New Canadian Media
Sunday, 11 December 2016 08:06

Don’t Mess with a Vote System that Works

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.

Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)

In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.

Party positions

The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).

The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.

The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.

If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.

Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.

Reflecting popular will

When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.

Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.

Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.

The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers. 

The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.

Majority government

While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.

Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard. 

Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.

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On December 3, 2015 Geoff Regan was elected as the 36th Speaker of the House of Commons — reportedly the first from Atlantic Canada in almost 100 years.

The veteran politician, who was first elected to parliament in 1993 to represent Halifax West, was re-elected to his seventh term in October 2015 during which time he has held 126 town hall meetings.

His focus over the years on issues such as education, environmental protection, health promotion and retirement security, has led him to the new position he holds as Speaker of the House.

More respect in the House of Commons

In a conversation with Touch BASE editor Robin Arthur, Regan said he plans to change the tone of the house to make it less confrontational.

“Of course, I cannot do it alone. I need the cooperation of Members of Parliament (MPs) to do this. Canadians would like to see MPs show more respect for each other and think about the people they serve rather than the parties they belong to.”

“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers."

Regan was pointing to heckling on the floor of the House of Commons which he says is a form of intimidation. “It especially discourages women from entering politics. I want to see less of that type of heckling,” he says.

“Sixty nine per cent of MPs think there is too much of heckling – especially interruption of speakers — and so that’s the challenge ahead.”

The Speaker of the House votes only in the event of a tie. He votes not as he wishes to, but based on precedent.

Speaking on matters of immigration

The position of Speaker of the House of Commons requires him to be non partisan and impartial at all times – therefore he can no longer comment publicly on issues that might come before him on the floor of the House. Nevertheless he can communicate with MPs separately. That being said, although the House Speaker cannot introduce bills, he can take up issues that matter to his constituency and represent his constituents.

“I can do that in direct communication with MPs, cabinet ministers or parliament secretaries,” Regan said. He told this newspaper there are issues that matter to his constituency (Halifax West).

"[P]oliticians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach."

“These include community infrastructure, the immigration system — there will be an immigration plan this year — initiatives that would allow families to make ends meet, health and seniors care,” he said.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met its promises to open Canada’s gates to 10,000 refugees by December 31. But is the government looking to iron out other issues of interest to newcomers?

“These are matters of government,” Regan observed. “However, the Liberal party has promised to speed up family reunification and double the number of parents and grandparents coming in every year.”

He says that in town hall meetings, he has heard from immigrants with advanced degrees. These are matters that can be taken up to speed up credentials recognition.

“The minister cannot be an expert on specifics of job sectors. So politicians at all levels should put the pressure on professional bodies responsible for credentials recognition to make sure they are welcoming in their approach and are not looking to lower the number of professionals coming into the country,” he observed.

Regan also touched on Bill C-24, introduced by the Harper government, which allows the minister of immigration to strip a dual citizen of his citizenship if he is convicted abroad without the right to defend.

“The Liberal party opposed the Bill when it was introduced,” he said. “We will have to wait and see if the government will introduce a Bill to review it.”


This article first appeared on Touch BASE. Re-published with permission. 

Published in Politics

December 3, 2015
Ottawa, Ontario

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the election of the new Speaker of the ...

 

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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

While Canada’s recent federal election resulted in more visible minorities being elected to Parliament than ever before, many also lost and are in the process of moving forward with the lessons they learned.

Rev. KM Shanthikumar, Scarborough-Rouge Park, New Democratic Party 

Rev. KM Shanthikumar is a priest who ran as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park. Born in Sri Lanka, Shanthikumar moved to Canada 30 years ago. He says he was very confident about winning and was actually leading in the polls prior to Election Day. 

“Until the last two weeks to the election, I was the front-runner,” he recalls. 

Shanthikumar says he was not complacent, but still can’t come to terms with his loss. 

“I worked very hard till the last day and I’m very surprised,” explains Shanthikumar, who lost to Liberal candidate Gary Anandasangaree. “I don’t know what happened.” 

“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election.”

He says although it was a major blow, he has moved on and returned to work. A manager at a telecommunications company in Toronto, Shanthikumar says he will continue to serve the people of Scarborough-Rouge Park like he has always done.  

“I’ll continue where I left off and do whatever I can to help my community,” he says. “I know there is an MP (member of Parliament) in the riding, and I will approach him and offer any help he wants.” 

