Canada’s national election yesterday went pretty much as forecasted: the Conservatives won a plurality of seats in the House of Commons, and will get to form a minority government under Stephen Harper. But it’s reasonably clear Canadians were casting votes to expel the current scandal-plagued Liberal government of Paul Martin rather than to give the Tories any real mandate to move the country to the Right. Minority governments in Canada don’t tend to last very long, and moreover, even those Tory governments who have won strong majorities in recent decades have typically gone belly-up after short holds on power. Aside from public ambivalence about the Tories, Harper will have to deal with a House of Commons where the balance of power is held by the left-labor New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois, which is well to the left of center on most domestic and foreign policy issues. Despite making gains and punishing its ancient Liberal enemies, the BQ actually had a disappointing election, falling far short of the 50 percent vote in Quebec it had publicly set as its goal. And the NDP, which slightly boosted its share of the total vote from 15.7 percent to 17 percent, still wound up with only 29 seats in the House, as compared with 124 for the Tories, 103 for the Liberals, and 51 for the Bloc. So while it’s easy to identify the loser in yesterday’s elections, the ultimate winner is anybody’s guess. Martin quickly resigned as Liberal leader, and aside from Harper’s behavior as a P.M. without a majority or a mandate, the Grits‘ ability to regroup under new and uncertain leadership is the key political variable Up North. The most jarring difference between contemporary Canadian andU.S. politics is the restrained tone of the former, even in a campaign considered “bitter” by Canadian standards. Martin’s much-derided campaign for survival depended heavily on negative ads warning Canadians of the Tory boogeyman and its Republican friends in Washington (motivated in part by a largely unsuccessful drive to get NDP supporters to engage in “strategic voting” for the Grits in closely competed contests). It did not go over well.I got a personal taste of the low-key nature of Canadian politics yesterday afternoon, when I picked up a Toronto AM radio station while driving up I-95 from Richmond. NDP Leader Jack Layton was being interviewed; he sounded sort of like a decaffeinated Dick Gephardt–bland, wonky and very civil, particularly for a guy whose election-day objective was to shore up the “base” of the country’s most firmly ideological party.The aspect of yesterday’s vote that might well have parallel implications here in the U.S. is obvious enough: the connection voters made between Liberal ethics scandals and that party’s entrenched status and smug sense of entitlement to power. And that’s why Republicans probably shouldn’t get much satisfaction from a temporary and minority government led by their “friends” in Ottawa. North and south of the border, voters can and will provide corrupt and bumbling incumbenets with an “accountability moment,” even if they harbor misgivings about the opposition. Word up, Karl.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
As a big fan of boring process issues, I have been watching the DNC engineer a major change in the presidential primary calendar, and explained it at New York:
Amid wails of distress from Iowa and New Hampshire, the Democratic National Committee has formally ratified a change in the party’s 2024 presidential primary calendar. Since 1976, Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary were the opening events of the Democratic nominating process; in 2008 they were joined by Nevada’s caucuses in the third position and South Carolina’s primary in the fourth. Under the new calendar, Iowa is out of the early going; South Carolina will move ahead of New Hampshire; and Georgia and Michigan will be added to the early “window” of states allowed to hold primaries before March. The new order of states was recommended by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee in December after a push from the White House. The DNC will give Georgia and New Hampshire until June to come up with a plan for their primaries that complies with the new calendar; in both cases, the state Democratic Party needs cooperation from Republican lawmakers to execute the changes and may or may not succeed.
It’s important to understand that Republicans plan to stick with their old calendar, as they can. Indeed, back in April 2022, the Republican National Committee voted to lock in the traditional early-state order (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) for 2024. And whatever the national parties decide, it’s state legislatures and parties that determine when primaries happen.
Odds are high that Democrats from Iowa and New Hampshire will hold unsanctioned 2024 contests. This will generate a lot of drama, but it probably won’t matter in this presidential cycle, assuming President Biden runs for renomination without significant opposition. The DNC has said it will revisit the calendar before the 2028 races, but it may signal an intention to preserve this year’s changes by placing heavy sanctions on states that go rogue (e.g., barring them from having delegations at the convention or sanctioning candidates that participate in unauthorized caucuses or primaries).
If, instead, national Democrats conclude that the 2024 reshuffling was just Biden’s way of rewarding the state that saved his bacon in the 2020 primaries (South Carolina) while punishing the states in which he finished fourth (Iowa) and fifth (New Hampshire), and making it even harder for anyone to challenge him, then all bets could be off for 2028. But displacing South Carolina from its new perch at the top of the calendar won’t be easy even with Biden having retired: As those who fought for so many years to displace Iowa can tell you, people will fight to stay No. 1.