Election Victories Boost Clout of Canada's Leftist Party
THE New Democratic Party, the party of the Canadian left, has swept to power in two western provinces, defeating two conservative governments. The victories give the NDP increased clout in the country's debate over a new constitution.John Romanow will be Premier of Saskatchewan following a win over the Progressive Conservatives on Oct. 21. And on Oct. 17, Michael Harcourt won a big victory in British Columbia over the Social Credit Party, which had ruled the province for all but three of the past 39 years. The New Democratic Party has been in power in Ontario for a year, and it now governs more than half of all Canadians and more than two thirds of English-speaking Canadians. Ontario, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan are - along with conservative ruled Alberta - the richest of Canada's 10 provinces. The NDP's power base is in provincial politics. At the federal level, the NDP is in third place in the House of Commons in Ottawa, after the ruling Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. But the left-leaning NDP - whose principal financial supporters are labor unions - is expected to exert increasing influence in the current constitutional debate.
NDP battles for a 'social contract' "I think there's a lot of common ground," says Ontario NDP Premier Robert Rae. He has told federal Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that any new constitutional deal must have a "social contract" that guarantees the continued existence of social-welfare programs in Canada. The new constitutional proposals have to be approved by at least seven provinces with at least 50 percent of Canada's population. The NDP's provincial power base now gives it a larger role in the constitutional process than it had a week ago. Ontario Premier Rae says the NDP strength in the west has revealed "the public support we need for making the link between the economic union and social union." Rae, who is bilingual, is expected to lead the NDP premiers when they negotiate with the federal government over the constitutional proposals. There is, however, already some disagreement over the issue of Quebec's status. Premier-elect Harcourt of British Columbia says he does not favor special status for Quebec, while Rae and his legislature have voted to recognize Quebec as a "distinct society." The NDP is officially defined as socialist. But if the dictionary definition of socialism is a government that fosters "ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc." then none of these three governments are socialist. They are social democrats, similar to the left-wing parties of Western Europe. Harcourt summed up his party's stance when he told British Columbia's business leaders how they could coexist. "Don't mess with the environment, pay your fair share of taxes, and we'll get along." Only Rae of Ontario describes himself as a socialist. But even he abandoned his plan to nationalize the auto-insurance business in Ontario. And facing a record C$9.7-billion (US$7 billion) budget deficit, the NDP in Ontario is discussing the sale of government assets to provide money for social programs during the current recession. "There's an alternative to reductions in programs, namely the disposition of some assets," said Ontario's Treasurer, Floyd Laughren, a dedicated socialist, who once proposed nationalizing the giant nickel producer, Inco Ltd. The New Democratic Party won its first victory in Ontario last year. It ruled in British Columbia from 1972 to 1975 and has been in power four times in Saskatchewan, starting with a victory in 1944. The province of Manitoba has had two NDP governments. The victory of the New Democratic Party in British Columbia and Saskatchewan also means a comeback for the Liberal Party in western Canada. The former federal prime minister from the Liberal Party, Pierre Trudeau, was so unpopular in western Canada that the party was wiped out at both the federal and provincial levels.
Liberal Party picks up strength The Liberals in British Columbia under Gordon Wilson came in second, ahead of the once-dominant Social Credit Party. The Liberals received 33 percent of the vote and elected 16 members to the 75-seat legislature, the first of that party elected in British Columbia since 1975. The entire Liberal campaign cost only C$90,000 (US$79,830); much of the support came from Mr. Wilson's performance in a televised debate. In Saskatchewan, the Liberals came in third, but with increased support. Liberal Party strength in the west will be good news for leader Jean Chretien, whose party leads in the polls but whose personal popularity is low, especially in his native Quebec. The one wild card not represented in the two elections was the Reform Party of Canada, a populist conservative group that is leading in opinion polls in western Canada. It did not field candidates in the provincial elections. But in a federal election it is likely to ruin any chances the NDP might have of sweeping the west as it did in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.