North America

Geopolitics in Canada: Politics, Economics, and Future Technologies

Canada is often considered to be a haven from geopolitics, a nation relatively free from economic want or political cant. But if by geopolitics we refer simply to the influence of geography upon politics, Canada may in fact be a prime place to study it, if only because the country posseses so much of the former when in comparison to the latter.

The basic fact of Canadian geopolitics is this: more Canadians live in the city of Toronto than live in the 2500 kilometer-wide expanse of land separating Toronto from Alberta. (Or, to put it in the most Canadian way possible, there are a heckuva lot more people who would like to see Auston Matthews win the Calder Trophy than Patrick Laine). Canada is in this way divided in two: between Alberta and BC on the one hand, in which around 25 percent of Canadians live and 30 percent of Canada’s GDP is generated, and Ontario and Quebec on the other, which account for roughly 60 percent of Canada’s population and GDP.

Source: Future Economics

These two halves, in turn, can also be divided into two parts. Alberta is separated from BC by the Rockies; Ontario from Quebec by the Anglo-French divide. (The debate is still open as to which of these two barriers is the more venerable). However, while the BC-Alberta split is pretty well balanced — Alberta’s GDP is a bit larger than BC’s, but BC’s population is a bit larger than Alberta’s — the Ontario-Quebec divide is tilted strongly in support of Ontario. By itself, Ontario accounts for an estimated 38.6 percent of Canada’s population and 38.4 percent of Canada’s GDP.

These are large figures not just in Canadian terms, but also in global ones. Few provinces or states within major countries represent such a bulk of their respective nations. Ontario’s provincial government has a budget that in recent years was larger than those of Quebec and Alberta combined, and also close to half that of Canada’s federal government (the capital of which, Ottawa, happens to be located in Ontario). The Ontario provincial budget is higher than those of any states in the US apart from California or New York. It is higher than the budgets of 15 EU nations.

Among other things, this makes the provincial election of Ontario that is scheduled to occur by 2018 a matter of some significance. According to current polls (yes, I know, polling cannot be trusted…), the Ontario Liberals likely will be thrown out of office for the first time since 2003, to be replaced with the Progressive Conservative party. This would be noteworthy given that, at present, only Manitoba is led by a Conservative government. The rest are governed by Liberal parties with majorities in provincial parliaments, or else by the New Democratic Party (in Alberta) or Saskatchewan Party (in Sasketchewan, of course), both of which enjoy majority governments too.

In Canada, due to the country’s vast size and diffuse population, provinces possess a high measure of capital and clout. The combined budgets of the ten provincial governments, for example, is larger than the federal budget. (In the US, by comparison, the 50 state budgets amount to less than half the US federal budget. And in Britain, the central government is far more prominent still). So, if provincial Liberals lose upcoming elections in provinces of considerable size—Quebec may have an election in 2018 too, and BC will likely have one this year— it might unsettle provincial relations with Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal majority; a federal majority likely to remain until at least 2020.

It is not however only Ontario’s size which tends to make it the fulcrum in Canadian politics. Ontario is also centrally positioned, both economically and politically, within the country. Economically, the four provinces west of Ontario have around one-third of Canada’s GDP, while the five provinces east of Ontario have around one-quarter of Canada’s GDP. The median line of longitude of the Canadian economy — the place where the GDP to the east equals the GDP to the west; the Prime Median, as it were — runs directly through the city of Toronto, Ontario’s capital.

Ontario trades nearly seven times more with Quebec than does any other province, and trades three times more with Alberta than does Quebec. Ontario also trades more with Canada’s four Atlantic Maritime provinces than Quebec does. Politically, moreover, Ontario shares a long border with French-speaking Quebec — a border Ottawa abuts and Montreal is just 60 km from — yet shares a language with most of the rest of Canada.

We’ve left out any mention of Canada’s three Territories, Yukon, the Northwest, and Nunavut, for the sake of simplicity. Combined, they have a population of 113,000; smaller than the smallest province, PEI, and just 0.32 percent of the overall Canadian population. (By comparison, Alaska accounts for 0.23 percent of the population of the United States)

This is where we get to the real bacon of Canadian geopolitics: the somewhat uncanny reflection of geographical realities within Canada’s electoral outcomes; specifically, in the ability of Ontario to “swing” between either Quebec or western Canada during federal elections, or else for Ontarians to vote for a party supported in neither Quebec nor in western Canada and yet still manage to have that party win (or at least, manage to avoid having any rival party acheive a majority government).

