Canada Kart

Canada Kart
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Despite the distracting occurrence of countless more interesting things elsewhere on this planet, politics in Canada has continued to happen.

Not a lot of politics, mind you. In early August, Prime Minister Harper announced he would be running for a fourth term in 2015, and celebrated by suspending the parliament for a couple of months, giving himself and his fellow legislators a nice little summer holiday. Harper’s developed a fondness for shutting down the House whenever random fancy strikes him, though of course critics say the fancy isn’t random at all, but rather correlates quite conveniently with the emergence of scandals the PM would rather not see debated — in this case, the recently-revealed corruption of several Harper-appointed senators.

But in any case, with our politicians nominally off the job until October, Canada’s political coverage has been dominated by the sort of light-n-fluffy analysis of polls and personalities that usually takes a backseat in busier times.

I was particularly captivated by a couple of polls released last week by the Nanos people that ranked Canada’s various party leaders according to four fun variables of generic political skill. Who, asked Nanos, is your favorite party leader? Okay, now who do you consider the most competent? How about most trustworthy? Visionary?

The results, with only slight exaggeration, are what you see on the toon above.

Stephen Harper is down ten popularity points from his 2011 share of the popular vote, from 39% to 29%, but has basically middle-of-the-road stats on everything else, with his single highest-ranked skill (34%) being “competence.”

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, the late prime minister’s son and relative political neophyte, does terribly in competence (17%) but is the most popular party leader at the moment, with a voter preference of 34%. He’s also slightly ahead of Harper in what George H.W. Bush memorably called the “vision thing” — Justin’s “vision for Canada” rating is 29% compared to 25% for the PM.

Then there’s Thomas Mulcair, the boss of the NDP. Though Mulcair was the inheritor of a lot of high expectations when he assumed the leadership of the New Democrats from the late Jack Layton in 2012, to say he hasn’t quite met them would be too charitable by half. Aside from the monstrously unpopular and unlikeable leader of the fourth-place Green Party, Elizabeth May (competence rating: 3%) and the completely absent and unknown boss of the Bloc Quebecois, Daniel Paillé (whose “vision for Canada” stirs a whopping 1%), Mulcair ranks the worst of the party leaders on every single metric, with not one of his skills winning even 20% public support.


Well, to begin, I think it has to be said that there’s something quite wrong with any political system in which even the two “most popular” candidates for the nation’s highest office both command well under 50% loyalty of the voting public. Canada’s entrenched culture of political apathy and disillusionment poses a serious problem for the future of self-government in this country, and the inability of any leader to foster a truly viable, national coalition of voters reflects poorly on all involved. By American standards, both Harper and Trudeau are scraping up worse numbers than George W. Bush’s average approval rating during his disastrous second term (37%). I don’t care how different the parliamentary system is, that’s bad.

Nevertheless, the inescapable fact is that one of these two men is going to be Canada’s next ruler. Mulcair, as I’ve written about before, is simply too much of an NDP caricature — shrill, frumpy, dogmatic, and cold — to foster any sort of warm feelings, while J-Tru basically offers much of the same progressive agenda in a far more attractive, charming, charismatic package. The NDP has long favored legalizing marijuana, for instance, yet that cause is now inseparably tied to the Liberal brand thanks to Justin’s high-profile summer “coming out,” in which he vividly shared stories of his own recreational pot use as part of his effort to undermine the drug’s stigma. Good policy or not, the move was quintessential Trudeau. Indeed, he and Mulcair are basically walking answers to the age-old question of what even differentiates the Libs from the NDP in the first place — in a word, style.

Harper, meanwhile, is unbeloved and uninspired, but also familiar, stable, and unthreatening. Such is the main takeaway from the massive disparity between his “competence” rating and Justin’s; while JT brings some promise of freshness and novelty, the risk factor is extreme. I’m reminded of an old Onion article from 2004: “Bush Calls Incumbency Key Issue Of Campaign.” So long as Harper can ensure 2015 is fought on a similar front — who do you trust more to be prime minister, the actual prime minister or some untested burnout trust fund-baby drama teacher with pretty hair — the markedly cautious tendency of the Canadian voter to always break for the incumbent can’t work to anything but his advantage.

