Thursday, October 9, 2008

Politics: Regionalism Danger?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Perhaps Canadians are a bit touchy about the subject matter because of the history of Quebec separatism, but just a couple weeks ago there seemed to be the distinct possibility of the current election having very regional results that might have again placed national unity in question.

Many have viewed Canada as only having two national parties in this century, the Conservatives and Liberals. The Bloc Québécois for obvious reasons (as a nationalist party) only existed in Quebec, the NDP might be all over English Canada but had no electoral success in Quebec, and no other party looked like a serious contender for a seat in any riding.

Before this election was called, it looked like there might be four national parties. The NDP had finally elected someone in Quebec, Thomas Mulcair in the Montreal riding of Outremont, and was positioning itself as a truly national party. The Green party had a convert in parliament, in British Columbia's Blair Wilson, and party leader Elizabeth May had a high media profile and was inching her party's national numbers up toward 10%. Meanwhile in Quebec, the ultimate regional party, the Bloc, seemed to be in retreat, and the bizarre series of events in May 2007 in which Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe was running for the leadership of the provincial Parti Québécois one day, and not running the next seemed to symbolize the disarray. Some even thought the Bloc might be disappearing.

Then, after a few weeks of campaigning, all of the sudden the trends all seemed to turn back to regionalism. Far from being a dead party, the Bloc gained traction claiming that they were the only way to stop a Conservative majority and its perceived anti-arts agenda. The NDP started looking like a regional Vancouver-area party (never mind its Ontario incumbents) as the Liberals reeled from the effects of a provincial carbon tax in British Columbia. And, the Liberals were being treated as a non-factor except around Montreal in Quebec and in retreat in so much of the country that some whispered that it might be reduced to an essentially Ontario-only party. Add to all that speculation some wild rumors that the Greens were making serious inroads in the Maritimes, and all of the sudden there was the specter of a NDP British Columbia, Conservative Prairies, Liberal Ontario, Bloc Quebec, and Green Atlantic Canada.

One of the criticisms of the current Conservative government has been that it has trouble representing the whole country because of its relative lack of seats in certain areas, most notably Quebec. Some blamed the whole Maxim Bernier scandal on the Conservatives trying to make an under-qualified Member of Parliament take on too prominent of a role in an attempt to better represent Quebec. If all parties had only regional bases, it would be almost impossible to form even a coalition government that truly represented the whole country--since even that coalition would leave everyone else out.

Of course, as more polling data comes out, the absurdity of that whole thesis is becoming clear. The Greens may not win a single seat, as one poll has now shown even party leader Elizabeth May in third place in her Central Nova riding. The NDP may be getting all the positive publicity in BC, but shows the Liberals hanging on to at least three seats, and probably closer to ten. Furthermore, it's even possible that the Liberals will have as many seats as the Conservatives in shows them with ten clear ridings as of today.

The real story of this campaign seems not to be regionalism, but a step toward John Duffy's thesis of a urban-rural divide discussed previously. The Conservatives, if they make any gains at all, will likely do so in rural areas, and the NDP looks to hold onto and perhaps add to its urban successes across the nation.

Of course, there's still a few days left for things to swing back toward regionalism again.

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