The four most recent elections, which saw Trudeau emerge with a majority government in 2015, Stephen Harper win his first-ever majority in 2011, and Harper gain only minority governments in 2008 and 2006, are ideal examples of this:

The three major candidates in the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau, Stephen Harper, and Thomas Mulcair

In 2011, Harper’s Conservatives won a majority by uniting Ontario and western Canada — including receiving 27 out of 28 seats in Alberta — even as they won only 5 out of 75 seats in Quebec. In that election Ontario and every province west of Ontario gave a large majority of their seats to Harper’s Conservatives, while, with the exception of New Brunswick (the westernmost Atlantic province), none of the provinces east of Ontario came even close to giving a majority to the Conservatives.

Quebec, in contrast, gave 59 seats to the NDP, allowing that party to become one of the two largest in Parliament for the first time in its history. 2011 was a good example of Ontario swinging to the west. (Harper, not incidentally, was born in Toronto, attended university in Edmonton, and represented a Calgary riding in Parliament).

In 2015, on the other hand, Trudeau’s Liberals won an even larger federal majority by winning most of the seats in both Ontario and Quebec, even as they were crushed in both Saskatchewan and Alberta. The Liberals won a large majority of seats in Ontario and in every province east of Ontario—except Quebec, where they won only a narrow majority—and also won exactly half the seats in Manitoba, the easternmost Prairie province. But the Liberals did not come even close to winning a majority in any other province west of Ontario.

The large victory of Trudeau (who, by the way, was born in Ottawa, went to university in Montreal, and represents a Montreal electoral district in Parliament) is a good example of Ontario swinging east. While BC did give a plurality of its votes to the Liberals in 2015 too, it only amounted to 17 out of the 42 seats in that province; in contrast, in the Atlantic Maritimes the Liberals swept all 32 seats in the four provinces of the region, and in Ontario the Liberals won 80 out of 121 seats.

In 2008 and in 2006, Ontario did not give a majority of its seats to any party. Moreover, in neither of those elections did Ontario and Quebec give a plurality or majority of their seats to the same party. This resulted in both cases in federal minority governments.

In 2008, Ontario gave a plurality of seats to Harper’s Conservatives, who won big majorities in every province west of Ontario but who lost in every province east of Ontario except New Brunswick. Quebec meanwhile gave a large majority to the Bloc Quebecois that year. In 2006, when Harper’s minority victory was much narrower than in 2008, Quebec also gave a large majority to the Bloc Quebecois, but Ontario gave a plurality to the Liberals rather than to Harper.

In 2006 the Alberta-BC divide was also larger than in 2008 or 2011: the Conservatives swept Alberta but won only a plurality in BC. (New Brunswick however did fall in line with its fellow Maritimers in 2006: all four gave a majority of seats to Liberals). In both the 2006 and 2008 elections, every province west of Ontario gave majorities or pluralities to the Conservatives, while none to Ontario’s east (except, again, New Brunswick in 2008) did so.

While geopolitical patterns such as these vary over time and so are not certain to endure, still it is clear they run deep.

In Part 2 of this 4-Part essay, we will take a more detailed look back at Canada’s past elections and the (geo)politics of Canada’s provinces. In Part 3 we will attempt to analyze the modern Canadian economy, and in Part 4 we will discuss how technological changes in robotics and communications may impact the country.

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East Asia, Europe, India, Middle East, North America, South America, South Asia

Political Dynasties and their Discontents

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Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization, and today is no exception.

In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-vs-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

It was, after all, Jeb Bush’s candidacy that split the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around a politician like Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s high disapproval rating, similarly, could even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be.

Canada

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Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau wave at supporters at the University of Toronto, February 15, 2015 (William Pitcher)

North of the border, Canada has just elected Justin Trudeau as its Prime Minister, the son of Pierre Trudeau who was prime minister for fifteen years during the late 1960s, 1970s, and first half of the 1980s. One of Trudeau’s two opponents in the election had been NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, whose ancestors include the first and ninth Premiers of the province of Quebec.

