Election Night in Canada

By James Reed. James Reed, an American, observed the Canadian election visiting scholar University. | The Christian Science Monitor, November 16, 1993 | Go to article overview

Election Night in Canada


James Reed. James Reed, an American, observed the Canadian election visiting scholar University., The Christian Science Monitor


NO one would accuse American journalism of paying too much attention to Canada. The coverage tends to be episodic and superficial, even when the issues affect the United States. So the real meaning of the recent election was pretty much lost on American readers.

On Oct. 25, the governing Progressive Conservative Party was reduced from more than 150 seats in the House of Commons to a mere two. Regional parties emerged in Quebec and the Canadian West.

American coverage suggested two results. First, that Canada was more divided politically. It was widely reported that Quebec was more likely to separate. Second, American commentators reflected that the North American Free Trade Agreement was greatly imperiled. Neither of these generalizations is true.

In fact, Canada is stronger and more united today precisely because it has undergone political renewal. The country has repudiated a contemptible Conservative government after years of misrule by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and has given a clear mandate to the Liberal party under the new prime minister, Jean Chretien. He has a comfortable majority of 178 seats in the 295-seat House of Commons.

The Liberal Party (LP) is Canada's traditional governing party. In their 125-year history, the Liberals have produced such legendary prime ministers as Sir Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King (who served longer than Franklin Roosevelt), Lester Pearson, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

The Oct. 25 Liberal victory was national in scope. It included a clean sweep of the Maritime provinces and a respectable showing in Montreal. The LP won 98 out of 99 seats in Ontario. It garnered impressive margins in Manitoba, made a good performance in Saskatchewan, and gained numerous seats in the key Western cities of Edmonton and Vancouver. Once again led by a French-speaking Quebecker, the Liberals hold out the promise of a multi-ethnic and multicultural society. They promise to preserve and expand Canada's elaborate social welfare programs. One victorious candidate, John English, summed up the election as, "basically a reassertion of the country's historically distinctive political culture. Mulroney is gone, and Canada is reverting to type."

Largely missing the nature of this remarkably decentralized country, the American papers and broadcasters repeated the myth that the rise of the Bloc Qucois (BQ), which won 54 seats in the House of Commons, presages the separation of Quebec from Canada. But this is hardly the case. The issue of Quebec's separation will be decided at the provincial rather than the federal level; and in Quebec the separatist cause has never enjoyed a majority at the polls or in public opinion. In a 1980 referendum, separatism was resoundingly defeated by French-Canadians. Political analysts say no more than one-third of Quebeckers would vote to separate.

Ironically, the BQ, led by a former Ambassador to France, Lucien Bouchard, will now emerge as the official opposition in the House of Commons. They will now have the obligation to behave constructively on a wide variety of the issues facing Canadians. …

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