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(Art by John Graham / @JohnGrahamArt)

Will hard right Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper's departure – if that happens tomorrow – so soon after Tony Abbott’s, change the world? Alan Austin reports.

CANADIANS VOTE on Monday (19/10/15) for their next Federal Government. Thus will end a long election campaign with several elements familiar to Australians. Who will win remains tantalisingly uncertain.

For the last two years, Canada and Australia have had much in common. Both were led by prime ministers regarded widely around the world as religiously-motivated right wing ideologues, with hardline views on women, climate, refugees and global cooperation out of step with the rest of the world.

A recent U.S. report referred to Australia’s former PM Tony Abbott and current Canadian PM Stephen Harper as

‘... the climate villains the world has loved to hate.'

It described them as

‘... the ones giggling in the corner at each year’s round of climate talks, trashing renewable energy, boasting about their reserves of coal and oil sands, and giving the diplomatic middle finger to serious emissions cuts.’ 

Both Abbott and Harper – or ‘Gollum and Mr Potato Head’ as the Toronto Star's Christopher Hume memorably called them – presided over collapsing economies while the rest of the world advanced steadily. In June this year, Canada was the only developed western country in recession. Australia was on the brink. Just two years ago, both economies were world leaders.

Australia’s economy has deteriorated on all significant variables since the election of the Coalition in 2013. Canada’s has worsened on most. The budget deficit improved from in -3.6% of GDP in 2010 to -0.3% in June. But almost all other indicators have collapsed, including economic growth, the jobless, job participation, government debt, workers’ wages, corporate profits, the value of the Canadian dollar, interest rates, terms of trade, gold reserves, business confidence and global competitiveness.

Both Abbott and Harper sought to gain political capital from fear of outsiders, particularly Muslims. Both are shameless liars.

Some parallels ended with the departure of the hapless Tony Abbott from the top job. But not all. Tax holidays for the rich, harsh border protection policies and abrasive relations with the region remain unchanged.

Both countries have been successful multicultural societies, with highly visible Indigenous people and many vibrant ethnic and faith communities. Canada is more conspicuously culturally diverse, with its strong French-speaking population. It has also integrated minority faiths better than Australia. Naheed Nenshi is the Muslim mayor of Calgary, the nation’s third-largest municipality. He was re-elected in 2013 with an impressive 74 per cent of the vote.

Other similarities include frequent tensions between the central and provincial governments, of which there are eight in Australia and 13 in Canada.

A major difference between Canada and Australia is the role of the media. Without the dominance of the malignant News Corporation, Canada generally enjoys more accurate reporting and relative freedom from the blatant fabrications rife at The Australian, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Nevertheless, most news outlets are run by large corporations, which favour the pro-business Conservative Party. Hence, economics reportage has tended to downplay the severity of the deterioration in Canada and ignore the recovery beyond.

The alternative media and active political discourse on social media are less influential than in Australia. Similarly, opinion polls in Canada are less intrusive and not used to manipulate party politics to the same extent as Down Under. 

Harper’s hard right Conservative Party faces two main challengers: the centre left New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Tom Mulcair, and the centre right Liberal Party – in the true meaning of “liberal” – led by Justin Trudeau.

Two minor parties are battling to build long term support rather win this time around: the Greens and the Bloc Québécois (BQ). Another 20 minor parties are also registered.

The federal structure is similar to Australia’s,   with the Queen, a governor general, a senate and a house of commons. A big difference is that preferences are not counted in the electorates – or ridings – so first past the post wins. This means that in a three-way contest where one left candidate gets 40% of the vote and two right candidates get 30% each – or 60% together – the minority left candidate wins. This renders outcomes less predictable and not necessarily representative of majority sentiment in the electorate.

The House of Commons has 338 ridings, so government will be formed by the party with 170+ members. This is highly unlikely, so a coalition is almost certain.

Voting is not compulsory and voter turnout has declined in recent years to around 62%.

Late polling suggests the Liberals will get around 36% of the votes, Conservatives 30%, NDP 24%, and BQ and Greens 5% each. Independents — who knows? (There are currently 17 independent or minor party MPs, including two Green and two BQ.)

Key issues in the campaign have been the economy, tax avoidance, the divisive law requiring Muslim women to remove the niqab during citizenship ceremonies, terrorism, action on climate change, protection of Canada’s environment, health care, trade deals, travel rorts by government ministers and honesty. Familiar?

On climate, a Washington-based foreign policy group claims that, with Abbott now gone, the outcome of this election could change the world:

‘... if Harper’s Conservatives lose their ability to govern, the country would likely find itself with a profoundly different climate policy — and one that could potentially influence how world powers choose to negotiate and implement a post-2020 global climate change agreement at the COP21 summit in Paris this December.’

So the questions Australian observers will be keen to answer include:

  • Can an administration which has presided over a disastrously declining economy claw its way back?
  • Will playing the anti-Muslim card succeed or backfire?
  • Will the Greens, minor parties and independents gain or lose ground?
  • How will Harper’s departure – should that happen – soon after Abbott’s in Australia impact the global quests for collaborative solutions to foreign aid and development, refugee movements, global trade and climate change?

The world could indeed be a very different place.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

The original John Graham artwork featured at the beginning of this piece may be purchased from the IA store HERE.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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