AS they prepare to vote in parliamentary elections Monday,
Canadians show signs of the distrust for "politics as usual" now
sweeping the industrial democracies. With a long recession, an
unemployment rate of 11 percent, and a growing federal deficit,
Canadian voters will likely drive the ruling Progressive
Conservative Party, or Tories, from office.
But the discontent extends far beyond disaffection with Tories:
Voters are questioning the longterm consensus that has held
bilingual Canada together.
Canada's existence has always been problematic, dating to the
French surrender of Quebec to England in 1763. Regional demands
have conflicted with Canadian national aspirations. But the three
major parties dominating politics after World War II - Tories,
Liberals, and socialist New Democrats - have joined when necessary
to keep regionalism at bay. These efforts suffered a stunning blow
last October. In a national referendum, 53 percent of voters
rejected the Charlottetown Accord, the Ottawa-backed constitutional
agreement aimed at ending Quebec's secessionist threat.
Dissatisfaction with the players in Canadian politics has
strengthened two grass-roots parties that arose during last year's
referendum debate: the Bloc Quebecois and the western-based Reform
Party. The threat of Italian-style minority governments, and a
feeling of uncertainty, loom large. Americans, who have all but
ignored Canada's election, now must turn their attention north. At
the very least, NAFTA's future is in question.
A year ago, Tory decline was a given. Prime Minister Brian
Mulroney, the least popular leader in Canadian history, had no
choice but to resign. But Canada's Tories - whose policies are more
akin to European Christian Democrats than to American conservatives
- staged a small comeback. By naming Defense Minister Kim Campbell,
a Vancouver lawyer with a sense of humor, to be prime minister, the
Tories distanced themselves from Mr. Mulroney.
Chants of "Kim, Kim, you're just like him" showed that
reshaping the Tory image was not enough. "Campbellmania" has
faded. Today, the prime minister is perceived as short on substance
and out of touch with the middle class.
Quebec often threatens to separate from Canada. Now, however,
separatists are seeking for the first time to control Quebec's
delegation in Ottawa. Polls show the Bloc - led by ex-Conservative
Lucien Bouchard, an environment minister under Mulroney - will
capture 50 of the francophone province's 75 seats in the House of
Commons. The Bloc has been able to win broad support by steering
clear of its pre-campaign emphasis on Quebec independence.
A vote for the Bloc is by no means equal to a vote for Quebec
sovereignty. But the imminent strong Bloc vote will lead to a
showdown referendum on Quebec's status in the near future.
English-speaking Canadians are voicing their anger with the Bloc
by rallying behind the Reform Party, now in second place among
anglophone voters. …