Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Manitoba's new electoral boundaries

As some fellow bloggers (Curtis, PolicyFrog and The Hack) have already pointed out, the new provincial election boundaries have been finalized. While most of the outgoing constituencies will be replaced with fairly similar new counterparts, there are a few big changes. Most notable is the loss of one seat in southwestern Manitoba and the gain of another in southeastern Manitoba.

As PolicyFrog also noted, there are some interesting name changes and I like what I see. For example, most of Inkster, a constituency named after a street, becomes Tyndall Park, a constituency named after a community. Rupertsland becomes Kewatinook (Cree for "from the north"), in a nod to the constituency's large aboriginal population.

A few nomination battles could well result. For the Conservatives, five sitting MLAs will have to fight it out over the four seats that remain in southwestern Manitoba. In south Winnipeg, the NDP-held seats of Fort Garry and Lord Roberts unite to become Fort Garry-Riverview (a much better name than the ugly Pembina-Jubilee moniker that appeared in the draft proposed maps). NDP-held St. Norbert loses Fort Richmond but gains some Tory territory from Fort Whyte.

I'll have more thoughts soon. In the meantime, those wanting to take a look for themselves should consult the
boundaries commission site and report.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The prorogation and 2009's limping victor

So after a debate that split the country and amid rallies in which words like "coup" and "antidemocratic" were tossed around, a group of opposition legislators announce they have secured a majority in the House and plan to take power.

But enough about Thailand... Here, in Canada, some coalition supporters might be disappointed that our Governor General accepted Stephen Harper's request to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament until January 26.

The Prorogation

While I'm a supporter of the coalition, I don't find her decision at all unreasonable. After all, if the opposition coalition can't stay together through seven weeks of Tory apologies and/or anti-coalition PR, what would have been the odds of it sticking it out for the promised 18 months? If it is able to hold together until the end of January, and if the Liberals can sort out their leadership issues without clobbering each other over that time, then there's a good chance it can form a workable government. And, if it does hold together, it'll be entirely within its right as a majority-group of MPs to pass non-confidence in the current government and to form an alternative one.

Of course, there'll be no clear winner and loser, even after the budget/confidence vote. Whether the Tories cling to power or the coalition takes over, Canadians will be left with an exceptionally weak federal government.

If the Tories Survive

Consider that, if the Tories do hold on, they'll be chastened and cautious. Harper will be weakened and his hold over the party will be much more tenuous than it was before all this drama -- his reputation as a brilliant tactician is in tatters. And, as part of its effort to survive, the government will likely have committed to a budget that has a more centrist or left-leaning flavour than the Conservatives would really like. Many divisive Tory policies, such as dismantling the Canadian Wheat Board, may have to be shelved. At the same time that Conservative supporters see their hopes deflated by the continued backpedaling of their own party, other parties will be able to accuse the Tories of having a hidden agenda and have many voters believe them. The Conservative Party will also have much rebuilding to do in Quebec and they'll be taken to task nationally for having risked opening the sovereignty/national unity can of worms. Finally, they'll be at the helm of a Canadian economy that's on its way downward, something they may have to rightly or wrongly shoulder the blame for the next time they face voters.

If the Coalition Succeeds

Of course, it won't be all fun and games for the coalition if it assumes power. After all, it will likely be the weakest minority government ever to preside over the country. It will be led by the Liberals, a disorganized and money-strapped shell of what was once the country's natural governing party, in partnership with the NDP, whose inexperience in federal cabinet may well show. With a mere 114 seats to the Tories' 143, the coalition will have difficulty passing bills that aren't confidence motions, since the Bloc is not bound to vote with the government on every bill. Ditto for having control of the House committees. And, like any government that holds office through 2009, it will preside over a sinking economy and a federal deficit, all of which the Conservatives will be only too happy to blame on the coalition's supposed fiscal mismanagement. Then, when the coalition parties eventually do face an election, some voters will rightly or wrongly punish them for having worked with the Bloc, not to mention for the above mentioned economic woes.

Battle Stations

These issues must be on the minds of those considering their options right now, particularly by Michael Ignatieff and his supporters, as they consider how to ease the honourable yet inept Dion out of his leadership role. Meanwhile, coalition solidarity is being driven by Dion, who desperately wants to become Prime Minister even if for just one day; Bob Rae, who's support of Dion and of the coalition is really a proxy for his own bid to stave off Ignatieff and win the leadership for himself; the NDP, which hopes to bolster its own legitimacy by sitting in a federal cabinet for the first time ever; and a diverse array of interest groups, including labour unions, women's organizations, human rights groups, wheat board supporters, arts organizations and others who abhor Tory policies and who see opportunity in the coalition.

From the Prime Minister and his crew, who seek to hold power, we should fully brace ourselves for all of the following:

- Bend-over-backwards apologies for Financial Update misdeeds (note the statement's initials -- from a joke making its rounds this week);

- Promises of a new era of cooperation (no doubt to be accompanied by a strong sense of deja vu among Canadians...)

- A budget so steeped in Liberal and NDP policies as well as treats for every Canadian that the opposition will risk embarrassement and/or the wrath of Canadians by voting against it to defeat the government;

- More national-unity-be-damned "the separatists are at the gates" hysterics and other Tory coffer-funded PR aimed at turning popular support against the coalition;

- PR aimed at driving wedges between the two Liberal Party camps; and

- A push to have the coalition accept a return to the polls if it chooses to defeat the government on January's budget.