June 28, 2004
-- The Liberals came back from being behind in polls and from under scrutiny to win a minority government
. The Conservatives, NDP, and Bloc Québécois increased their share of seats in the House of Commons
. One independent also won a seat. The NDP is most likely going to hold the balance of power
, allowing the Liberals to maintain a government. Jack Layton has said that he has certain conditions for doing this -- one of which is undoubtedly implementation of a proportional representation
program -- but hasn't been too vocal about what these are. The Bloc now holds 54 of Québec's 75 seats, including the former riding of former prime minister Chrétien.
Paul Martin asked Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson
to dissolve Canada's 38th Parliament and drop the writ
on May 23, 2004. A federal election was subsequently called for June 28, 2004
. The candidates have only a month to campaign (and many had started before the election was officially called) but many analysts are already calling this the most important election campaign in Canadian history (and certainly the most important election in several years).
The Liberal Party of Canada
Leader: The Right Honourable Paul Martin
The Liberals have been in power for ten years and formed Canada's 35th, 36th and 37th governments. Jean Chrétien retired from politics in December, leaving Paul Martin to take over as Prime Minister. This has led to fighting within the party, as the gap between "Chrétien loyalists" and "Martin loyalists" continues to widen.
Major issues have included the rezoning of ridings, which led to a few very public battles between Liberal party members regarding who would represent ridings which had been amalgamated. The most public of these was between longtime MP Sheila Copps and Tony Valeri. (Martin refused to guarantee Copps, who had been an MP for twenty years and had served as deputy prime minister under Chrétien, the nomination. Valeri won. Copps left politics).
Going for them: The party has been all but unbeatable for over ten years. All three of its governments have been majority governments. They have a "middle of the road" platform that attracts Canadians from all walks of life. Many Liberal supporters are also eager to give Martin his own mandate (as he was never elected by the voting public).
Going against them: The recent "sponsorship scandal" allegations suggest that the Liberals misused millions of public dollars throughout their time in power. Canadians are not happy. Martin is also seen as a conservative-liberal and many Canadians fear he'd cuddle too close to George W. Many Ontario voters have been soured on the entire Liberal party because their provincial counterparts broke a key election promise and raised health costs.
The Conservative Party of Canada
Leader: The Honourable Stephen Harper
The Conservatives are the sum of the former Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance. The merger "united the right" wing and further polarized Canada's political system. The merger was peppered with controversy, however, and caused many of the "Red Tories" (or progressive Conservatives) to leave the party. The leadership convention, which Harper (the former leader of the Canadian Alliance) won, received national media attention due to its historic significance.
The party has also been the major thorn in the Liberal Party's side since the sponsorship scandal became public knowledge. They promise tax breaks, would abandon the Kyoto Accord and would leave the same-sex marriage issue up to a "free vote" in parliament.
Going for them: The Conservatives have been the most consistent critic of the Liberal Party (especially in the face of recent allegations against it) and many of the Canadians who are angry with the Liberals seem to be ready to give them a chance. Their stance on the same-sex marriage issue has made them popular with religious and family values groups.
Going against them: Many Canadians -- even some Conservatives -- are wary of Harper's right-wing views. The party's connection the Canadian Alliance is bound to haunt it. The Liberals have also launched a TV ad that "reminds" people of Harper's description of Canada as a "second-rate socialist nation."
The New Democratic Party of Canada
Leader: Jack Layton
This is the NDP's first election with Jack Layton at the helm (Alexa McDonough stepped down as leader in 2002). The party seems to have stepped up its campaign from previous elections and is generating more media-interest. While the Liberals and Conservatives have made taxes and public funds their main concerns, the NDP is focusing on health care.
Going for them: The NDP is pushing public health care and has some solid arguments accusing both the Liberals and Conservatives of promoting the privatization of health care. They also plan to provide economic relief for the impoverished and want to increase funding to social programs. Layton is also extremely media savvy and knows how to work both a crowd and a camera.
Going against them: Their pro-same-sex marriage stance means people either love them or hate them. The same goes for their strong pro-choice position. The NDP has also generally not been able to do extremely well in past federal elections, and occupied the fewest seats in Commons at dissolution. People either love Layton or hate him, and he's known for his controversial comments (which ought to make the campaign interesting but might dissuade people from voting for his party).
The Bloc Québécois
Leader: Gilles Duceppe
The Bloc's main objective is achieving sovereignty for the province of Québec. They once, in one of the most ironic situations in Canadian history, even formed Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. They don't have much of a mandate outside of the sovereignty issue, but want to maintain sovereignty-association with Canada .
Going for them: The Bloc is poised to win back many of the seats they lost to the Liberals in the 2000 election due to the sponsorship scandal. (Reports indicate that the public funds were used to generate "Canadian patriotism" in Québec during the 1995 referendum -- this has the seperatists kind of ticked off).
