Next week Canadians go to the polls in one of the most interesting elections in the country’s history. The vote on Monday 19th October is wide open, with three parties all having a realistic chance of forming a working Government that will control a country of 35 million people and have significant global influence.
One of the striking things about Canadian politics is how similar it is to the United Kingdom – perhaps not surprising for a country that only achieved full sovereignty from the mother country in 1982. They use the ‘Westminster’ system, which as the name suggests is based on our democracy – the Queen as Head of State and the Prime Minister as Head of Government. This also includes mirroring our Parliament, with the House of Commons elected by a First Past the Post system and an unelected upper chamber (here it’s the House of Lords, but called the Senate in Canada). The Commons is comprised of 338 seats across ten provinces and three territories. They also share with us a five-year fixed term limit in national elections.
There are three main parties in Canada – the governing Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper who came to power in 2006. The main opposition are the New Democrats (NDP for short, the equivalent of the British Labour Party) led by Tom Mulcair, a former lawyer and the man who has overseen the NDP’s solidification as an effective opposition. Thirdly, the Liberal Party, who were the “natural party of Government” during the 20th century, and aguably the most successful political party in any developed, democratic state before their startling fall from grace in the 2011 election. They’re led by the photogenic Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre – a former Prime Minister and revered Liberal icon. The political positions of these parties broadly mirror those of their British equivalents.
This three-way fight is unprecedented in modern Canadian history, and since the starting gun was fired back in early August, opinion polls have shown all three parties in the lead at various stages. The big issues have been the economy, Canada’s place in the world, the niqab, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Environment in general, as well as bill C-51 (Anti-Terrorism Act) which has given significant new powers to the Canadian security services.
An early election indicator came in summer this year, when the NDP scored a historic victory in provincial elections, they swept the board in the province of Alberta – a traditionally Conservative stronghold. Also, the NDP went from a small minority to a clear majority in the legislative assembly. This was a historic moment – imagine the Democrats winning in Texas, or the Conservatives winning in the Rhondda. You get the picture!
With the ‘official’ campaign clocking in at 11 weeks, it has been the longest in modern Canadian history. The most recent polls have shown the Liberals with a few more percentage points than the Conservatives, with Trudeau’s party benefitting from a decrease in support for the NDP as the election approaches. There is much anti-Harper sentiment in Canada, but with two major centre-left parties at a federal level, the anti-Harper vote is split. Many fear this will lead to the Conservatives being re-elected, whilst others are hoping for an NDP-Liberal coalition. This time next week, the people will have had their say, will they go for an untried and untested NDP, a resurgent Liberal Party or the comfort blanket of the Conservatives?