Mexico

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Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18, 2012 (Flickr)

South of the border, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto,who came to power in 2013, “is the nephew of two former governors of the State of México (the state in which Mexico City is located): on his mother’s side, Arturo Montiel, on his father’s, Alfredo del Mazo González“, according to Wikipedia.

East Asia

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping (right)

In China, the current General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is now thought to have amassed more personal power than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, is the first to come from the “princeling” class. He is the son of a prominent political figure, Xi Zhongxun, from the first generation of the Communist Party leadership. This distinguishes him from the other General Secretaries in the Communist era, including Mao Tse-Tung, whose parents were not prominent politicians and in some cases were actually quite poor.

Other top members of the current Chinese leadership are also “princelings”, most notably Yu Zhengsheng, who is the fourth-ranked politician on the 7-man Politburo Standing Committee (which is generally considered to be China’s top political body), and Wang Qishan, who is ranked sixth on the Politburo Standing Committee and may be one of the most powerful figures in China at the moment as he has been leading Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign . Wang is a princeling by marriage only: his wife is the daughter of Yao Yilin, who was a former Politburo Standing Committee member in the Communist Party.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arguably the most powerful politician the country has seen in at least a generation as well. He too comes from a political dynasty. According to Wikipedia, “his grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians… Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi,[3] is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Kishi had been a member of the Tōjō Cabinet during the Second World War”.

Meanwhile the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is the daughter of South Korea’s third president, Park Chung-hee. (And in North Korea, of course, the Kim family’s rule is now into its third generation). In Singapore, the prime minister since 2004 has been Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s modern founding father Lee Kuan Yew who served from 1959 all the way to 1990.

India

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Hillary Clinton, then America’s secretary of state, poses for a picture with Indian Congress Party leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, July 19, 2009 (State Department)

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his often fanatically right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party became in 2014 the first party in over three decades to win a majority government in a national election. Modi is not from a political dynasty himself, rather he is the reaction to the modern world’s most prominent political family of all: the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The Guardian wrote in 2007 that “the Nehru-Gandhi brand has no peer in the world — a member of the family has been in charge of India for 40 of the 60 years since independence.” The dynasty (which by the way is not related to the Gandhi) began with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-British prime minister from 1947-1964. Nehru was himself the son and nephew of significant political figures in pre-independence India. Nehru’s dynasty then continued with his only daughter Indira Gandhi (née Nehru), who was India’s prime minister from 1966-1977 and from 1980-1984, but was assassinated in 1984 by two of her own Sikh bodyguards in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

The dynasty was then followed by Indira’s sons Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister from 1984-1989 before being assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was expected to become prime minister but was instead killed in a plane crash. Rajiv’s wife Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, is the leader of India’s powerful Congress Party and the mother of Rahul Gandhi, who lost to Modi’s BJP in 2014 but still finished with more parliamentary seats and far more votes than any other candidate in the election. Sonia likely would have run for prime minister herself, but cannot because she was born in Italy.

(Sanjay’s wife Maneka Gandhi, on the other hand, has jumped ship from the historically Gandhi-dominated Congress Party and joined the BJP instead; she is currently a cabinet minister in the BJP-led government. Maneka’s son Varun has also gone over to the BJP, serving as the youngest National Secretary in the history of the party and a member of the country’s parliament. However, Maneka and Varun both remain less prominent than the Congress side of the family, which is led by Maneka’s sister-in-law Sonia and Varun’s first cousin Rahul).

Arguably, frustration with the Gandhis directly paved the way for Modi, a man who was not even allowed to enter the United States prior to becoming president because he was allegedly involved in “severe violations of religious freedom” while serving as governor of the important Indian state of Gujarat.

Philippines

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President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines speaks with his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in Davao City, March 6, 2013 (Malacañang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim)

You may have also heard about the election of the Philippines ridiculous new president Rodrigo Duterte last week. Rodrigo’s father Vicente was a provincial governor of Davao province and a mayor of Cebu, one of the largest cities in the country. Rodrigo’s cousin was also a mayor of Cebu, in the 1980s.

The Duterte’s are hardly alone in their political dynasticism: according to Public Radio International, “in the Philippines, elections in 2016 will be dominated by dynasties. About two-thirds of the outgoing Congress are heirs of political families. The outgoing president is the son of Corazon Aquino, who led the uprising against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after Marcos had her husband whacked for being a prominent political opponent. But the Marcos clan is back in the picture, with Ferdinand’s wife, son, daughter and nephew all running for different offices. Also running is the grandson of another president.”