Shanthikumar plans to re-strategize and return to politics in four years. 

“I will come back with better plans and better ideas to win the next election,” he says. 

One thing Shanthikumar learned about the people in Scarborough-Rouge Park – a riding where more than 70 per cent of the population identifies as a visible minority – is that they see themselves first as Canadians before anything else. 

“The people of this riding do not see anybody as a minority or immigrant,” he explains. “This is the feeling I got when I went canvassing for votes from different people from different cultures.” 

Steven Kou, Vancouver Kingsway, Liberal party 

Steven Kou arrived in Canada from China 15 years ago. 

Having majored in economics at University of British Columbia, Kou planned to use his economics knowledge to benefit the many low and middle-income families in B.C.'s Vancouver Kingsway riding. 

Kou, who contested on behalf of the Liberal party, says that people in the ethnically diverse riding accepted his campaign message. 

“As a visible minority, I wanted to be the bridge between the different ethnic groups in the riding and integrate the cultures into the Canadian culture,” Kou says. 

Although the NDP, which has traditionally held the Vancouver Kingsway seat, won on Oct. 19, Kou says he is happy with the results. 

“The most important thing for me is to continue to work in the community and be a voice for them even though I’m not the MP,” he explains. 

“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics. It’s a privilege.”

Kou adds that he believes this election will be a source of inspiration for young visible minorities to get into politics. He hopes to get the nod from the Liberals to try to unseat the NDP MP again in four years. 

“As a visible minority I have come to appreciate the opportunity to run for politics,” Kou states. “It’s a privilege.” 

Jimmy Yu, Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Conservative party 

Contesting Liberal veteran Stéphane Dion in the Saint-Laurent-Cartierville riding in Montreal was a tall order for Jimmy Yu. He ran for the Conservatives in a riding that has voted Liberal since 1988. 

Yu, who migrated to Canada from China in 1981, says the area has a sizeable number of visible minorities, including a large Chinese Canadian population. 

“We have very rich experiences [that] the locals here don’t have, it is therefore important to add our diversity to [government],” he says. “We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.” 

“We are now part of Canada. It is therefore important for the minorities to get involved.”

Yu took a year off work and has been volunteering full-time for the Conservative party since the beginning of the year. 

“For next year, I need to go back to work to make money to feed my kids,” he says.

Yu has not made up his mind about contesting in the next election yet. 

For Shanthikumar, Kou and Yu, it will take at least four years before they may see their names on the ballot again. Though they may have lost their bids to become MPs, all three say they are winners in their own way.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Politics
Thursday, 05 November 2015 07:13

A Cabinet that Looks Like Canada

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto 

Diversity of all kinds was pivotal for Justin Trudeau in the recent election, and on Wednesday, the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada kept one of his main campaign promises. 

We now have a cabinet that looks like the rest of Canada. Diverse and gender balanced “because it’s 2015” as Trudeau put it.

That didn’t stop him from springing some surprises on the immigration and visible minority files. 

The appointment of John McCallum as minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship is likely to have surprised pundits. 

McCallum, who was the Liberal critic for the same portfolio while in the opposition and a veteran minister in previous Liberal cabinets, was seen as too obvious a choice likely to be overlooked in the quest for fresh blood. 

It looks like the strength of his experience prevailed. McCallum, who told New Canadian Media during the campaign that he would like to see “immigrants being welcomed with a smile instead of a scowl,” now has the daunting task of bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by year-end and the long-term mission of revamping the family reunification program. 

There was no surprise in the selection of Navdeep Bains, a long-time Trudeau friend and adviser. 

Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team.

His important portfolio of innovation, science and economic development is a welcome departure from the previous cabinets where minority ministers only had token presence. 

Fittingly, it was Bains who told us that “diversity would be a given in the Trudeau cabinet” because it was an organic part of the larger Liberal team. 

An accountant and financial analyst and visiting professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, he was an MP from 2004-2011 and served as parliamentary secretary to the PM and a Liberal critic for various portfolios. 

Harjit Sajjan, as Minister of National Defence, was again not a surprise. His appointment marks yet another case of a minority MP getting an important position. Sajjan was the first Sikh to command a Canadian army regiment. A decorated Afghanistan veteran, he also served with the Vancouver police gang crime unit. 

Sajjan is a member of Trudeau’s economic team announced during the campaign and was seen with him at various stops across the country. As reported earlier, this team has proven to be a precursor of the newly appointed cabinet, with many of its members figuring in it. 

