr. Dion's party hurts both the Tories and the NDP in Ontario. In Quebec, higher support for the Liberals could mean that a few ridings that switched to the Bloc in the last election could come back in the Liberals' column. However, it also means that in some ridings the federalist vote will be split up between the Tories and the Liberals, therefore enabling Bloc candidates to squeeze by.

Only 5 days left, and the race is still open ...

October 2, 2008

French Debate: Harper Plays Defense

Wednesday evening, the first of two debates featuring all four of the main parties on the federal level (plus Elizabeth May from the Green Party) took place. As usual, one of the two debates is in French and the other in English. For those less familiar with Canadian politics, the French debate is essentially geared toward Quebec, where 85% of the population speaks French as a first language. I'll first start with a general impression and then will evaluate all five leaders individually.

For our American readers, I would compare yesterday's debate with the debates that you saw in the primaries in both American parties: Cloudy and lacking clear direction. In my opinion, there's just no way that voters can get to know the candidates and their policies better in a forum where there can be almost no dialogue between front runners.

Quite frankly, I really don't understand what Elizabeth May was doing there. There has never been an elected Green MP in the House as her party polls below 10%. And on top of all that, her French is terrible, terrible. So terrible in fact, that a vast majority of Francophones with whom I watched the debate could not understand what she was saying. All she did was slow down the debate when it, at times, became interesting.

Now let's take a look at how the leaders performed, from best to worst:

- Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois: In my opinion, Mr. Duceppe came out on top. And it seems that this opinion is shared by most Quebecers, as a CROP poll released this morning shows that 54% of Quebecers rate Mr. Duceppe's performance as "excellent" or "very good," compared with Mr. Harper's 18%. He put Mr. Harper on the defensive on cultural funding, the environment and on personal-attack tactics used by the Tories. He clearly was the most experienced of all debaters (this was his 12th federal debate!).

Two negatives for Mr. Duceppe though: first, his attack on youth judiciary reform fell flat as Mr. Harper defended himself well. Second, he did not directly speak in favor of Quebec's independence, which he should have done to energize his base for the last two weeks of the campaign. 8.5/10

- Stéphane Dion, leader of the Liberal Party: With the Liberal polling at its worst for many years in Quebec, expectations were low for Mr. Dion. He actually exceeded them by far; I would say he was the most impressive of all five leaders expectations-wise. Of course, as is the case for Mr. Duceppe, the fact that the debate took place in French gave him an edge on Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton. He put Mr. Harper on the defensive on gun control, the environment and the economy. He probably did not convince Bloc or Tory voters in Quebec, but he made sure that core Liberal constituencies in Quebec would go out to vote on October 14. 8/10

- Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative party and incumbent Prime Minister : Mr. Harper clearly was the man to beat yesterday (and most likely will be tonight in the English debate) as the four other leaders pounded him relentlessly on cultural funding, the environment and the economy. He managed to remain calm and fended off most of these attacks with some success. He was at his best when defending himself from Mr. Duceppe's attack on youth judiciary reform, but he clearly was off track when responding to the Bloc leader's attack on the dirty politics played by the Tories in Quebec. The fire-breathing reformist that he was in the '90s clearly stayed home yesterday, as Mr. Harper projected the image of a moderate, center-right leader, although his adversaries did not hesitate to remind voters that Mr. Harper would have gone to Iraq with the Americans had he been PM in 2003. 7/10

- Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party: Mr. Layton continued playing the Mr. Nice Guy card yesterday evening. A recent poll showed that he is considered to be the most "sexy" of all leaders, and yesterday's debate confirmed it. He wanted to present himself as the alternative to Mr. Harper, a point he did make in the first half of the debate. On the second half though, he was directly attacked by Mr. Dion many times over, who portrayed him as an irresponsible socialist. I don't believe Mr. Layton fended off these attacks well. Verdict: by going it all-out against Mr. Harper, he opened himself to attacks from Mr. Dion and it hurt him. 5/10

- Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party: Hats off for just succeeding in showing up. But her performance was bad - she did not show any clear understanding of issues other than the environment, especially regarding health care and Quebec-Canada relations. Most of her attacks fell flat as nobody wanted to debate with her. Also, she loses most of her points because French-speaking voters, the ones who were listening yesterday, did not understand most of what she was saying. Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton are not completely fluent in French, but at least they are understandable. Ms. May was not. 2/10

Tune in for tonight's English debate at 9 p.m., if the Palin-Biden faceoff happens to be boring.