The Canadian federal election of 2015 “is still a long ways away,” we are obligated to say, and though I’d argue the polling “fundamentals” favor Harper in the long run, the fact remains he still has to pull an additional 10% voter support from somewhere if he plans to preserve his parliamentary majority for another four years. Not that he’ll be bereft of resources to achieve that, of course. When parliament resumes sitting next month, few believe the coming legislative agenda will be anything but electoral, with the Conservatives breaking out as many populist goodies as they can cram into a single parliamentary session. Harper himself has smugly claimed that since he’s already fulfilled all his campaign promises he doesn’t quite know what he’s gonna tackle next, but whatever autumn bills he ends up promising, you can be sure all of ’em will have received the backroom approval of countless focus groups and partisan brand consultants.

October 19, 2015 will be Canada’s first-ever fixed-date election (assuming the PM decides to obey his own fixed election day law and not call one earlier), an “American-style” reform that’s going to ensure much of the next two years of Canadian politics take the form of an “American-style” perma-campaign, with omnipresent attack ads, endless fundraising, and constant campaign speeches.

If Canadian politics has been in rather short supply lately, in other words, we may soon fondly reflect on the Summer of ’13 as merely the calm before the storm.


  1. JAM

    This article is undermined by a mathematical ambiguity/misunderstanding. The Nanos polls ask: Which of the federal leaders would you best describe as the leader with the best [insert attribute]?

    Each respondent can only answer one leader name. Given there are so many parties (and people typically think that their party leader is the best at everything) it is not surprising that the numbers for Harper and Trudeau are only in the 30s. A respondent cannot answer that they feel both Harper and Trudeau have a good [attribute], they may only respond who they think has the best [attribute].

    In the US, the presidential approval polls are simply an approve/disapprove question; the numbers are not comparable.

  2. Andrew

    Indeed, at the very least, one needs to make a better argument than "Okay, there are five parties, rather than two, but only 30-something percent of people finding them 'the best' is much worse than 40-something percent finding them 'acceptable'"

  3. Jake_Ackers

    Seems more like Harper might be facing "Harper fatigue" than a notable opposition. If Trudeau catches steam people might be gullible enough to vote for him.

  4. Taylor

    Not quite on either count.

    -There's no real fatigue for Harper, in fact, for most of the population, he's just kinda there. There's fatigue at the general methods of the governing party, but aside from comment trolls, most people don't tend to blame Harper himself.

    -Trudeau's caught steam already, and voting for him isn't gullibility, it's an alignment with a certain belief of how Canada should be over the vision of Harper.

  5. Jake_Ackers

    Howard lost in AU for several reasons. But there was a part that people just wanted a new leader. It happens.

    And I believe voting got him is gullible when it is solely based on image. Much like Obama. If you believe he can get things done that is another. But when people support a candidate because he is cool. Well that is being gullible.

  6. Taylor

    First Para: Good for them. It's not happening here.

    Second Para: A good portion of his supporters don't support him because he's "cool." Most support him because he has the same values as his father, who many people) really admired, such as rights being enforceable throughout the country and an activist Federal government to do so. This includes a lot of older folks. Others support him because they think he'll break the NDP/LIberal logjam.

    Some things are different here.

  7. Jake_Ackers

    Fair enough but he still lacks experience. Now that is the key factor for a PM. I believe for a PM you need experience. After all it's PM not MP. He could be Canada's prime executive, therefore I would like to see a bit of experience there and not just people who share my beliefs.

  8. Yannick

    How much experience did Harper had when he was elected? He had spent most of his life as the president of a think tank organization whose avowed goal was to get rid of public healthcare.

  9. jeremyturcotte

    Actually, Harper had only been at the National Citizens Coalition for 5 years. Before that he was a Reform MP for 4 years, and before that he was the parliamentary advisor to Deborah Grey and one of the main architects of the policy platform of the Reform Party.

  10. oarboar

    Interestingly enough, I compared Harper's and Trudeau's experience below. Maybe an extra 55 days is crucial, after all.

  11. Trev_Lewis

    From what I've seen of Trudeau, the thing that impresses me most is the fact that he's cool-headed. If you watch question periods (or excerpts therefrom), Harper's lackey du jour is frantically and emphatically trying to shift blame, Mulcair is roaring out near-slanderous allegations, and Trudeau is calmly requesting further explanation. Admittedly, this is exaggerated, but he seems to be the most level-headed person there (at least, of those who get to talk regularly). Being able to be civil when nobody else is goes a long way, at least for me.

  12. Jake_Ackers

    It's easy, when you are on the reefer as a MP. :P

  13. Yannick

    Let's remember that Harper has had an almost constant 60% disapproval rate from his first election to today. There's never been a time that Harper has had an approval rating higher than his disapproval rating. His election has always had to do with the divided opposition than any support for himself.