Thailand

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Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, September 9, 2013 (UN/Jean-Marc Ferré)

In Thailand too there has been a political reaction against a political family, that of Thaksin Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before being exiled by a military coup) and his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before being removed by decree of the Constitutional Court during the Thai political crisis in 2013-2014). According to Wikipedia, the father of Thaksin and Yingluck “was a member of parliament for Chiang Mai. [The Shinawatras are] a descendant of a former monarch of Chiang Mai through her grandmother, Princess Chanthip na Chiangmai (Great-great-granddaughter of King Thammalangka of Chiang Mai).”

Europe

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Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain speak during a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 25, 2015 (La Moncloa)

Europe, at least in contrast to Asia, does not have many political dynasties at the moment. This is, perhaps, in part because European political history was reset to a certain degree following the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe’s leading politicians, including Merkel, Putin, and Erdogan, do not come from political dynasties. Neither does Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (though his ancestors were extremely wealthy) or France’s President Francois Hollande. Italian Prime Minister Mattio Renzi’s was a municipal councillor, admittedly, but that does not really count. (Angela Merkel’s grandfather was, similarly, a local politician in Danzig). Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s family was fairly prominent, on the other hand.

That said, Europe is far from dynasty-free. According to the Economist, “in Europe family power is one reason why politics seems like a closed shop. Fifty-seven of the 650 members of the recently dissolved British Parliament are related to current or former MPs. François Hollande, France’s president, has four children with Ségolène Royal, who ran for the presidency in 2007. Three generations of Le Pens are squabbling over their insurgent party, the Front National (see article). Belgium’s prime minister is the son of a former foreign minister and European commissioner. The names Papandreou and Karamanlis still count for something in Greece.”

Syria and Egypt 

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Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad and his family in the 1990s (Wikimedia Commons)

The Arab world remains full of political dynasties and reactions against dynasties, in contrast. In Syria both of these factors can be seen at the same time, as the civil war threatens to unseat Bashar al Assad, son of thirty-year ruler Hafez al Assad. (Bashar’s brother Bassel was initially supposed to take over from his father, but died in a car accident in 1994). In Egypt, meanwhile,the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in some ways a response to the presumed attempt by an elderly Hosni Mubarak (diagnosed with stomach cancer in the same year he was deposed) to pass on power to his son Gamal, who had not served in the Egyptian military as Hosni Mubarak and previous rulers Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdul Nasser had done.

Saudi Arabia 

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Prince Muhammad bin Nayef speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh while Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir looks on, January 27, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

In Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest Arab economy, a half-shift from one Saudi political dynasty to another may just be getting under way. Thus far in the history of the modern Saudi state (beginning around 1930), the country has been ruled either by founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud or else by one of his 45 or so sons, six of whom have become king, most recently King Salman who took the throne in January of 2015.

Last year, however, Salman removed his half-brother Muqrin (another son of Abdulaziz) from the office of Crown Prince, replacing Muqrin with their nephew Mohammad bin Nayef,  who would become the first king in the next generation of Saudi royals if ever takes over. He might never take over, though: many people now believe that is Salman’s own son Mohammad bin Salman, who is the Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, who is the likeliest to become the next king when Salman (who is 80 years old) steps down or passes away, even though Deputy Crown Prince is formally a lower-ranking position than Crown Prince – and even though Mohammad bin Salman is only 30 years old, which would be an extremely young age for a modern Saudi king.

If Mohammad bin Salman does become king over another prince like Mohammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia could in effect be moving from a dynasty of Abdulaziz to a dynasty of Salman. There are now fears that the political situation in the country could become quite messy if the other branches of the huge Saudi royal family try to avoid becoming sidelined from power as a result.

Iran

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Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks as parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani and the chief of the supreme leader’s office, Mohammad Golpayegani, attend a ceremony in Tehran, October 3, 2015 (Reuters)

Across the Gulf, in Iran, dynasties are not too big a factor within the current religious government. Recently the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini even was blocked from participating in elections. One big exception to this, however, is the powerful Larijani family, made up of five brothers in key positions in the government. It includes Ali Larijani, who is the Speaker of the parliament and a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Sadeq Larijania, Iran’s Chief Justice.