September 30, 2008

Tories Still Ahead; Bloc Fighting Back in Quebec

As the Canadian election campaign enters its last two weeks, polls show that support for Mr. Harper's Conservative Party is still strong. The latest Harris-Decima poll came out today :

Canada-wide: Tories at 36%, Liberals at 26%, NDP at 19%, Greens at 9%;
Quebec: Bloc at 35%, Tories at 26%, Liberals at 21%, NDP at 13%, Greens at 5%.

In Quebec, the three latest Harris-Decima polls gave the Bloc between 35% and 39%. Also, a new Léger Marketing Quebec poll also released today reported Bloc support at 33%, with the Tories second at 26%. Finally, a survey of 7 competitive ridings shows that the Bloc could actually retake 2 Tory seats that it lost in 2006.

Seeing how poll numbers have been moving in the last few day, democraticSPACE updated its seat projection today:

Tories at 140 seats
Liberals at 82 seats
Bloc at 49 seats
NDP at 35 seats

Wednesday night will be a big night for party leaders as they face off in the French debate (English debate will follow Thursday night). For Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, this may be the last opportunity to turn around his floundering campaign.

As support for the Tories recede in Quebec, the battleground that will decide whether or not Mr. Harper's party is worthy of a majority government will be Ontario.

September 22, 2008

Canadian Contest: The Rhetoric Heats Up

It was a quiet weekend in the Canadian polling world. Only one poll was released over the weekend, from Harris-Decima. It shows the Tories at 39%, the Liberals at 23% and the NDP at 17%. In Quebec, the new poll shows that the Bloc remains ahead with support from 31% of likely voters. Followed behind them are the Tories at 25%. For the first time in years, the NDP is now the third party in Quebec, as it's 17% level of approval was just higher than the flunking Liberals.

democraticSPACE also updated its seat projections:

Tories at 144 seats (37,3%)
Liberals at 89 seats (25,6%)
Bloc at 41 seats (8,0%)
NDP at 33 seats (17,8%)

In Quebec:

Bloc at 41 seats (32,2%
Tories at 16 seats (26,0%)
Liberals at 16 seats (20,4%)
NDP at 1 seat (13,5%)

Yesterday, the campaign's rhetoric was turned up a notch. An unwritten rule of Canadian politics is that the parties do not (usually) campaign in the riding where the leader of another party is running. On Sunday, the Tories unleashed a full-scale assault in Gilles Duceppe's riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie (Montreal) by campaigning on a publicity truck accusing the Bloc of having costed $350 million in salaries since it's founding in 1990.

Most pundits and editorials in Quebec agree that this move could heavily backfire for the Conservatives, as this kind of aggressive, negative campaigning is not really what citizens are used to here. How does Mr. Harper's team come up with $350 million? Simple--They added up the House of Common salaries that Bloc MPs have received in income since 1990. Of course, the attack does not mention that this $350 nillion in salaries would have been paid regardless of the party affiliation of Quebec's MPs.

It remains to be seen if this hubristic behavior coming from the Tories will damage their Quebec campaign or not.

September 18, 2008

Updated Seat Projections in Canada

Here are the latest seat projections from democraticSPACE:

Tories at 150 seats (38,9%)
Liberals at 86 seats (25,5%)
Bloc at 40 seats (8%)
NDP at 30 seats (16,9%)
2 independents

155 seats are needed to form a majority in Canada's 308 seats House of Commons.

In Quebec (75 seats total):
Bloc at 40 (32,7%)
Tories at 17 (27,3%)
Liberals at 16 (19,7%)
NDP at 1 (12,5%)
1 independent

Lots of new polling numbers came out in the last few days.

Harris-Decima: Tories at 38%, Liberals at 28%, NDP at 15%, Greens at 10%. In Quebec, Bloc is at 33%, Tories at 25%, Liberals at 22%, NDP at 11%.

