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Who ever said Canadian politics was dull?

November 27, 2012

What an exciting day to be a political addict in Canada. Who says Canadian politics is boring? People who aren’t paying attention, that’s who. At least four exciting things happened yesterday. Yes, four.

First, the Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, was found in violation of the Conflict of Interest act and will be removed from office. Essentially, he voted on something he really shouldn’t have and clearly took pride in not knowing how the process of government works as a defense. A process which he has been involved in for 15 years. Fascinating.

Second, we find out that Mark Carney, you know, the head of the Bank of Canada, our faithful and steady captain who rode us through rough waters, who everyone loves so much they elected him head of the international Financial Stability Board. Well, the Brits love him so much they headhunted him right out from under us. Which I guess we’re fine with, sounds like he wants more a challenge. Amazing.

Of course, he’ll have to deal with the British press now, but they’re nice right?
(Whoa…seriously? A moose? Who trusts a moose with money? Everyone knows only beavers, cariboo and loons can be trusted with hard currency.)

Third, of course, there’s sport! No, I don’t mean the Grey Cup, although that was great…Argos! I mean elections, you know…the best sport ever?  There were three yesterday! And they weren’t boring, at all.

Alright, Durham was kind of boring, but in a good way.  Congratulations to Erin O’Toole, the new MP for Durham, Ontario for winning your riding by an astounding 50.7% (last time I checked).

What’s that? That doesn’t sound that astounding to you? I’ll have you know that Mr. O’Toole now has a right that only 145 out 309 members of parliament may claim. That is the right to call himself the duly elected representative of his riding who also has the support of the majority of the population which he serves.

Because for half of all MPs, more half their constituents didn’t vote for them. Write that one down. 

You can see the see the official results here. The boring headline you’ll undoubtedly see somewhere is that all the incumbent parties won, two Conservative and one NDP, so no change in parliament, yawn. But it was so much more exciting than that. The real winner last night by a longshot was the Green Party. They didn’t win any seats but they had the political nerd class on the edge of their seats for hours last night on twitter watching #yyc and #yyj, what tweeters call Calgary and Victoria respectively (airport codes, you know).

The greens had historically high results and had a real shot at winning either seat if any other single candidate had not been there. In fact, that’s true for the Liberals in Calgary as well, if the NDP  weren’t running it could easily have been a three way photo finish. If the Greens weren’t running it’s hard to tell because the NDP did so badly. But the Liberal would almost surely have won handily.  Now, don’t mistake this kind of talk as making an excuse or spinning the result for the Greens or the Liberals. There is a larger point here and Canadians and politicians are slowly waking up to it.

Another hint, journalists on twitter were a bit shocked the Greens were doing so well in Victoria. No one was looking at Victoria. Everyone knew it was going to the NDP…right?  But Victoria was just as close as shockingly close Calgary. The bigger shock for many people was that the two old national alternatives the Liberals and the Conservatives were essentially irrelvant in Victoria. Their combined vote tallies paling in comparison to either the NDP or the Green vote on their own. So what is going on with our country?

What I think is going on is a kind of phase shift in Canadian politics. People used to feel like there were two and a half viable, national parties in Canada, plus the Bloc of course. The Orange crush in 2011 was the first step tearing this reality down. The order of the ‘half party’ was swapped from the NDP to the Liberals. We have only been slowly coming to accept that as a nation. The media in particular seems to forget sometimes which party is Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and which is the third party.

But the second result of Election 41 was the election of a Green MP. A party which has polled over the years between 3% and over 10% support nationally. Last night’s by-election shows us her was not just luck. The Greens garnered around 25% and 34% of actual votes in Calgary(!) and Victoria. Elizabeth May’s stellar performance in parliament doesn’t hurt the image of the party either.

We all need to face it, there are now four, viable, national parties in our country now. They have very different approaches to many issues but three of them have a lot more in common than they have seperating them when compared to the Conservatives, so they need to find a way to work out their differences.  There is no good reason why the voters of Calgary Centre find themselves represented this morning by a candidate who received only 37% of the votes cast. Especially when the next party received only 4% less than them and everyone knows what the second choice of most of the remaining third of the electorate would be.

So finally the fourth piece of exciting news from yesterday, at least for me. Some hope going forward:

“There are some ridings where the vast majority of voters would like to have a progressive voice. So, if a riding is willing to have a run-off (nomination) so that the progressive voice has a chance of becoming elected, then that’s something that I think is a good idea.”

That quote is from MP for Vancouver Quadra Joyce Murray, who yesterday put herself forward for the leader of the Liberal Party. Oh, and she’s also openly in favour of Electoral Reform. This is rare for a Liberal.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying Joyce Murray would be the best leader for the Liberals and I don’t know if the Liberals would be the best party to govern at this point. But a phase shift is occurring in Canadian politics and all the parties need to wake up and deal with it. This is the kind of proposal which needs to be openly, and maturely discussed rather than dismissed out of hand or attacked as undemocratic. Nathan Cullen on the NDP side made similar proposals when running for leader of his party.

This by-election showed us that there are three viable progressive parties in Canada. Canadian are trying to vote for them, but strategic voting is hard and messy and not as good as a real proportional voting system. Until we get that, the parties need to find a way to make it easier for the progressive majority of Canadian voters to get what the they actually want, and that is a progressive government.

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