Israel

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Labor party leader Isaac Herzog (left) and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (right)

A number of leaders in Israel hail from political families as well. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who has now spent more time as prime minister (from 1996-1999 and now again since 2009) than any politician in Israel’s history apart from Israel’s founding  prime minister David Ben Gurion (who Netanyahu will soon overtake), is the son of Benzion Netanyahu. Benzion was a professor of history at Cornell University, an influential Zionist activist and magazine editor, and personal secretary to one of Israel’s most prominent founding fathers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Bibi is also the younger brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the unit commander of and only person to be killed during the famous Operation Entebbe raid in 1976, when 100 or so Israeli commandos rescued 102 hostages of a Palestinian airplane hijacking (compared to 3 hostages killed) from where they were being held in Idi Amin-era Uganda more than 3000 km south of Israel, and returned them safely to their homes in Israel and France.

Israel’s Labour Party leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, meanwhile, who won more than twice as many votes as any other Jewish party apart from Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the most recent elections of 2015, is, according to Wikipedia, “the son of General Chaim Herzog, who was the Sixth President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, and the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1936 to 1959″.

The next largest Jewish political party after Labour and Likud is the Yesh Atid Party, led by Yair Lapid. Lapid is a former news anchor who is the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a former government minister, parliamentary leader of the opposition as recently as 2005, and radio and television personality.

Brazil 

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Brazilian Social Democracy Party leader Aécio Neves answers questions from reporters, May 28, 2015 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Leaving the Middle East, Brazils’ Aecio Neves, who in late 2014 very narrowly lost a presidential election to Dilma Rousseff (who may now be on the verge of being impeached herself), is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, who would have been President of Brazil in 1985 if he had not passed away before taking office. Roussef and her influential predecessor Lula da Silva are not from prominent political families, however.

Peru

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Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010 (Flickr/Keiko Fujimori)

In Peru, the country is in the midst of a presidential election, which is a two-round system that began in April and will end on June 5.  Its leading candidate is former First Lady Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Alberto exiled himself to Japan following corruption and human rights violation scandals at the end of his ten yeas in power in 2000, but was later arrested in Chile in 2005 and is now serving a prison sentence back in Peru.

Argentina

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President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina speaks in José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, April 27, 2012 (Presidency of Argentina)

Argentina, finally, has just recently ended sixteen consecutive years of being presided over by a Kirchner, first by Nestor Kirchner from 2003 to 2007 and then by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner from 2007 until the end of 2015. The Kirchners were Peronists, a political movement of sorts that has dominated modern Argentine politics, which is named for another power couple, Juan Peron (president from 1946 – 1955) and his second wife Eva Peron, who was a significant political figure in her own right and nearly became Vice President. (Juan’s third wife Isabel Martinez de Peron, meanwhile, was President of Argentina from 1974 to 1976). The incoming Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who is replacing the Kirchners, does not come from a political dynasty, however. His father was just a humble business tycoon.

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North America

Canada Goes to Vote!

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The last time Canada voted, in 2011, the result was an election of first-in-a-while’s:

  •  the first party to win a majority government since 2000
  • the first Conservative party to win a majority government since 1988
  • the first time since 1962 that a Conservative party won three consecutive federal elections
  • the first time in Canadian history that the Liberal Party won fewer than 40 seats (it got just 34, down from 77 seats in 2008 and 100-plus seats in every other election since 1988)
  • the first time the Bloc Quebecois won fewer than half of Quebec’s parliamentary seats (it won just 5%, down from 65% in 2008 and an all-time high of 72% in 2004 and 1993)
  • the first time the Bloc Quebecois won less than 38% of Quebec’s popular vote (it got just 23%, down from an all-time high of 49% in 2004 and 1993)
  • the first time the Liberals were not one of the top two seat-winners in Canada’s largest province of Ontario
  • the first time the New Democratic Party won more than 43 seats nationally (they won 103, 59 of which came from Quebec)
  • the first time the modern Conservative Party fared decently well with non-white voters
  • the first time the Green Party won any seats at all (though it only got a single one, and it received a lower share of the popular vote, 3.9%, than in any other election since 2000)
  • and finally, the first time since 1984, 1958, and the World War elections of 1940 and 1917 that a single political party won either the popular vote or the most parliamentary seats in each of the eight Canadian provinces outside of French-speaking Quebec and remote Newfoundland (the Conservatives won the popular vote and the most seats in all eight of these provinces, in spite of winning just 39.6% of the popular vote and 54% of seats nationally)

