Canada Stumbles Into General Election

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 25 2011 2:55 PM

Canada Stumbles Into General Election

UPDATE: I'm getting a lot of smart links from liberals who think the early polling is misleading and this is winnable for the left.

Canada's Conservative minority government has lost a no-confidence vote , which forces an election on May 2 or May 9 at the latest. At the outset this looks like a disaster for the Canadian left, which was responsible for the vote.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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What do I mean? The Conservative Party has been in power since 2006, when it won a minority government with 36 percent of the vote and 124 of 308 seats in parliament. It took over with the support of* mostly-leftish Bloc Quebecois. This was stable, but in 2008, the Conservatives were riding high in polls -- aided by the unpopularity of the Liberals' blundering leader Stephane Dion and the division of the Canadian left -- and called an election. They were set to win a majority, but then the financial crisis happened. They only won 38 percent of the vote and added 19 seats, forcing yet another minority government.

This election is happening because the Liberals, joined by the lefty New Democrats, brought down the government. Surprise -- voters are pissed. An Ipsos poll taken this week found 43 percent of voters backing the Conservatives if the Liberals pulled this stunt. That puts them in the position to win an overall majority. How do they do that with only 43 percent? Because the left is still divided between three parties who cannibalize votes, and as happened in 2006 and 2008, it'll be possible for the Conservatives to scoop up seats in swing areas with pluralities.

The only possibility I see for a Liberal turnaround -- and really, their best bet is winning enough seats to form the sort of totally unstable three-way coalition (lefty parties and BQ) that they tried to form in 2009 -- would be fear about the economy. But Canada's doing rather better than the U.S. on that account. Unemployment last month was 7.8 percent, and it's been falling steadily since peaking in 2009.

What are the stakes? I will leave it to Canada experts, but an immediate worry I see for small "L" liberals is that a full-on Conservative majority might make it possibly for the country to overturn legal gay marriage.

*I originally wrote "in a coalition," which is not quite it.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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