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THE CANADIAN ELECTION - 2000
When the Old Testament prophet Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall for his Babylonian master, King Belteshazzar, he said: “God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.” (Daniel 5:26). Could this be the message for Canada after its recent election?
On the international stage the Canadian vote was overshadowed by the American elections. As the races south of the border were in high gear in late October Canada’s opportunistic Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the surprise snap election for late November. (Being only 3½ years into a mandate, the election call was not universally liked.) As the wrangling over the Florida recount was in session the election mudslinging was flying high up north. On election night, November 27th, the mud then settled with decisive results. The incumbent Liberals, often dubbed as Canada’s “natural governing party”, roared back into power with an 18 seat gain. The Liberals now hold 173 seats; the newly formed Canadian Alliance Party remains the official opposition with 66 seats; the separatist Bloc Quebecois (BQ) dropped to 37 seats; the New Democratic Party (NDP - Canada’s version of Labour) received 13 seats, and the Progressive Conservatives (or PCS, the Canadian Tories) settled for 12 seats.
Most of you reading this may have little understanding about Canadian matters. You may know that Canada is a country with vast distances of 3.8 million square miles, but with a small spread out population of roughly 25 million souls. You may know that most Canadians are descended from settlers from the British Isles, and that its political institutions are modelled on those of the United Kingdom. There is one difference. Given our vast distances Canada has a federal/provincial system of three levels of government similar to that of the United States. Except the Canadian federal government, based in Ottawa, has greater powers over the provinces. You may also know that roughly 25 percent of Canadians are French-speaking, and are concentrated in the province of Quebec. In Quebec there is a large and well-organized separatist movement, and at present the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) runs the provincial government. Many of you probably also know that many English-speaking Canadians have Ulster roots, and in recent times many Ulstermen have settled in Canada. During times past, the Orange Order was once a very influential political institution in Canada, namely in the province of Ontario, and in the city of Toronto.
So what do the results of Canada’s election 2000 mean? Why would these results indicate that Canada’s day are numbered? On a regional level the distribution of seats to the parties reveal a deep divide. Yes the power-mad Liberals won, despite some corrupt scandals. Their largest concentration of seats were in vote-rich, heavily populated Ontario (100 out of 103). (When the Orangemen had their day Ontario was largely a Tory fiefdom.) The Liberals did modestly increase their seats in their former stronghold of Quebec, (at the expense of the separatist BQ), and in the Atlantic provinces (at the expense of the NDP and the Tories). With one foot in Ontario, and another foot in Quebec, the Liberals have formed the federal government during most of Canada’s history. It has always been a Liberal boast that only they can keep both French and English Canada “happy.” In western Canada, (which consists of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), the Liberals could only be satisfied with a small handful of 14 seats.
These four provinces, mainly BC and Alberta, voted strongly for the newly-formed Canadian Alliance, which is the latest expression of western protest politics. Due to its smaller population the west has rarely been a factor in the formation of the federal government. With greater centralisation of power in Ottawa alienation has been a major factor in western Canadian politics. Westerners for decades have created a broad range of protest parties, and even parties calling for the west to secede from Canada.
The Alliance’s predecessor, the Reform Party, aimed at trying to change things in Ottawa to get a better deal for the west. Reform failed to make a breakthrough in Ontario. The Alliance was formed to broaden its support by reaching out to voters in central and eastern Canada, but it barely succeeded with only two Ontario seats. With the Alliance’s dismal showing east of Manitoba there is renewed interest in separatism further west.
I ask Ulster readers not to be misled by the new party’s name; it has little if anything in common with the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. In fact the APNI, and Canada’s Liberals, are both members of the Liberal International, a world-wide grouping of “centrist” parties. The party’s full name is actually the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance. It was formed as a combined effort of the older western Canada-based Reform Party, and of some Progressive Conservatives. The Reform Party had been formed in the late 1980s by many western populists who left the PC Party given the openly corrupt Tory government of Brian Mulroney.
Mulroney and his gang are long gone, and many hoped for a Reform-PC merger. PC leader Joe Clark, a former Mulroney cabinet minister, ruled out that idea. In Ontario, the Alliance-PC rivalry only led to split votes and more Liberal seats. Apparently in some of Ontario’s traditional Tory (and yes “Orange”) ridings the Alliance did come well within a whisker of defeating the Liberal incumbent, even with the split vote. There were many reasons for the Alliance fiasco. The Liberals, and their mass media allies, ran a vicious smear campaign against the Alliance leader Stockwell Day.
Mr. Day is an evangelical Christian, although he is pretty mild and soft-spoken compared to Ulster’s “Big Man”, and even Willie McCrea. If any you Ulster readers took a glance at what was written about Stockwell Day you would think that the DUP had started a Canadian affiliate! Also the Alliance made many, many mistakes themselves. One reason Chretien called this snap election was to catch the new party off guard, and deliver it a blow. At first Day and the Alliance were on the attack, but then they tended to back off when things got dirty. For example Day had voiced concerns about the Liberal’s incompetent handling of immigration screening, which has allowed assorted criminals to come here. When one Alliance candidate in Winnipeg, Manitoba, made an off-the-cuff comment about the “Asian invasion” (a fair remark if you have seen Vancouver, BC, which is now being dubbed “Hongcouver”), that candidate was expelled from the party. The party brass was hoping to court the Asian vote, which went Liberal anyway. Trying to be all things to all people rarely pays off.
The failure of the Alliance in Ontario has western Canadians asking the
question: why should we remain in Canada? Two days after the election this
letter to the editor, written by a Brian Faulkner (an Ulster name for sure!),
appeared in The Times-Colonist of Victoria, BC:
Of recent note new separatist organizations like the Alberta Independence Party have sprung up, and older groups like Doug Christie’s Western Canada Concept <www.westcan.org> are receiving more and more inquiries. Western Canada’s case is not the same as Quebec. Language, ethnicity and culture is why there is a separatist movement in la belle province. This is natural. Can any of you imagine Britain and France surviving as one nation? Separatist sentiment in Quebec moves in cycles. It was at its last high peak during the 1995 referendum, which the federalists won by a whisker. With the PQ’s and BQ’s leadership in turmoil it may takes some time before the separatist wave picks up again. Western Canadians are English-speaking and are of the same ethnic stocks as are many people in Ontario and in Atlantic Canada.
The concerns of the west is largely over government administration and economics. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is very distant and remote. From Victoria, where I live, it is about 3,000 miles away. For you 3,000 miles would put you somewhere in Russia. You regard London and Dublin as being “distant”, can you imagine being governed from Moscow? Combined with the west’s smaller numbers of M.P.s there is little if any accountability. As Doug Christie, a noted barrister, has pointed out, it is by separation that western Canadians can gain a direct voice in their federal government. The other concern is economics.
Western Canada’s economy largely revolves around natural resources. Alberta is rich in oil and natural gas. BC is rich in forestry, coal, copper and other minerals. Manitoba and Saskatchewan are still largely agricultural. Trade is largely with the western United States, and/or across the Pacific. Yet it is Ottawa that taxes these resources, and little of that money is sent back. BC alone sends $3 billion dollars a year to Ottawa.
When will the breakup of Canada come? The only thing keeping Canada together is merely old sentiment and inertia. It may take the jolt of a major crisis to cause the breakup, but it would take a miracle for the Canadian experiment to survive another century.
Alec Greer, March 2001Home Page
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