Such a significant Conservative success reflected the fact that Canada’s economy and banking system performed better than those of most other rich-world nations following the global financial crisis. It was in fact only a year after the election that Bank of Canada chairman Mark Carney was enticed to move abroad to run the central bank in Britain, even though the British financial system is far larger, far more worldly, and far less dependent on natural resources than Canada’s, and had never before been run by a non-Briton. The myth of the super-responsible Canadian banker or financial regulator, a sort of modern Mountie in the otherwise cutthroat world of global capitalism, was in full swing. While this myth came mainly from other developed countries like the United States and England, which were desperately seeking an alternative to what they saw as their own untrustworthy financial classes, Canada’s Conservatives banked on the pride and confidence it generated to help them win big in 2011.

Like most stereotypes, this trait of the prudent, conscientious, and highly skilled Canadian banker may be true in certain cases – witness, for example, Brad Katsuyama, the hero of Michael Lewis’ recent financial bestseller Flash Boys – but still it is an exaggeration at best. Even as the Conservatives spoke of how their financial regulators and Canadian bankers had acted with the utmost restraint, the very opposite of greedy and wild Wall Street and Washington, they also enticed Canadian and foreign investors with lucrative dreams of becoming an “energy superpower”, intending the vast oil sands reserves in western Canada and Newfoundland to finally wean America off of the Middle East — and, simultaneously, to diversify Canada’s export dependence away from America by fueling a resource-hungry emerging Asia. Of course, this was still a year or two before “shale” and “fracking” would become household words, and before China’s raw materials imports really started to slow.

Now, with commodity prices having plunged and another Canadian election coming up on October 19, the Conservatives are in a bind. They are attempting to take the credit for Canada’s past successes while trying to shift the blame for its current flirtation with recession onto low oil prices, just as the NDP and Liberals are trying to pin the blame on the Conservatives for the current slowdown while shifting the credit for Canada’s past success onto the previously high oil prices. The NDP leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, recently claimed that “Harper [the Prime Minister] put all of Canada’s eggs in one basket and then dropped the basket”, referring to the government’s support for the energy sector. (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil and gas, second largest producer of uranium, sixth largest generator of electricity, and fourteenth largest producer of coal). And yet Canada’s economic troubles might in a strange way actually work in the Conservatives’ favour, since they are still thought by many to be the party most adept at achieving GDP growth.

Then again, maybe Canada’s economic slowdown will end up haunting the Conservatives next week. Already this past May the Progressive Conservative party lost a provincial election in the right-wing stronghold of Alberta, where falling energy prices have been hitting the economy especially hard. Not only did Alberta’s Conservatives win six times fewer seats than the NDP did, but they also trailed behind the Wildrose Party, an Alberta-specific party that was formed in 2008, which also finished far ahead of the Conservatives in seats and even nearly beat the Conservatives in the popular vote.

So while nothing is certain yet even at this late stage in the national campaign, it does seem as though the best that Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative Party can hope for is to take the helm of a minority government like it did in 2004 and 2008. This seems to be an achievable goal for the Conservatives, since even if they win fewer seats than they did in 2011, which is likely, they could still benefit from the fact that the NDP and Liberals may divide the anti-Conservative vote along provincial, linguistic, and generational lines, if the NDP again depend heavily on getting votes from young people, British Columbia, and especially Quebec, and if the Liberals again do not.

In foreign affairs, Harper’s Conservatives are keeping to their strongly held anti-ISIS, anti-Putin, and pro-Israel model, while the NDP and Liberals are trying to stick them with the blame of not doing enough for Syrian refugees, polluting the global climate with carbon emissions, fear-mongering over the threat of Islamic terrorism and the spread of the Niqab within Canada, and, as it is often put, “betraying Canada’s traditional peace-keeping role”. (Canadians miss the days, which reached their apex under George W. Bush, when they were viewed as the good guys and Americans would sometimes pretend to be Canadians when travelling overseas). With Canadian soldiers now back from Afghanistan, where they suffered by far the most casualties of any Western armed forces apart from those of America or Britain, few Canadian voters are in favour of embarking on any new “on the ground” military interventions abroad. As a result, much of the debate has been whether or not the country should remain a token part of the international air force bombarding ISIS-held territories in eastern Syria.