    Conservatives like to say that the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien also benefited from a divided opposition. This is true, but the difference is that the opposition was not unanimously against Chrétien like it is against Harper. The lowest approval rating Chrétien ever got was 46%, which is higher was ever achieved by Harper.

  14. Jake_Ackers

    If Justin Trudeau was able to lead he would of united the left under one banner much like Harper has. Until he does that, I don't think he should even be considered for PM. That is his first test. And you don't need one left wing party but at least unite it under one ticket for that election. If it doesn't hold you can always break up later.

  15. Steve

    Why would anyone want to unite the Harper opposition. It would just create a muddled mess, of one side vs the other. I don't like it.
    Only the Siths deal with absolutes, and any mentality of us vs them, leads to less discussion and debate.
    If Trudeau united the left, and Harper had the right, there would not longer be any middle ground. Politics would be as uncompromising as it is down south.
    Also, Harper didn't unite the right. He took over the weakened, battered, almost destroyed conservative party.
    Finally, is that your only criteria for leadership? What about compromise, the ability to work together for a mutually better future? The ability to work with others, for the betterment of all, is a quality of leadership. One of many.

  16. Jake_Ackers

    Yah and he hasn't really shown he could do any of that. He is running on hope and potential. Would you really trust one of the largest economies in the world and a healthy military, to a person who hasn't shown they have the experience and know how to get it done? Let's be realistic. Hope and potential didn't get the US out of 2 recessions (Obama and Carter). Nor did it solve many of the US's international problem. It can be seen around the world. Experience is needed.

    Simply fact is Trudeau may be good for the future but not now. He hasn't done much to prove he can lead a nation of this size now. Unless you count speeches as enough experience.

  17. Trev_Lewis

    So, you go with Onion's impression of Bush that incumbency is a key electoral issue? There's only one way to get relevant experience in running a country, and that's by running a country. Preferably, the same country, since each country has vastly differing political issues to consider. This isn't Orson Scott Card's Earth, where running Haiti for a few months makes you qualified to lead a world government.

  18. Jake_Ackers

    Or being a MP for a sometime and helping getting laws passed. Mayor? Governor? General? Businessman? Minister of ANY department? How about having someone who actually ran something that other people highly depended on? The pro-Trudeau people are sounding just like the pro-Obama. "He has potential and that is enough to run one of the major economies of the world."

  19. Taylor

    Why can't you accept the fact that NOT EVERYTHING IS LIKE AMERICA?

    Different county, different system of government, different expectations.

  20. Jake_Ackers

    Not saying it has to be. Just saying that when people without experience run to be executive of a country their supporters always paper over the lack of experience. So Canada doesn't need an executive with experience? If you are okay with that fine but I still wouldn't want someone like that. If someone has their finger on the trigger (so to speak) they better be able to know how to use it.

  21. Trev_Lewis

    I think the American federal government is a more relevant example than the Sith. They have a united left and right (or, really, near right and far right, with left being utterly ostracized), and their election campaigns are indistinguishable from pre-war propaganda, they decide elections often by a 2% margin (or less), they end up with deadlocked legislatures regularly (though this is as much a symptom of their elected senate and separately elected congress as it is the 2-party system). What I'm trying to say here, though, is that the US federal government clearly demonstrates exactly why two party systems are broken.

    Or you can look at BC's example, where it's NDP vs Liberal (which is to say, the nice conservatives, as the provincial party goes). Since there's no middle ground to balance things out, the NDP, when they're elected, tries to create a socialist state, and the Liberals, when they're elected, try to create an idealized capitalist state. Neither of these concepts actually work, so we swap every decade or so between the two options.

  22. Jake_Ackers

    I agree two party systems are bad but that doesn't mean a Republican couldn't unite the Libertarians and Conservatives under one banner for an election (if there were 3rd parties). If you want balance you have to include a difference of opinion in your government. It's called a coalition. Trudeau could have a few issues he would address as PM, and run a coalition during the election. Once the issues are addressed, he could call another election and have the coalition break up and everyone for themselves.

  23. william

    i just want to say that i would like to have a sith as the PM rarther than harper i think the sith might do some good things where are harper will never do any good things

  24. Yannick

    That's not the point. The point is that you're arguing there is a Harper Fatigue, but there was never any enthusiasm for Harper in the first place. He's never been popular. He's never gotten a mandate from the population. There have always been more people disapproving than approving of him.

