Not Exactly an Earthquake, but Canada's Politics Jolted June 2 Election Results in a Parliament Split by Regions, with Only One Truly National Party Left

By Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Not Exactly an Earthquake, but Canada's Politics Jolted June 2 Election Results in a Parliament Split by Regions, with Only One Truly National Party Left


Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Do Canadians want a "caring" government with lavish social programs or a tightwad deficit slasher? Should it send hearts and flowers to Quebec or outline harsh consequences if the province secedes?

Canada's election left these and other big questions facing the country unanswered. Instead, voters sliced up Parliament along stark regional lines, continuing this nation's historic transition away from a system of two broad national parties and toward a more volatile, fragmented future.

The June 2 vote confirmed 1993's election verdict that there is only one truly national party in Canada - the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. "This is a transitional election," says Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian. "Right now the pattern of Canadian politics is to have the Liberals forming a government and everyone else sniping at them." The Liberal win was overshadowed by the narrow margin of its majority - 155 seats (151 were needed), compared with the 177 it won in 1993. The party won big in Ontario and gained a bit in Quebec, but lost ground everywhere else. Those lost seats fell to the Reform Party in the West, the New Democratic Party (NDP) in prairie and Atlantic provinces, and the Progressive Conservatives (PC) in the East. So like a city block of squabbling neighbors, Canada's Parliament will ring with a cacophony of voices this fall. For the first time Parliament will include five parties with official status, says Reg Whitaker, a York University political scientist. "The key question is whether any of these opposition parties can emerge in the coming years as an alternative to the Liberals," he says. Reform says it can in the next election. In this round it accomplished its goal of becoming the "official opposition" in Parliament by capturing 60 seats, ousting the Bloc Quebecois separatists as the No. 2 party. The BQ, led by Gilles Duceppe, ran a dismal campaign, but recovered to maintain a 44-seat presence, down from 54 in 1993. Jean Charest had hoped his PCs would be an alternative, too. But his high hopes of reviving Canada's oldest political party seem dashed. Even though the party bounced back from two seats to win 20 seats, analysts point out it is confined to Atlantic Canada and five seats in Quebec. …

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