The Liberals, who had won ten of the past thirteen federal elections until they were defeated in 2004 and 2008 and then crushed in 2011, have chosen Justin Trudeau, son of four-term former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and actress Margaret Sinclair, as their comeback kid. Trudeau was born less than ten months after his parents wed; his mother was only 22 years old at the time, while his father was 52 and three years into his nearly unbroken decade a half long tenure as PM. Trudeau the Son has had anything but a simple life. His parents were divorced when he was six years old, and his mother continued to be under media scrutiny as a result (among other things) of possibly having relationships with Ted Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Wood. Most tragically, one of his two full siblings was killed in an avalanche when he was 27 years old.

In this election Trudeau has often been attacked for his inexperience (he only became an MP in 2008 and party leader in mid-2013), his youth (proving that Canada may be on the verge of entering a topsy-turvy Baby Boomer-led world in which being a 43 years old father of three can still be considered “too young”), his pretty-boy image, and of course his being a political princeling at a time when Canadian voters may be somewhat wary of family dynasties because of the despised W. Bush presidency and the Clinton-Bush faceoff that may be just around the corner south of the border. In 2011 the Liberals received fewer seats than the Conservatives or NDP in every province or territory outside of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island (which together are home to fewer than 700,000 people) and tied with the Conservatives in Nova Scotia, yet still they remain hopeful that they will bounce back and re-take the Prime Minister’s office. Their trust in Trudeau may prove fruitful: recent polls have for the first time put the Liberals relatively far ahead in the lead with 35 percent support, compared to 29 percent for Harper’s Conservatives and 25 percent for Mulcair’s NDP.

While Trudeau is still seen as a political prince by much of the Canadian public, less well-known is that Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s candidate for Prime Minister, also comes from a political lineage: his great-great and great-great-great grandfathers were both Premiers of Quebec. Mulcair is the second-born child of ten siblings in a half-Irish Catholic, half-French Canadian family, and grew up outside of Ottawa (on the Quebec side of the Ontario-Quebec border) and later in a suburb of Montreal. As recently as 2007 he was the NDP’s sole member of parliament from Quebec, which has since become the party’s political base. He was not, however, chiefly responsible for the NDP’s undprecedented success in the 2011 election, but rather came to his post as NDP leader following the death of 61-year-old Party Leader Jack Layton, who tragically died from cancer less than four months after his party’s massive electoral upswing that year.

The NDP was until relatively recently seen as a “far left” party many Canadians, but Mulcair has now been trying to position it closer to the political centre by promising, like the Conservatives but unlike the Liberals, to run a balanced federal budget next year and not raise income taxes for even the highest-earning Canadians. When asked in a recent debate about the need to run a deficit in order to provide government stimulus spending for the economy, Mulcair said that “Harper has hit the snooze button while Trudeau has hit the panic button”.

Mulcair has, however, kept more to traditional left-wing NDP positions on other issues like childcare support, corporate taxation, minimum wages, and environmental protection. He has in the past, from 2003 to 2006, served as Quebec’s provincial Minster of Sustainable Development, Environment, and Parks. Quebec is especially important for the NDP, as at the moment they hold 79 percent of its seats – and Quebec has 24 percent of Canada’s seats – compared to just nine percent for the Liberals, seven percent for the Conservatives, and five percent for the Bloc Quebecois.

For a country in which per capita carbon emissions are the highest among G7 economies and where love of the natural environment is held as both a defining national principle and mandatory beer commercial theme, Canada’s political leaders have been surprisingly ungiving on the subject of climate change. While all of the major parties have said they would invest in fossil fuel alternatives like wind and solar – a policy that has already led to a solar panel boom in a country that is not at all rich in wintertime sunshine – none are bullish on carbon taxes. Harper’s position is that they are little more than a left-wing trojan horse for general tax increases, so he is against them. Trudeau on the other hand is in favour of helping the provinces continue to take the lead on this issue (currently, British Columbia has a carbon tax and Ontario and Quebec cap-and-trade), while Mulcair supports a countrywide cap-and-trade system.

