Canada: Liberals loss of 19 Parliam ent seats attributed to a variety of factors, including the poor Englis h of the party leader, St éphane Dion
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Thu Oct 16 18:07:34 UTC 2008
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October 16, 2008
Canadian Liberals Look to Party's Future By IAN
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen
first major act following his re-election on Tuesday will be hosting
France and other leaders of the French-speaking world at a meeting
weekend. The summit meeting of the group, La Francophonie, however, will
take him somewhere he may not want to visit immediately: Quebec City, in a
province whose voters denied his Conservative Party full control of
While Mr. Harper failed to obtain a majority in the House of Commons, he did
defeat the Liberal
which has dominated Canadian politics for much of the country's history, for
the second consecutive time. The Liberals' loss of 19 Parliament seats can
be attributed to a variety of factors, including the poor English of the
party leader, Stéphane Dion, and an unpopular proposal to tax carbon
But as the election post-mortems got under way on Wednesday, some Liberals
were suggesting that the only way to take on Mr. Harper may be to adopt one
of his own strategies. In the same way that Mr. Harper rebuilt
right-of-center politics in
political party mergers, some Liberals are now considering the idea
of an alliance, formal or otherwise, between their centrist party and the
left-of-center New Democratic Party, which is known as the N.D.P. and is led
by Jack Layton.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former Liberal cabinet minister, blamed strong showings by
New Democratic Party and Green Party candidates for enabling a Conservative
to almost defeat him in his electoral district in Vancouver, British
Columbia. "If this situation remains as is, the Liberal Party of Canada may
not be able to form a government for a long time."
He added in the interview with the Canadian Broadcasting
"We have to broaden our coalition and bring in some of the New Democrats.
And some of the New Democrats have to begin to think: is the country better
off today with Mr. Layton having 10 more seats?" The New Democrats will
control just 37 of the 308 seats in Parliament.
Mr. Dosanjh once asked himself a similar question. When he was premier of
British Columbia, he was a New Democrat.
Although Mr. Harper failed in Quebec, his long-term strategy to reunite
Conservatives was validated in Ontario. After long rejecting Conservative
candidates, Ontario voters will send more Conservatives than Liberals to the
The bad times for Conservatives in Ontario dated from 1993, a year voters
across the country rejected the Progressive Conservatives, as the party was
then known. Conservative votes in western Canada went to the Reform
a populist Western protest party, while in Quebec many of them shifted to
the Bloc Québécois, which had been founded by Lucien
a former Conservative cabinet minister. The Progressive Conservatives were
reduced to just two members nationally.
Stephen Clarkson, a professor of political science at the University of
Toronto who has written extensively about the Liberals, credits Conrad M.
bringing together Canada's conservatives by championing the
cause through The National Post, a Toronto newspaper he founded in 1998.
"He made a huge contribution to the right in Canada by creating a newspaper
that moved the country's political discourse to the right," Professor
Nevertheless, it took until the end of 2003 for the Progressive
Conservatives to merge with the Canadian Alliance, as the Reform Party had
remade itself in a bid to develop a national base. Mr. Harper, who then
headed the Canadian Alliance, led the merged Conservative Party.
Professor Clarkson, who is a Liberal, would like to see the New Democrats
and his party at least formally cooperate.
But Alan J. Whitehorn, a political science professor at the Royal Military
College in Kingston, Ontario, who has studied the New Democrats and other
socialist movements in Canada, said such a merger was unlikely.
"I don't see the N.D.P. as ready to fold," he said. "The Liberals have a
very interesting challenge. Not only are they being nibbled at by the left,
they are also being nibbled by the Greens."
The Liberal Party's problems, Professor Whitehorn said, are somewhat of its
own creation. In 2003, a Liberal government passed election changes that
effectively shifted the bulk of party financing to payments from the
government, which are based on votes. That reinvigorated the New Democrats
and allowed the transformation of the Green Party into a national force. The
Liberals, now no longer able to rely on large donations from corporations,
have become a bit like traditional television networks in today's fragmented
media market: financially weakened and trying to hold the attention of a
"The harsh reality is that the Liberals are going to have to adapt more than
any other political party," Professor Whitehorn said.
>>From the NYTimes, Thursday 10/16/08
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