More surprises 

The next three minority ministers came as a surprise. 

Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, has a backstory like no one else’s. 

A three-term Edmonton city councillor, Sohi was a former bus driver. He was also wrongfully imprisoned, without charge, as a terrorist in India. He has gone on and won various awards for his efforts to promote cooperation among cultural groups. 

While Sohi was at least on some speculative lists of likely ministers, Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism was on nobody’s list. 

Chagger is a long-time Liberal worker from the time she was a teen and has volunteered for community organizations for the past two decades. 

Maryam Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister.

She also breaks the usual mould of “ethnic” MPs getting elected from ridings with large minority populations. She was elected from Waterloo-Kitchener, Ontario where not many look like her  family who emigrated from India. 

Like Chagger, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions, also broke new ground by getting elected from Peterborough-Kawartha, Ontario where not many share her heritage. 

Monsef is now not only the first Afghan-born MP, but also the first from her ethnicity and the first Muslim to become a minister. She came to Canada with her single-mother led family as a refugee 20 years ago and went on to co-found a campaign to raise money for women and girls in Afghanistan. 

It must be mentioned that Monsef is the only visible minority minister who is not a Sikh and doesn’t speak Punjabi, now the third most spoken language among the new set of MPs. [Twenty of them speak the language and appropriately, according to Statistics Canada, it is the third most common tongue in Canada after English and French.] 

Empowered women

The absence of tokenism in the cabinet also extends to the gender diversity file. 

Among the women, many have large portfolios. Jody Wilson-Raybould is the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Chrystia Freeland gets international trade, Catherine McKenna is the minister of the now-renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, and Dr. Jane Philpott gets health. 

All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers.

In addition, Carla Qualtrough, a visually impaired Paralympian, is Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities; Kirsty Duncan, a medical geographer, is Minister of Science; Dr. Carolyn Bennett, is in charge of Indigenous and Northern Affairs; and Patty Hajdu will look after the status of women portfolio. 

All these women are there not merely because of their gender, but for being high achievers. And, this being Canada, there is again diversity among them.  

Wilson-Raybould is from among the eight Liberal Indigenous MPs, a record in itself. She along with Hunter Tootoo, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, unlike in previous federal cabinets, did not get pigeonholed into ministries presumed to be natural fits. 

Like a commentator said on CBC, minority and Indigenous ministers have now been “mainstreamed,” while a mainstream minister like Dr. Bennett is in charge of indigenous affairs. 

All of these ministers are also members of various cabinet committees and now have a chance to bring their diverse voices to the highest decision-making table of the land. 

And the calibre of the ministers selected will lay to rest the claim that diversity and merit cannot go together. It no longer is a case of window dressing to meet a certain diversity quotient. 

To borrow from an infamous line in a Conservative attack advertisement against Trudeau, “the cabinet got to balance itself.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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NDP MP Jinny Sims (Newton-Delta North) on Wednesday demanded action from the federal government in the House of Commons to deal with the gang violence crisis in Surrey. “The federal government has an obligation here – why bother having a Minister for Public Safety if they have no intention of prioritizing public safety?” […]

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by Aurora Tejeida (@Aurobots) in Vancouver [Part 3 of 3 of an in-depth investigative series]

The settlement service sector across the country is undergoing major changes and facing several challenges as a result. Unlike Ontario and the Atlantic region, both B.C. and Manitoba used to have provincial control of their settlement services. For these provinces, the largest issue has been getting used to federal control.

Settlement in the west coast metropolitan city of Vancouver one of Canadas top destinations for migrants with 45 per cent of its population being foreign-born – is no exception.

When the federal government decided to strip control of settlement services from B.C. effective April 1, 2014, the biggest casualty was the freedom agencies had to serve a large array of newcomers.

“Under federal funding, service can only be provided to permanent residents and government sponsored refugees,” explains Karen Larcombe, the executive director of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH). “That leaves out naturalized immigrants (those with citizenship), temporary foreign workers, who we used to be able to serve, foreign students, etc.”

It’s been a year since agencies in Vancouver have been working under federal government guidelines and the effects are already being felt. This is why the province of B.C. stepped in to help.

“In our province, these changes have been less impactful because the provincial government has provided some agencies, mine included, surplus funding so we can continue to serve the clients that are ineligible under federal funding,” says Larcombe.