Going against them: The Bloc does not run outside of Québec. Duceppe's English skills are also lacking and thus the party has a hard time reaching English voters. There's also a small chance that Canadians would vote for a party whose main objective is to split up the country.
The Green Party of Canada
Leader: Jim Peterson
The Green Party's main objective is to put more emphasis on environmental issues. The party proposes a mix of social progressiveness and fiscal conservatism (they support women's right to choose, same-sex marriage, and tax cuts). Despite gaining support, however, Harris was not invited to participate in the official leaders' debate. Some voters -- and members of other parties -- believe that a vote for the Greens is a waste.
Going for them: Dissatisfaction with the other political parties may increase votes for the Greens, and may even earn them a Member of Parliament in British Columbia, where their support is strongest.
Going against them: A lot of people don't seem to want to recognize that they exist, as they held no seats in the previous parliament and probably couldn't earn enough seats for official party status in this election.
Main Election Issues:
The sponsorship scandal -- bound to be a major selling point for every party but the Liberals.
Same-sex marriage -- the NDP supports it, the Conservatives don't, and the Liberals would legalize it but wouldn't force religious institutions to perform marriages.
The decriminalization of marijuana -- The NDP would create legislation that would change the punishment for possession of cannabis from a criminal record to a fine. The Liberals may or may not, depending on how Martin feels. The Conservatives won't.
Iraq -- The Conservatives wanted Canada to be part of the democracy spreading. The Liberals and NDP didn't. The Liberals want to be part of the rebuilding.
The military -- Conservatives want to put more money into the military while the other parties would rather see the money put into other social services. Harper promised an "immediate $1.2 billion increase" into the Canadian military if elected. Layton wants to put money into it too, but not as much (citing social programs as being more important to the NDP platform.
Health care -- Privatization is a key issue (Conservatives want to privatize certain elements, the NDP wants to keep everything public and the Liberals aren't entirely clear on what they want, though the NDP accuses the Liberals of wanting privatization just as much as the Conservatives do).
The environment -- The NDP has made this a major part of their platform. They would pass legislation that forces Canadians to adhere to the Kyoto Accord and would introduce tax breaks on environmentally-friendly cars. The Conservatives would abandon the Kyoto Accord entirely. The Liberals would devote some funds to the environment but most of their efforts would fund health care.
Homelessness and poverty -- Jack Layton made this a key issue when he implied that Paul Martin was responsible for the deaths of homeless people (after the cancellation of the affordable housing program. Martin and the party slammed the accusation and demanded an apology.
Abortion -- The Liberals and the NDP are pro-choice. The Liberals even moved emergency contraception to non-prescription status (thanks, anthropod!). The Conservatives are generally anti-abortion but Harper said he wouldn't attempt to change existing laws (which currently allow it). He then said he would leave the issue up to a free vote in Parliament (much like he'd do with the same-sex marriage issue)
Crime -- The Conservatives would scrap the proposed federal gun registry and develop a sex offender registry. Harper also says they would develop tougher sentences and would impose an automatic 'third strike' rule that would allow violent offenders to be jailed indefinitely after their third offence. The Liberals would continue with their plans for the gun registry.
Child pornography -- Within hours of the sentencing of a Toronto man who claimed child pornography led him to sexually assault and murder a ten-year-old girl, the Conservatives had composed a press release that suggested the Liberals were soft on the issue. Harper agreed that the memo's heading was heading into harsh territory ("Paul Martin supports child pornography?" -- it was changed to suggest the Liberals had not kept their promises on the issue) and had it changed but the body of the text remained the same. Martin demanded an apology.
Canadian media outlets and analysts predict that the campaign will get ugly. Many predict a Liberal minority government.
Update: (June 7, 2004) -- The NDP has switched gears and is now putting its energy into fighting the Tories as opposed to the Liberals. This seems to cement popular opinion that the Liberals are on the way out.
(June 13, 2004) -- A recent poll indicates that Conservatives are actually leading the Liberals by 4%. The Liberals are continuing their Tory attack ads. The Conservatives have started running an ad that speaks of Harper's "unwavering dedication to (his) family, friends and country."
(June 15, 2004) -- With less than two weeks to go, Canadians saw leaders of four of the federal parties go head to head in two televised leaders' debates. The first, which was conduted in French, was held on June 14, 2004. The second, which was conducted in English, was held on June 15, 2004.
Paul Martin and Stephen Harper endured criticism in each debate from each other and from Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton. Duceppe insisted that he would not develop a coalition with the Conservative Party of Canada should they form a minority government, and criticized their social standing.
(June 24, 2004) -- with only a few days to go (and after the Conservatives suggested that Martin was lenient on child pornography), health care has become the main issue and the Liberals have regained a small lead. It looks like a Liberal minority (though Harper still insists the Conservatives will win a majority government).
This writeup owes its format and style to sekicho's The 2004 U.S. Presidential Election. Thanks!