Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"A change of government, not a change of country"

As the Canadian results were coming in I was watching CBC, and saw Martin, then Layton, then Harper speak. The new PM, Stephen Harper, will have a tough time in Ottawa, if only because the only practical party for him to work with is the secessionist Bloc Québécois. It is easy to see the BQ and CPC agreeing for a few months on devolution and more provincial authority, but hard to see agreement on any more substantial issues.

The CPC victory was in large part made possible by the refound ability of the Conservatives to win votes in Quebec. As late as six weeks ago I felt it might be a good idea for the CPC to have an "affiliate party" in Quebec and thought the CPC might never win votes there. Now we have a CPC which won 10 seats and a solid 25% of the vote in Quebec.

Meanwhile, this election is a big loss for the Bloc, which fell only to 51 seats, but took only 42% of the vote and was outvoted by the two big federalist parties (Lib + Con), who combined took 45%. Gilles Duceppe began the campaign hoping to convince the general public that a majority vote for the Bloc--much of which would have been a protest vote against the Liberals--would mean some sort of implied majority for secession. By the end, the Bloc had lost seats, as Québécois finally have another national option, and they realize that continually sitting in Opposition is not particularly productive for Quebec or Canada.

Ironically, the long-term best option for the Bloc might be to endorse a change to proportional representation. This would allow the Bloc to possibly hold the balance of power in coalition governments. On the other hand, if the current FPP system is maintained, the likelihood is that the Bloc will be squeezed out by the two big national parties, although they admittedly will have to make some concessions to public opinion in Quebec.

It seems likely the Harper government won't last two years; there is too much working against it. The Liberals will have no reason to cooperate with Harper and will instead constitute a revitalized opposition. The NDP does not hold the balance of power, unless Bloc deputies defect to the Conservatives (or Stronach crosses in reverse), and anyway is ideologically millions of miles from the Tories. The Bloc is not a stable partner for the CPC. Therefore, Harper's government will last until the point when Parliament breaks down and everyone feels the public will accept another early election without too much grumbling. Maybe another 18 months?

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