I think temporary foreign workers is where we’re most feeling the pressure.” - Karen Larcombe, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House

But those resources are limited. Provincial funding represents about 10 per cent of SVNH’s funding. The rest, 90 per cent, is provided by the federal government and can only be used for what the government calls ‘eligible clients’.

“In theory, ineligible clients are supposed to be 10 per cent of our cases,” Larcombe says. “In reality we’re seeing more than the 10 per cent, for us it’s closer to 15 per cent.”

Between 2013 and 2014, British Columbia received 37,451 foreign immigrants; 85 per cent of them settled in Metro Vancouver.

It’s likely these numbers only represent new permanent residents, since they don’t add up when the largest ‘ineligible’ group that Larcombe’s agency sees, which is temporary foreign workers, is taken into account.

“Their numbers are growing. I think temporary foreign workers is where we’re most feeling the pressure,” she explains.

The number of temporary foreign workers in the province increased from 19,283 in 2002 to 69,955 in 2011. Similarly, over 290,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian schools during 2013; 24 per cent of them live and study in B.C., that’s almost 73,000 people. Both groups have no access to settlement services.

[F]rom a service delivery perspective, that means that we lose control over what our services look like. So something that works in Ontario, might not necessarily work in Vancouver.” Karen Larcombe, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House

Another casualty has been the time workers can devote to clients. Under the federal government there’s more extensive recording required, so workers spend more time inputting data into the system.

“The federal government wanted everybody across Canada to deliver services under the same way. So part of that was having the same information and the same data to get a better picture across the whole country,” says Larcombe.

“From a funder’s perspective, that makes sense. But from a service delivery perspective, that means that we lose control over what our services look like. So something that works in Ontario, might not necessarily work in Vancouver.”

Manitoba’s Challenges

Aside from B.C., Manitoba was the only other province that lost control of its funding in the last couple of years; now settlement services in Manitoba fall under federal regulations. 

Jorge Fernandez is the executive director of the Manitoba Immigrant Centre. Like his counterpart in Vancouver, he says the biggest change has been the type of clients that settlement services can help.

“We can no longer help temporary foreign workers or foreign students,” explains Fernandez. “And the province of Manitoba is not offering any extra funding.”

Fernandez says 20 per cent of the approximately 18,000 clients his agency saw last year are what the government considers ‘ineligible’.

“It was difficult for us to close the door on clients, so we secured some private funding. We managed to raise $50,000 to hire one worker to see this group of people,” he adds.

The funds came from private donations and Winnipeg foundations. But even with the extra funding, the agency was only able to help 2,000  out of 5,000 clients that have asked for help, but are deemed ‘ineligible’.

“We are bringing temporary foreign workers into the country, and we have the Express Entry program, so we need the workers, we need labour force. So if we’re bringing them here, why aren’t we providing services for them?” - Jorge Fernandez, Manitoba Immigrant Centre

Out of those ‘ineligible’ clients, Fernandez says 50 per cent are temporary foreign workers, 25 per cent are international students and the remainder is a mix of visitors and Canadian citizens — a group agencies in both Manitoba and B.C. consider important due to the fact that they may have only been in the country for a couple of years.

“We wish we could see everybody,” says Fernandez. “If we had more funding we could hire another worker and see more people.”

He hopes things will improve if there is a change in government, especially since some current migration policies don’t make sense to him. 

“We are bringing temporary foreign workers into the country, and we have the Express Entry program, so we need the workers, we need labour force. So if we’re bringing them here, why aren’t we providing services for them?”

Is Sanctuary the Only Solution?

Byron Cruz is a community worker and an advocate for all types of migrants in Vancouver. He works with an outreach group called Sanctuary Health. For the last year or so, his organization, along with many more, has been participating in the mayor’s immigration task force. The main item of the agenda is to obtain sanctuary city status in Vancouver.

“Every settlement agency depends on the CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) because all or most of their funding comes from the federal government, so instead of helping local communities, they’re doing CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency)’s job,” says Cruz.

“Many agency workers want to help, but they have to do it outside office hours because otherwise they risk losing their jobs or their funding. It’s a system that discriminates.” - Byron Cruz, Sanctuary Health

Cruz explains that a group of undocumented mothers had recently approached him because they wanted to take a workshop that was offered by a local settlement agency, but that the agency denied them the service.

