WORLD -- May 3, 2011 at 11:20 AM ET
Canada's Political Shuffle Brings Majority Government
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)
Canada might be heading for more polarized American-style politics after Monday's national election.
The ruling Conservatives finally have a majority in parliament after five years of minority governments. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is probably the most ideologically conservative leader in modern Canadian history, even occasionally raising social issues such as abortion.
The centrist opposition Liberals were clobbered, reduced to 34 seats in parliament. Taking their place as the official opposition are the further left New Democrats, who picked up seats across the country, both at the expense of the Liberals but even more dramatically in French-speaking Quebec. There the separatist Bloc Quebecois were wiped off the map, losing 66 seats and reduced to a less-than-rump party status. For the first time since the late 1970s, Canada's parliament will composed totally of federalist parties.
Sandro Contenta, GlobalPost's correspondent in Toronto and a features writer for the Toronto Star, said Canadians voted the way they did -- giving the ruling Conservatives a majority in government -- mainly because they were seeking economic stability.
Harper ran on a message of continuing current economic policies, including reducing the country's $55 billion deficit in the next four to five years, which many believe has helped the country stave off the effects of the global recession, said Contenta.
"That's the message I think that to some extent the Canadians embraced," he said. Still, 60 percent of Canadians voted for other parties. Notably, voters in Quebec, who tend to vote in a collective fashion, defected in large numbers to the New Democrats because they regarded the Bloc Quebecois under leader Gilles Duceppe as a tired party and wanted a change. He ended up losing his seat and resigning his leadership in the party.
In voters' minds, the issue of the economy appeared to take a front seat to other domestic and international issues, said Contenta. There was very little debate about Canada's troops in Afghanistan the country's role in the NATO operation in Libya, he added.
Meanwhile, for Canadian voters, where national elections have become almost an annual event, the most important outcome of the election might be that they don't have to return to the polls for another four years, the consequence of Harper gaining a real majority. The test now will be whether he governs from the center or takes his ruling party further to the right.