A Family’s Political Landscape

In a parliamentary system like Canada’s, election dates aren’t cast in stone as they are in the United States. Federally and provincially, a majority government (formed when one party holds more seats than all the other parties combined) can remain in power for up to 5 years, but usually about 4 years. It is up to the prime minister federally, and the premier provincially, to pay a visit to the Governor General or the Lieutenant Governor to ask that the House be dissolved and an election be called for a given date. Thus an election to form a new provincial government was held this year in Quebec on April 14. One is being held in Manitoba on June 3 and another in New Brunswick on June 9, while one is expected in Nova Scotia this fall. A federal election will likely be held next spring.

However — at least in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, to my knowledge — municipal elections are held province-wise roughly on the same date every three (?) or four years. And in most municipalities, there are no political parties. In municipalities where there is a party structure, those parties are local (i.e., are not those we see on the roster in provincial or federal elections).

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In federal or provincial elections, we don’t get to vote for the prime minister or premier, who’s merely the leader of a party; we vote for a candidate who represents a party. Thus a party is swept to power for winning the most riding races, and all the votes within each riding for candidates from the other parties essentially get tossed into the garbage. Unfortunately, this “first-through-the-gate” system leads to huge discrepencies between the popular vote and the number of seats any one party secures in the House.

That can lead to quite a dilemma for the common Canadian voter: Should I vote for the candidate or the party the candidate represents? What should I do if I’m leaning towards the policies of one party, but the candidate running for that party in my riding is a complete asshole? Or what if my heart is with one party, but the candidate for another party is a gem who deserves to get my vote?

Personally I feel that even though we don’t have a “proportional representation (PR)” system, I have to go for the party, not the candidate. I have to question the motives of the gem who otherwise would deserve my vote. Many are the New Democrats at heart who have opted to run under the banner of the Liberals because they didn’t believe they could win as a New Democrat. Thus it seems to me those candidates are more concerned about themselves (and getting to power) than serving their constituents.

I have a friend, though, who actively canvassed for the Progressive Conservative candidate in his federal riding in 1984. He went for the candidate, not the party. To this day I tease him for having contributed to the Mulroney landslide, the largest parliamentary majority in Canadian history. In my opinion, Mulroney was the 20th-century’s biggest weasle of a prime minister. My blood boils all over again when I see him on his very rare media appearances today. He is tactless, arrogant, and a great prime minister only in his mind. Little surprise, then, that 9 years after the landslide and even though he was no longer party leader, the Conversatives suffered the most stinging electoral defeat in Canadian history, dropping down to 2 seats in the House of Commons: Saint John bigoted wonder Elsie Wayne, and now Liberal Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

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I was idly thinking last night about how it’s likely my parents and siblings don’t vote the same way in provincial and federal elections (although we don’t get to vote in the same provincial elections). In fact, I think it’s very likely that we don’t. For instance:

¤ I suspect that my parents have automatically been voting Liberal at least since the Trudeau days federally and the Louis J. Robichaud days in New Brunswick. I probably would have done the same in the ’60s through the early ’80s had I been eligible to vote. At the time, the Liberals were left of centre; now they’re either dead centre or right of centre, depending on the issue.

¤ I suspect that my brother who’s closer to my age also votes Liberal. He would do so in the tradition of “left of centre” Liberals.

¤ I suspect that my other brother may have voted Progressive Conservative more than once in his life. I doubt he will in the current New Brunswick provincial election, though, for reasons I can’t get into beyond saying that he rightly has a distaste for the PC candidate.

¤ I’m not sure how my sister votes, although I suspect it’s centre to left. She’s been living in Quebec for nearly 30 years, so she’s been embroiled in all that Quebec nationalist sentiment. Most French-speaking Canadians outside Quebec want Quebec to stay in Canada, for they know they will become an insignificant minority in a Canada sans Quebec. But based on conversations I’ve had with my sister, I think that in her mind it’s not a matter of should Quebec become a sovereign nation, but when.

¤ I, of course, have always voted for the New Democrats, even when it was a hopeless gesture provincially or federally. It isn’t anymore in Nova Scotia, where the NDP nearly formed the provincial government in 1998 and a good proportion of the NDP’s (admittedly small) caucus federally comes from eastern Canada. My federal and provincial ridings are both represented by New Democrats.