“Many agency workers want to help, but they have to do it outside office hours, because otherwise they risk losing their jobs or their funding,” he adds. “It’s a system that discriminates.”

Still, several agencies have helped pen the sanctuary city policies Cruz hopes will be completely adopted by Vancouver sometime this year. Agency workers like Larcombe agree that these policies would help those that are most in need.

“At this point there are more vulnerable migrants that we would be able to help if the city was granted a sanctuary city status,” she explains. “It’s difficult for these migrants to break through the poverty barrier.”

By ‘vulnerable migrants’ Larcombe means undocumented migrants, another group agencies are barred from helping. A 2009 House of Commons immigration committee report estimates that the number of undocumented immigrants in Canada ranges anywhere from 80,000 to 500,000.

But even without taking undocumented immigrants into account, the reality is that many of B.C.’s newcomers are not being granted access to settlement services under federal regulations.

“We need changes to ensure that those people are protected,” says Larcombe. “Even if technically it wouldn’t fall into the federal government’s mandate.”


In previous 360º instalments, NCM looked at the state of settlement services in Ontario, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Be sure to read all three parts of this investigative series to get a sense of how several provinces across the country are dealing with a changing settlement system.  

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 14:20

Election 2015, By the Numbers

by Will McMartin

Politics, generally speaking, is about reason and passion, intellect and emotion. Elections, on the other hand, always come down to numbers. The party or candidate that gets the larger numbers wins (almost always).

With Canada’s 42nd general election looming on Oct. 19, let’s take a look at some of the key numbers at play in the campaign.

Readers may be surprised that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have increased their share of the popular vote each time they’ve faced the Canadian electorate.

From a low of just under 30 per cent in 2004, the Tories climbed incrementally in each tilt until hitting almost 40 per cent in the last federal contest.

Clearly, if Harper and the Tories record yet another increase in their share of the popular vote this October, a second consecutive majority seems all but assured.

Not surprisingly, the Conservatives’ seat-total also rose over that period — from 99 to 124, then to 143, and finally to the 166 seats that provided their first majority.

Clearly, if Harper and the Tories record yet another increase in their share of the popular vote this October, a second consecutive majority seems all but assured.

However, even a small slip in voter support could significantly reduce the Conservatives’ hold on the House of Commons, thereby returning the party into a minority position — or worse.

So, the question to ponder is: have the Harper Conservatives become more popular with Canadians since winning their first majority in 2011, or less? Voters will decide in less than 200 days.

Rise of the New Democratic Party

If the Conservatives’ incremental rise in vote-share over the last decade surprises, the upward trajectory of the New Democratic Party’s popular vote — nearly doubling from just under 16 per cent to almost 31 per cent between 2004 and 2011 — is simply stunning.

The biggest gain, of course, took place four years ago in Quebec where the NDP soared to 42.9 per cent of valid votes (and 59 seats), up from 4.6 per cent (and no seats) in 2004.

That dramatic and historic performance overshadows the New Democrats’ significant rise over the same period in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, where the party grew its vote-share from 18.1 per cent to 25.6 per cent — and from seven to 22 seats.

Clearly, the federal New Democrats over the last decade have established a formidable beachhead in central Canada.

So, consider this: the 2004 general election — the first in which the late Jack Layton was party leader — ended with just seven of the NDP’s 19 seats coming from Ontario and Quebec. That was 36.8 per cent of his total caucus.

In 2011, however, Canada’s two most-populous provinces contributed a whopping 81 MPs to Layton’s 103-member caucus — or 78.6 per cent of the total. Clearly, the federal New Democrats over the last decade have established a formidable beachhead in central Canada.

And that raises a question as to the fundamental strategy Thomas Mulcair, who succeeded Layton as party leader in March 2012, will pursue over the next 200 days.

Do the New Democrats concentrate their campaign efforts — and focus their election platform — on Quebec and Ontario in an effort to consolidate the historic gains of 2011?

Or will the party widen its outlook in the hope of winning new seats in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada, so as to form a majority government or a strong minority?

Such are the strategic challenges facing Mulcair’s New Democrats as their party gears up to fight its first-ever election as Canada’s official opposition.

Magic Number for Majority

Three hundred and thirty-eight parliamentary seats will be contested in the upcoming general election — making 170 the magic number for a majority. In each of the last four tilts, the House of Commons had 308 seats — which put the number required for a majority at 155 — but redistribution has added 15 seats to Ontario, six apiece to B.C. and Alberta, and three to Quebec.