Even the Green Party has not been arguing for carbon taxes as much as one might assume they would. Instead they have been trying to position themselves as more than just a single-issue party, in order to remain more than just a single-seat party. (For the moment they actually possess three seats, because two members of parliament who were victorious as NDP representatives in the last election have since changed their colours to Green). Green Party candidates have been advocating for other popular policies, like a guaranteed minimum income and the repeal of Bill-C51. Party leader Elizabeth May recently told famous Canadian broadcaster Peter Mansbridge that they are likely to win 12 -15 seats and then ideally become a political kingmaker in parliament. This seems highly improbable: hatred of Stephen Harper has now built up to such a great extent among left-wing Canadians that Green supporters may be tempted to vote “strategically” for the NDP or Liberals just so that he will finally be kicked out of office.

Will Harper be kicked out of office? And if so, who will become Canada’s first new Prime Minister in a decade, Trudeau or Mulcair?

Tune in next week to find out.

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North America

Canada’s Election – and what it could mean for the TSX

[Update– My predictions in this article were incorrect: the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, ended up winning a majority government in parliament. I didn’t see that coming!]

In most countries, investors usually have a clear idea of what they want to see from an election. They want the victory of a competent, “market-friendly” candidate, with a majority government and no significant regional divisions displayed in the country’s voting patterns. This is, in fact, what they got out of the most recent Canadian federal election, in 2011: the right-of-centre Conservative Party won a decent-sized majority government (which was Canada’s first majority government since prior to 2004), winning in Ontario, British Columbia, and the Prairies, while at the same time Quebec abandoned its independence-minded Bloc Quebecois en masse in favour of the NDP, which also became the largest opposition party by a large margin in Ontario, British Columbia, and the country as a whole.

From the perspective of investors, it is unlikely that the 2015 election will be much more favourable than the current situation that exists in Canada. Even if the Conservatives were to win an even larger majority than they have now, which seems unlikely, this would still only be a continuation of the status quo, and would therefore be unlikely to generate any excitement among Canadians or foreign investors. Plus, given that the Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister for just short of ten years now, this status quo may start to become tiring even for investors and Conservatives. It would certainly not induce any sort of “hope and change” optimism that could potentially help stimulate markets in the short-term. To the contrary, the election campaign will probably make Canadians less confident in the health of their economy, as both the Liberals and the NDP may spend it trying to convince Canadians that Harper has brought the country to the brink of a recession.

In contrast, it is not very difficult to imagine that the elections could make Canada less appealing to investors. Here’s one scenario that would be much worse from an investor’s view: the Liberal Party, led by 43-year old Justin Trudeau (the son of a former Canadian Prime Minister) wins a minority government in parliament, while, on a provincial level, the country is regionally divided in its voting patterns, with Ontario going primarily for the Liberals, Quebec voting primarily for the NDP, the Prairie provinces voting primarily for the Conservatives, and British Columbia splitting its vote between two or three of the parties.

In such a scenario, Canada would have changed from having a “market-friendly” majority government led by an experienced Prime Minister and having no regionalist tendencies reflected in its voting patterns, to having a left-wing minority coalition government led by a young inexperienced Prime Minister (who would have been chosen purely because of his family name) and having significant regionalist divisions between eastern Canada and western Canada and between Quebec and the rest of the country reflected in its voting patterns.

If the NDP defeat the Conservatives instead of the Liberals, meanwhile, which is also possible (the NDP are currently the second largest Canadian party in parliament by far), it would bring to power a party that has never been in power before in its history, which until relatively recently was viewed by many conservatives as being “far left”, and which has a leader who is only in charge because of the tragic death of the former leader of the NDP following the party’s unprecedented success in the Canadian election of 2011.

Even worse, a staunchly provincialist party like the Bloc Quebecois, which is currently polling at around 10-20 percent in Quebec, could theoretically end up becoming the kingmaker in a split between the Conservatives and a Liberal-NDP coalition. Investors could turn on Canada to a certain degree if they begin to think that an increasingly fragmented result such as this is likely to occur. Thus, while the defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party or the loss of its majority position in parliament would not necessarily be bad for Canada over the longer term, it arguably represents a short-term challenge for the Canadian economy – and in particular, for Canadian financial markets – during the election year ahead.

For more on the economic position Canada currently finds itself in, see 5 Challenges for Canada’s Economy in 2015

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