Léger Marketing in Quebec: Tories at 34%, Bloc at 32%, Liberals at 20%, NDP at 9%

Strategic Counsel poll of key swing ridings:
Quebec: Bloc at 31%, Tories at 26%, Liberals at 23%, NDP at 13%
Ontario: Tories at 35%, Liberals at 35%, NDP at 18%

As you can see, some of these numbers are contradictory. For the first time, a poll shows the Bloc actually trailing the Tories in Quebec. However, most polls, especially those targeting key swing ridings, show that Tory support is sagging in Quebec and Ontario. Stay tuned as more numbers will start coming in the next few days.

September 17, 2008

Press Shows True Colors in Contradicting Polls

The race is definitely heating up in Canada. Flaming rants have come to pass from the leaders of the four major parties last week. Gilles Duceppe, from the Bloc Québécois, the Liberals' Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton of the New Democratic Party, have all campaigned hard to define PM Stephen Harper as a clone of American president George W. Bush, while Mr. Harper has attacked Mr. Dion by portraying him as a weak leader.

In Quebec, the Bloc insists that the recent Conservative cuts in cultural funding shows that Mr. Harper does not care about Quebec culture, although he has recently recognized, for the first time in Canadian history, that Quebec is a nation. Quebec artists groups, which have been known in the past for supporting Quebec's bid for independence, are now mostly campaigning for the Bloc (a minority is campaigning for the Liberals).

As far as polls are concerned, well, they are quite contradictory, depending on which press groups release them. On Tuesday, a Strategic Counsel poll released in the Globe & Mail showed that the Tories' lead has shrunk in targeted swing ridings in Ontario and Quebec. Keep in mind that the Globe & Mail is known for its support for the Liberal Party.

Today, a new Segma Unimarketing poll was released in the very federalist La Presse, a French-language newspaper in Quebec. It shows that the Tories are consolidating their lead everywhere in Canada, and most specifically in Ontario and Quebec. Keep in mind that La Presse is actively campaigning for the Tories in Quebec; some of its earlier polling numbers showed, as is true of this new one, higher Tory support than in other polls.

According to this poll, the numbers go as follows: Conservatives at 42%, Liberals at 23%, NDP at 16%. In Quebec, the Bloc's lead shrinks to 33%, followed closely by the Tories at 31%. The Liberals are long gone at 16%. These numbers would mean that the Tories could pick up as many as 10 seats from the Bloc in francophone ridings in Quebec, and up to as many as 20 seats from the Liberals in suburban Ontario.

So Segma Unimarketing projects that the Tories will get 173 seats, the Liberals 68, the Bloc 41 and the NDP 25. However, Segma's projection model does not include other regional polls, which are crucial for making accurate seat projections.

Specific regional polls are set to be released in both Quebec and Ontario this week. These will give us a much better idea of where the race is currently headed.

RealClearWorld Canadian Poll Averages

September 14, 2008

Canada : New Poll Predicts Conservative Majority

A new Canadian Press-Harris-Decima poll released Friday shows that the Tories are consolidating their support in most regions of Canada. According to this survey, the Conservative Party has a 41% support among likely voters, followed by the Liberal Party at 26% and the NDP at 14%. This is definitely a majority-forming support that Mr. Harper's party is seeking.

But most of the Tories' gains came out of the Liberal collapse in Ontario, as Bloc Québécois remains solidly ahead in Quebec with support from 35% of likely voters, followed by the Tories at 28%. The Liberals are most certainly out of the picture in Quebec, sagging at 17%.

With limited backing in Quebec, it's unlikely that Mr. Harper's majority would be handed to him by Quebec voters. If the Bloc is able to maintain its nationalist base, Ontario will most likely be the province that decides whether Mr. Harper's Tories are worthy of forming a majority government.

RealClearWorld Canadian Poll Averages

September 13, 2008

New Seat Projections in Canada

Greg Morrow's projection model, located at democraticSPACE.com, published a new seat projection based on the latest polls broken down regionally. The model used in these projections gave a pretty accurate prediction for the 2006 Canadian election. It did not do nearly as well in the Quebec 2007 election, however.

So democraticSPACE projects a Conservative minority government :

Conservative Party at 146; Liberal Party at 92; Bloc Québécois at 38; New Democratic Party at 30; Green Party at 0 (155 seats are required to form a majority).

New polling data should be available Monday. Stay tuned.

September 11, 2008

Tories Aim for Majority; Quebec Race Competitive

New polling data came out Wednesday in Canada. Let's take a look at what these numbers mean.

