Two elections

Canada elects Conservatives, and America's Republicans have the chance to do the same

Dateline 31 January 2006

Canada’s Liberal Party is one of the most successful political parties in the world. During the Twentieth Century, it spent more years in office than did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This is not, quite, a record, even the democratic world. Two of the parties in Switzerland’s coalition government have been in power since 1891, but Canada’s Liberals certainly come out ahead of America’s Democrats and Britain’s Conservatives for long-term political hegemony.

Yet, after ten years of uninterrupted power, the Liberals now find themselves rejected by the electorate. A decade after the then-governing Progressive Conservatives (PC) were almost wiped out, the right has once more taken power in Canada.

Of course, the PC wipeout was always overstated. The first past the post electoral system works pretty well in two-party systems like the US, but can produce bizarre results in multi-party systems like Canada’s. The 1993 election saw the government lose half its support to the more right wing Reform Party. Meanwhile on the left the socialist NDP collapsed with its votes transferring to the Liberals. The electorate, in other words, swung sharply to the right. The government, as a result, swung sharply to the left.

So perhaps this result is not such a surprise. Conservative voters in Canada had never disappeared. They had merely been shut out of office by splitting their vote. The Conservative Party of Canada, formed by the merger of the PCs with the Reform Party (briefly called The Alliance) has united right-wing voters at last.

Let’s see how the Quebecois react to the largely Western Conservative Party’s rule. If Quebec ever leaves Canada, the Liberals could be out of office for a very long time.

Meanwhile in Washington DC another election is approaching. House Republicans will choose between business as usual (Roy Blunt) moderate reform (John Boehner) and radical renewal (John Shadegg).

If the Republicans want to stay in power they should choose renewal. The Democrats ran Capitol Hill for an unbelievable 40 years, and institutionalized the corrupt exchange of favors with business on a monumental scale. Republicans have a long way to go before they get that bad, but even starting down that path would be a mistake.

The present scandal comprises a wide range of semi-connected issues:

Former Majority Leader Tom Delay has been indicted. But the evidence has not yet been laid out, and the prosecutor, a partisan Democrat hack, has a record of bringing politically motivated prosecutions against his enemies in both parties.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to corruption charges, and everyone is slinging mud and alleging links between their opponents and Abramoff. The trouble is ‘links’ are not the same as corrupt links. Certainly Delay and also Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid can be ‘linked’ to Abramoff. This is a long way from sending either of them to prison.

While the scandal affects both parties, it is likely to negatively impact the Republicans more – they, after all, run the place – unless they act now to clean themselves up. By clearing out their leadership and renewing their commitment to rolling back the Federal government Republicans can make anti-Washington feeling work for them.

The real problem is not that business will bribe and lobby for government favors, but that Congress has such a range of subsidies, tariffs, and public contracts to sell. A policy of ending corporate welfare, slashing trade barriers and cutting taxes ought to be a winner in an environment where people don’t trust Washington.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 31 January 2006

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