Four years ago, Harper’s Conservatives captured 166 seats — sufficient then for an 11-seat advantage over the combined sum of all other parties, but four shy of the total now required for a majority in the expanded House of Commons.

Simply, the Tories in October must pick up a handful of additional seats merely to retain their majority. Plus, the loss of any incumbent MP (or previously-held seat) must be offset by a pick-up elsewhere.

The New Democrats collected 103 seats in 2011, sufficient to elevate their party to official opposition status.

To that total must be added 67 new seats if Mulcair is to guide his party to a majority government in 200 days. Not an impossible task, but daunting nonetheless.

The Liberals, then, appear to have nowhere to go but up — a near-certainty given the new leadership of Justin Trudeau, who, in the eyes of at least a few Canadians, seems to have inherited the charisma gene from his famous father, Pierre.

The “third” party in the House of Commons, the Liberals — viewed for much of the 20th century as Canada’s “Natural Governing Party” — fell to historic depths in 2011. Then led by a “just visiting” Michael Ignatieff, the Grits plunged to a mere 34 seats, and only 18.9 per cent of all valid votes.

The Liberals, then, appear to have nowhere to go but up — a near-certainty given the new leadership of Justin Trudeau, who, in the eyes of at least a few Canadians, seems to have inherited the charisma gene from his famous father, Pierre, who served as prime minister for 15 years (1968-1979, and 1980-1984).

But what a distance Trudeau’s Liberals would have to go to win a majority — the party needs to add an eye-popping 136 seats to the total taken in 2011.

It’s never been done before. How likely is it to occur in 2015?

Of course, it’s possible that no party will obtain the 170 needed for a secure majority. In that case, what is the number short of 170 that would allow a party to govern effectively for a period of time?

No one knows, but — for argument’s sake — how about 155, the number previously needed for a majority before redistribution?

How long could the Tories govern with a minority... The likely answer: however long it takes for Mulcair and Trudeau to agree that it would be mutually advantageous for their parties to join together to defeat Harper.

Let’s say that Harper’s Conservatives obtain this number by losing 11 of the seats they won four years ago. That leaves 181 seats in the hands of opposition MPs.

Suppose that Mulcair’s New Democrats (who lose 13 seats) and Trudeau’s Liberals (who add 56) both end up with 90 seats apiece. The sole remaining seat is held by Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, who wins re-election in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

How long could the Tories govern with a minority of this size? The likely answer: however long it takes for Mulcair and Trudeau to agree that it would be mutually advantageous for their parties to join together to defeat Harper.

Could the NDP and Grits then form a working coalition — and convince Governor-General David Johnston that they deserved an opportunity to govern?

Yes, but again — such an arrangement would have to be mutually advantageous for both parties, and both party leaders. Which one — Mulcair or Trudeau — would agree to be the junior partner to the other?

A Possible Tilt

This is all conjecture, of course. The point is, should one of Canada’s major political parties win at least 170 House of Commons seats on Oct. 19, that party almost certainly will govern the country for the next four years, until the next scheduled general election in October 2019.

But if no party attains or exceeds that number, we’ll be in the realm of political and electoral uncertainty. And if no party wins at least 155, all bets are off.

So, in the event that no party is returned with a majority — or even a strong minority — on Oct. 19, it’s likely that we’d be heading to the polls once again in another nine or 10 months.

On Feb. 22, 1980, voters went to the polls in Canada’s 32nd general election — just 275 days after voting (on May 22, 1979) in the country’s 31st general tilt.

In the earlier contest, Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives had won 136 of the House of Commons’ 282 seats, six shy of the 142 needed for a majority.

The Tories subsequently (on Dec. 13, 1979) were defeated in a House budgetary vote and politicians quickly headed to the hustings. In the later contest, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals captured a bare parliamentary majority with 147 seats.

The 275-day period between the 1979-1980 general elections was the shortest in Canadian history. Next was the 294-day gap between tilts in 1957-1958 and 1962-1963.

So, in the event that no party is returned with a majority — or even a strong minority — on Oct. 19, it’s likely that we’d be heading to the polls once again in another nine or 10 months. A do-over, as it were, in July or August 2016. Is that really how Canadians want to spend their summer?


Will McMartin is a long-time political consultant and commentator who has been affiliated with the Social Credit, Progressive Conservative and BC Conservative parties.

Republished with permission from TheTyee.ca 

 

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