First, the Globe and Mail released its "poll of polls." According to this average of national polls, the Conservative Party is ahead at 37%, followed by the Liberal Party at 26% and the NDP at 18%. These numbers should bode well for Mr. Harper, as most analysts agree that 37% of the popular vote means that a majority government is within reach for the Conservatives. To get a majority government, the Tories would need to win at least 155 of the 308 seats in the House.

In addition, according to Ekos' polling data, the Conservatives are also within reach of a majority government with 37% of likely voters' support, followed by Mr. Dion's Liberals at 26%. Ekos projects that the Tories will get one more seat than necessary - 156 - for absolute majority in parliament.

But Ekos's projection model has weaknesses, especially when it's broken down regionally. In Quebec, Ekos reports that the Bloc remains ahead with 27%, followed by the Tories at 25% and the Liberal Party at 22%. It projects that out of Quebec's 75 seats, the Bloc would retain 33 seats while the Conservatives and Liberals would get 20 and 21 seats, respectively.

But I really have trouble believing that the Liberals would get more seats than the Tories in Quebec. It just makes no sense: Mr. Dion is widely unpopular among Quebec's francophones who make up 80% of the population. Also, the Liberal Party's support is below its 2006 level, so I really don't see how they could win 10 new seats in Quebec.

Before the House was dissolved, the Bloc had an overwhelming majority of Quebec's seats (50), followed by the Liberals and the Tories at 12 each. There are only two ridings in which the Liberal Party could make gains in Quebec: Outremont (a historical Liberal stronghold now represented by Quebec's only NDP MP, Thomas Mulcair) and Papineau, a riding in which the incumbent Bloc MP is being challenged by the Liberals' Justin Trudeau, the son of former prime minister Pierre-Elliot Trudeau.

The Tories remain out of the picture in Montreal, where the contest is really between the Bloc and the Liberals. Outside Montreal, though, the struggle is between the Bloc and the Tories. Even if he would never dare say it publicly, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe hopes that the Liberal vote will not entirely collapse in Quebec.

Bloc strategists privately argue that if the Liberals remain around 20%, it will split the federalist vote between the Tories and the Liberals and therefor allow the Bloc to remain ahead. In any event, the race in Quebec remains higly competitive.

September 10, 2008

A Dirty, Dirty Campaign Starts in Canada

Canada's 39th legislature was dissolved by Governor General Michaëlle Jean (who is, under Canada's parliamentary monarchy, the representative of the Crown of England and therefor the head of state) just three days ago, but vicious, personal attacks have already come to pass. As Michel Auger, a senior political correspondent for Radio-Canada (the French CBC) stated Tuesday, it seems that this campaign will not be won on issues, but by a confrontation of very different personalities. Henceforth, personal attacks are bound to become a central part of the campaign.

Every party plays, to a certain extent, dirty politics. However, if a gold medal for personal attacks were to be awarded, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party would definitely deserve it. With a treasure chest far exceeding that of his Liberal nemesis Stéphane Dion, Mr. Harper outspent his opponent for a full year now by running ads that portray Mr. Dion as a weak, undecided leader who will raise taxes.

However, on Tuesday, Mr. Harper's attacks came home to roost. The Conservative Party produced a website in which we could see an animated bird dropping excrement on Mr. Dion's shoulder. This trashy attack gave Mr. Dion some momentum, and his indignation played well for the media; portraying Mr. Harper as a take-no-prisoners, blood-thirsty general.

This is exactly the kind of gaffe that the Conservative Party fears. In a campaign where the Liberals (federalist centrist), the NDP (federalist left-wing) and the Bloc (nationalist center-left) are all working hard to portray Mr. Harper as a clone of American president George W. Bush, this latest attack could certainly hurt the Conservatives in some crucial constituencies. Among them are Canada's urban women, who typically abhor such dirty politics.

Of course, it is much too early in the campaign to start making predictions on the effect of this hardball Conservative initiative. Mr. Harper's hubris has given his opponent, Mr. Dion, more ammunition to portray the prime minister as a cold-blooded, power-hungry man. Even the conservative-leaning National Post, a natural media ally for Mr. Harper, acknowledged that these kinds of attacks have gone too far.

Mr. Harper did act swiftly to remove the ad from the web site and offered his excuses (which Mr. Dion accepted), but for a party that has been running negative ads for about a year now, it may be too little, too late.