    Whether the left can decide whether they want to vote for the Liberals or the NDP has very little to do with Harper's constant unpopularity.

  25. Taylor

    This is it ^.

    That and the fact that party workers at the NDP and Liberals really, really do not like each other.

  26. Trev_Lewis

    There's also the issue that, for a while, the Liberal Party was pretty much dysfunctional, while Layton was making great strides with the NDP. Those who are more central based didn't really want to vote for the far left NDP (and thanks to their provincial counterparts, all of BC recognizes NDP as far left, regardless of the realities at the federal level), and couldn't make themselves vote for the near left Liberals, since their party was such a mess. So a lot of us voted for the somewhere-on-the-right Conservatives.

  27. Jake_Ackers

    Okay I get your point and a very valid one. Then fatigue isn't the right word. It is just a matter of time before he gets kicked out once the voting left and center back one candidate at the polls.

  28. June

    JJ, it's funny that you haven't really settled on a solid caricature for Justin Trudeau yet. This one doesn't seem to communicate to me how important his "image" is, though.

  29. Jake_Ackers

    Can someone explain to me the point of having a Parliament when you want to directly elect your executive, have fixed term elections and stop the appointments of Senators? On top of getting rid of the monarchy. Not to mention the pissing match between the regional governments and the federal one. Isn't that called a Congress and President?

  30. Devil Child

    McCullough hates the Parliamentary System, presumably because he lives in whatever parallel universe the Presidential System actually works in rather than reality where every country that uses the Presidential System completely sucks. Other than the US, which just mostly sucks.

    Seriously, it's not like it's an untested system. Every country on the American continents other than Canada has used the Presidential system for the past two hundred years. It's failed unambiguously in every one of those countries other than the US, and the only thing that kept the US from falling apart was continuous power grabs by our Executives to fight against our useless Legislative body, which only ever hurt the country, and more than once tried to institute a coup over our Presidents.

    Fact is, if you want there to be a Presidential System in Canada instead of the Parliamentary System you currently have, you're both ignoring reality, and don't really want a democratic system.

  31. Andrew

    If you read through his writings, he doesn't really hate the parliamentary system; he hates party discipline/whips, because it means local members don't really represent their locality, but the (highly centralised) party interests. Centralised party structures get associated with "parliamentary" systems because Canada's had pretty strict party discipline for a long time, while the "presidential" Americans haven't.

    As far as I can see, it's actually been far more about how parties were organised. Canadian parties have been organised around ideology for a long time, so strong discipline was possible. American parties weren't (so that you have liberal Republicans in the North-East, or conservative Democrats in the South), so they couldn't really do party discipline. But since (about) Reagan, that's stopped being the case (of course, it trailed off, so bits persist, but it's really the 1970s where the American parties take their present alignment. Note that's just before McCullough starts complaining the Americans are taking a parliamentary tack.

  32. Taylor

    "Canadian parties have been organised around ideology for a long time"

    Not really. It was only actually around the 1990s this became true, look at the history of the PC's.

  33. Andrew

    It's somewhat harder for us to recognise ideology going backwards, because the historic political alignments are weird to our sensibilities (and similarly, fifty years from now, people won't "get" how our curent parties are sorted around ideology). But the Tories have been built around ideology all along (even if it's changed over time). The most obvious clew really is the names: they parties are named (mostly) after political positions (the CCF/NDP being the only real exception).

    Contrast to the Americans, where they're not. (And really, it's all about contrast here, not measuring it in an absolute sense)

  34. Taylor

    I'll disagree with you on that front. The Quebec nationalists in the 80's PCs were anything but "conservative" in the sense that the other portions of the party were. That's not even starting on the monetarists/Red Tory/Diefenbaker Western/Clarkite divides.

  35. Jake_Ackers

    Yah Parliamentary systems are most ideological. Japan had a one party system for a long time yet it really was 3 because of the internal ideologies. Same goes in the US. Obama is not the same as Bill Clinton. Not would Rand Paul be the same as George Bush. Just because the US has two parties doesn't mean they follow two narrowly defined ideals. Just look at the Chris Christie and Rand Paul argument over surveillance.

  36. Jake_Ackers

    Actually most Presidential systems have failed because they follow civil law. Hence no precedent. As a result the law is one way for one person and another for another person. Plus judicial review in a lot of these Central and South American countries are horrid. The US is the only one that follows common law like most former British countries.

  37. EBounding

    So what's the story with Harper's nose? Within the past year, it's gotten more rectangular with the ability to grow and zig-zag.

