Friday, December 02, 2005

O Canada!

They share nearly 3/4ths of the continent of North America, the United States and Canada. They share a common history, dating back to the 17th century. They share a common language, English, and even the same standard idiom. They share the longest unguarded border in the world. They share our goods and services--well, we trade them--with each other more than we do with any other countries. And yet they're--we're--very different countries.

I won't state the obvious differences, but I do want to point to one key point of distinction about the two countries, which is that most Canadians have a decent working knowledge of US history, while I would venture that most Americans don't really have a clue about Canada (or Mexico, our other close neighbor, with whom we share a long and sometimes fraught history). Most Canadians not only know where the US capital is, the US's population numbers, how the US political system works, and the various political, geographical, municipal and other statistics about the US. But I don't think I'm stretching when I say that most Americans don't know that much about Canada, except that it's vast, it's where Toronto and Montreal are located, its citizens love hockey and play a slightly different form of football, it produces great beer, a large portion of it is close to the North Pole, and its English speakers pronounce certain words with a recognizable accent ("about" as "aboot"). Oh, and its symbol is the maple leaf. Okay, these are gross generalizations, but take the following Canada quiz and see how well you do.

1. Canada is a
  1. Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
  2. Federative parliamentary republic
  3. Republican bicameral democracy
  4. Liberal oligarchic sovereign state
2. Canada became a confederation in
  1. 1776
  2. 1867
  3. 1812
  4. 1821
3. Canada's head of state is
  1. Paul Martin
  2. Patrick Thompson
  3. HM Queen Elizabeth II
  4. Jacques Demers
4. Canada's head of government, the Prime Minister, is
  1. Guy Maclean Charles
  2. Edward Rosevinge
  3. Stephen Harper
  4. Paul Martin
5. Canada consists of
  1. ten provinces and five territories
  2. twelve provinces and five territories
  3. seven provinces and three territories
  4. ten provinces and three terroritories
6. Canada has
  1. one official language, English, and one quasi-official language, French
  2. two official languages, English and French
  3. three official languages, English, French and Inuit
  4. no official language, but most people outside Quebec speak English
7. Canada's capital is
  1. Toronto, in Ontario
  2. New London, in Ontario
  3. Ottawa, in Ontario
  4. Ottawa, in Toronto
8. Canada holds its general elections
  1. every four years, as in the United States
  2. when the head of state so advises, and must occur every three years or less
  3. when the prime minister so advises, and must occur every five years or less
  4. when the United Kingdom so advises, and must occur every six years or less
9. The Head of State's current representative, the Governor General, is
  1. a Quebec native named Frédéric Desmarais
  2. a British native named William Lawton Perry
  3. a Haitian native named Michaëlle Jean
  4. a Hong Kong native named Adrienne Poy Clarkson
10. Canada's total population, according to 2005 estimates, is around
  1. 46-47 million people, or about equal to South Africa
  2. 33-34 million, or about equal to California
  3. 20-21 million, or about equal to Australia
  4. 17-18 million, or about equal to New York State
(Scroll down past the following paragraphs to check your answers.)


Martin's ScreamI posted the questions about Canada, because its government is undergoing a major political crisis, which is frontpage news in many parts of the world, except perhaps the US. In fact, Canada's current government has fallen. The moderate-left Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister, Paul Martin (the current Prime Minister, caricatured in Munchian fashion at right), had won 135 seats in 2004 in the 308-seat House of Commons, and thus was leading a minority government that consisted of a coalition with two smaller delegations in Canada's House of Commons, the very liberal New Democratic Party (NDP) and the separatist Bloc Québécois (BQ). In fact the NDP had only about 18 seats, and the BQ only gains seats in Quebec and pushes for Quebec as a separate nation (or for yet more concessions from the Canadian government). On November 1, 2005, a judicial commission led by Justice John Gomery issued an interim report, with findings on the financial sponsorship scandal involving a Liberal Party scheme during the mid-1990s to blunt separatist sentiments in Quebec. The misuse of funds had occurred during the previous Liberal-led governments of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (1993-2003), a close ally of former President Bill Clinton, but voters still punished the the current Liberals, in part because Martin was Chrétien's finance minister. The Gomery interim report led to an immediate drop in popularity for the Liberals. As a result, the NDP's and BQ's delegations, along with the official opposition, the Conservative Party (CP), decided to register a no-confidence vote in the government led by the Liberals under Martin, leading to a loss of confidence in the government.

JeanMartin then met with the Governor General, Michaëlle Jean (pictured at left)--who's generated considerable praise as the first Black person and second woman in her post, and controversy because of alleged pro-Quebec separatist views. Ms. Jean duly dissolved the parliament on November 29, 2005, and Martin scheduled a vote for January 23, 2006, which is when voters will return representatives to the House of Commons. The House, according to Canada's constitution (patriated to the country from Great Britain in 1981, and ratified by all provinces except Quebec in 1982), will then form a parliamentary government based on the number of seats each party gains. Whichever party gains the confidence of the House (the most votes in an absolute majority, or enough to lead a coalition in a minority government) leads the government. The Liberals have lost some ground over the last few years because of the financial scandals and other problems (including a precipitous decline in Quebec), yet they remain the country's dominant party, mainly because they win the majority of votes in Canada's most populous province, Ontario and in the maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador), do well in British Columbia, and also because they form the pro-confederation, main opposition in Quebec.

