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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Meanwhile, Up North, A Surge For the Left

In case you’ve missed it (and their campaigns are so blessedly short it’s likely you did), the Canadians are holding a national election on Monday, and there’s a rare degree of intrigue as to what might happen. Until very recently, it appeared that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who have been operating a minority government (one without an actual majority in the House of Common–not that unusual a situation in Canada) since 2006, would finally gain a narrow majority of parliamentary seats. In Canada’s multi-party, first-past-the-post system, that would normally require about 40% of the popular vote. But now, another minority Tory government seems more likely, with the outside possibility of Harper losing power to a coalition of all the other parties.
The really interesting dynamic involves Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), a social democratic party with close ties to the labor movement, which in some recent polls has surged into second place, past the center-left Liberals, long considered the country’s “natural” governing party. NDP chieftain Jack Layton (who is suffering from prostate cancer) seems to be the most popular of the party leaders, and the winner of both English- and French-language leader debates. NDP has been gaining strength in several parts of Canada, most notably in Quebec (usually dominated by the Liberals and the quasi-separatist Bloc Quebecois). If NDP’s surge holds up, Layton could become the official Leader of the Opposition, and under an unlikely but tantalizing scenario, Prime Minister in a coalition government involving NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc (the Green Party pulls a substantial vote in Canada–9% in 2008–but hold no seats in Parliament).
The issues in this election wouldn’t seem unfamiliar to Americans, but the context is quite different. The Canadian economy is in better shape than that of the U.S. (unemployment is 7.7%, not that bad by historical standards), and the fiscal situation much better: all the major parties promise a balanced federal budget within the next few years. The most remarkable difference is that no one serious would propose any sort of privatization of Canada’s single-payer health care system. Some have feared a majority Tory government might try to undermine legalized same-sex marriage, but Harper declared the matter “closed” after a solid vote confirming the policy in the House of Commons in 2006.
Early voting for this election has been up sharply, and the variety of possible outcomes should make for an interesting election day on Monday.

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