  38. Anubis

    I think the point is it's long to show what a lier he is

  39. Trev_Lewis

    One thing I really have to wonder about studies like these: the whole competence category is inherently flawed. Most of us have not seen how competent the non-conservative leaders are, because they've never had the opportunity to wield real power. They've never served as the head of any ministry, because they've spent their entire political careers as opposition. So, aside from those people who've worked with them elsewhere (which is probably a vast minority of Canadians), we really have no data on the competence of any leader other than Harper.

    I'm glad the post explains where the data came from, or I'd be unfairly blaming JJ for this

  40. Jake_Ackers

    Thank You. Exactly my point. They frankly should put a minister as Head of one of these parties otherwise all you have is No-Men running for PM.

  41. Tom

    Is there any possibility of Mulclair getting turfed considering how much he's been causing the NDP to lose ground?

  42. Jake_Ackers

    If he doesn't it likely that NDP MPs switch to Liberal. Effectively just tanking the NDP and handing the election to Trudeau before it even starts.

  43. Taylor

    I'd say no, for a few reasons:

    -The Canadian system makes leaders responsible mainly to the membership. Even if a majority of MPs didn't want him to lead, they'd have to deal with the fact that he commands the implicit mandate of the party members itself. This sounds nicer, but I myself would prefer Australian spills, they give the members more authority.

    -Related to that, once you are leader, you control party nominations, party operations, etc. Taking on the leader as an MP means risking your hide, like the whole Democratic Representative Caucus mess 10 years ago.

    -The NDP tends to be the most process oriented of the main parties (though the new Conservatives are getting there).

    -Finally, who else? A lot of the old NDP guard has retired/died recently. Aside from Nate Cullen, hard to see a real star.

    If you're someone who wants to take down the leader, after the election is when you strike.

  44. Jake_Ackers

    I wonder can Trudeau even run for PM? Didn't he admit to using weed even while as MP? Whatever your position is on marijuana doesn't matter. Can he legally even hold office? And moreover should he? Isn't he going to be the prime executive in Canada, and yet he is breaking the law (regardless or which law it is).

  45. Taylor

    Smoking pot isn't illegal.

  46. Jake_Ackers

    Technically it is. It just isn't enforced. It's only legal in 4 places in the world. North Korea, Netherlands, Colorado and Washington state.

  47. Taylor

    No, smoking pot isn't illegal.

    Possession happens to be illegal.

  48. Jake_Ackers

    Actually it technically is illegal to use it. The government just doesn't go after the user only possession. For example in the 2003: R. v. J.P. (Ontario Court of Appeal) case it mostly addressed medical use. However, in effect the court revived that fact that the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes is illegal. So you can technically be prosecuted for non-medical use, it just never happens. It is a bit complicated and I may be wrong but I think it technically is still illegal to use it. It's one of those grey-scale legal things.

  49. Taylor

    No, you're completely wrong. Go look up R. v. Beilard [1986] 17 C.R.R. 375

    J.P. was under a probationary order that he could not use marijuana. Like any probationary order, it can ban ordinarily legal activities.

    It isn't illegal to use it.

  50. Taylor

    *R. v. Boilard [1986] 17 C.R.R. 375

  51. Taylor

    It is Beilard, my bad.

  52. Jake_Ackers

    Fair enough. It's just everytime I see it in the news they say "Canada's ban on marijuana was effectively upheld." I guess they are referring to possession then.

    My understanding was because it was in the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act it would be illegal the use, technically. Especially since it never has been settled federally.

  53. Taylor

    Re: "technically":

    It actually means the opposite of how you are using it in the above post.

  54. Taylor

    Re: "technically":

    It actually means the opposite of how you use it in the previous post.

  55. oarboar

    Came here from your guest strip on Wasted Talent. Just for fun, I decided to look it up on Wikipedia, and Harper spent seven years and two months in the House of Commons (in two different stints) before becoming Prime Minister. The next Canadian federal election is scheduled to occur just five days after Trudeau celebrates his seven-year anniversary in the House of Commons.

    As an American, I have no idea why Canada and the United Kingdom adopted fixed-term elections. It strikes me as solving a problem that doesn't exist.

  56. Yannick

    The parties in power had the power to decide when the election would happen – so they would wait for the polls to be in their favor and call snap elections.

    Chrétien has used that dubious tactic before, although in his defense Stockwell Day had been taunting him for an election at the time.

  57. oarboar

    That's an argument for doing the job right, then, isn't it?