The right-wing Conservative Party is led by Stephen Harper, who formerly led its predecessor right-wing New Alliance. The Conservative Party was in fact formed in 2003 when the Progressive Conservative Party (formerly just the Conservative, or Tory Party) joined with the even more conservative New Alliance. Harper's party is strongest in Canada's western provinces, particularly the large and growing province of Alberta. The Conservatives haven't governed Canada since Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney led the House from 1984d to 1993 and hewed closely to his American counterparts, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. By the end of Mulroney's term, he was deeply unpopular; his landmark free trade agreement continues to be criticized (though the Liberals haven't reversed it), and his tax increases at the time did not reverse Canada's economic fortunes (though they subsequently improved during the mid 1990s). He also has been tied to several financial scandals. At any rate, Canada outside of Alberta and its rural west has grown more socially progressive, and at the same time richer, which has blunted the appeal of the Conservatives, who under Harper have ties to American right-wing evangelicals as well as the Republican Party. Harper even went so far as to question Canada's recent judicial rulings ratifying gay marriage, which have broad appeal across the country (except perhaps in Alberta).

Currently despite the looming final Gomery Commision report, which will be issued next spring (2006), the Liberals enjoy a lead of varying degrees. Estimates range from a one or two percentage points to as many as six. Right now it appears that the Liberals will again win the most seats, but not enough to form a majority government, which will mean yet another coalition, most likely with the NDP, and possibly the BQ. If the Conservatives were to eke out a slight plurality, they might also try a coalition government, yet ideologically they are leagues apart from the NDP, and too right-wing for the BQ, which in any case wouldn't provide enough seats. So it will probably be the Liberals, but the question remains: how weak will Martin's government be, and would a weaker showing (but still with enough votes to lead a coalition) lead him to stand down for another Liberal leader? Canadians don't appear in any mood for a right-wing government; they don't appear ready to deal yet again with Quebec's claims for attention and sovereignty; and they don't appear disillusioned or dazed enough, let alone excited for any reason, to reward the Liberals with an outright majority (as Britons did for Tony Blair, despite the Iraq War debacle). An NDP upset seems very unlikely, and the BQ doesn't compete outside its province, so there aren't many options. So things don't look great for Canada's government right now, and still another vote could come in early 2008 (as opposed to 2010, when another vote would be required by constitution) if a weak, minority government, Liberal or Conservative, gains power.
Correct answers: 1:a; 2:b; 3:c; 4:d; 5:d; 6:b; 7:c; 8:c; 9:c; 10:b. How did you do?


  1. Doh! You mean Jacques Demers ISN'T Canada's head of state?

    This was informative. Alex Trebek would be proud (pronounced "prood").

  2. J:

    Thanks for this -- eh? LOL:)

    As you know M and I are quite taken by Our Neighbor to the North (and, uh, it helps that a number of them seem to be taken with us as well:).

    I've kept an eye on recent events via the papers on-line, and agree that most likely there will be another minority Liberal government in 2006. Martin should consider stepping down, but since he was in the government being investigated by Gommery, to do so might seem to indicate that he was involved in the scandal or has something to hide. But I doubt he'll stand for the following election (which could very well be in '08).

    I'm concerned (as should Canadians be) with the ties between their Conservatives and the US Religious Right. Folks here would love to extend their hegemony northward. It may not get much traction, however, since 'diversity' is such a strong part of the Canadian political landscape and psyche, and much that was considered radical here has found a welcome home in Canada (their nationalized health care for example has ties to 19th Century western progressives who moved north).

    The Conservatives also could possibly do better with different leadership: Brian Harper is a cold fish even by Canadian standards!

  3. Great post John. I have been keeping up with Canadian politics a lot lately, mainly because they legalized gay marriage. But I have always really had a facination with Oh Canada since I visited Toronto a few years ago. They have always seemed to be more progressive and "worldly" than Americans. It bothers me that this Harper and the Conservatives have a shot at taking over the country due to scandals. And I bet that the Far Religious RIght have orchestrated this coup attempt. But I have more faith in Canadian citizens to see through the Right Wing dogma than I do Americans to see through Right Wing nonsense in this country.

  4. What would I do without J's Theatre - thanks for the insight and attention.

  5. Bernie, Jacques Demers...LOL. You know why I had to mention him, of course. I hadn't realized I'd written about Canada without mentioning Mr. Maple Leaf himself. A: Who is Alex Trebek? :-)

    Reggie, I agree with you Martin stepping down, but you're right that he probably thinks doing so would be an indication of his links to the corruption under Chrétien, though people have already tied him to it anyways (and he was a high profile Cabinet member too). He also probably wants to try and get a few things done so he'll have a legacy of sorts. But I also don't see him hanging on until 2008. Those Conservatives' ties to the Religious Wrong are very, very troubling. But they seem to be strengthening. It doesn't look like most Canadians are buying Harper's vile set of goods just yet, thank God.

    Lee, Canada does appear to be more progressive in some ways. It's a more secular society (which could be the result of the waning influence both of Anglicanism, the weak position of the Catholic Church, which is the largest Christian denomination, and the paucity of evangelicals. The Great Awakening didn't really hit Canada, nor have successive waves of American Protestantism, as far as I can tell. The country has also aggressively sought out immigrants over the last few decades, which has transformed it into a truly multicultural society at the same time that it's moved from being rural and a middling economic power to becoming one of the richest and most technologically advanced in the world. Canada was actually quite a sleepy place before the Second World War, I think. I don't think Dobson Co. are going to hoodwink the Canadians the way they continue to hypnotize way too many Americans. I just don't get it. I'm not saying a person has to take Kant's view that once you become an adult a certain level of rationalism should be expected, but at the same time, can't people see the tremendous damage that religious fanaticism has wrought on the world? Or do they just close their eyes and play possum?

    Blackgriot, thanks for dropping in!