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DOH! Canada…

3 May 2011

Sabina Becker, who is even leftier than I am, probably feels about her “home and native land” today about the same way I did about “the land of the free and home of the brave” on the 3rd of November 2004, when our fellow citizens picked the wrong set of scoundrels… AGAIN.

As it was, George W. Bush’s first non-election in November 2000 was a factor in moving to Mexico (where I watched Felipe Calderón probably not get elected in 2006).  Comparing a parlimentary system to a presidential one is slippery, but, there’s a tendency to compare Canadian and U.S. politics.  If we’re going to compare North American political systems and their elections, maybe Sabina will be slightly cheered by looking at the other NAFTA partner’s recent political history.

The United States is locked into a two-party system, both parties being relatively conservative (and one being frankly reactionary) liberal capitalists.  Canada and Mexico, by contrast, are multi-party states, with a history of mainstream labor and socialist parties.  In Canada yesterday, as in Mexico in 2006, the smallest of the three main parties (NDP in Canada, PRD in Mexico) — overtly socialist parties at that — surprised the pundits but actually becoming serious contenders for winning the election.

In yesterday’s Canadian election, as in the July 2006 Mexican general election, the left/labor parties captured between 60 percent and two-thirds of the votes: not enough to capture the administration, nor enough legislative clout to implement their own programs, but enough to force the majority to either co-opt their proposals or, at least scale back the conservatives’ own less than modest proposals for “reform”.

“albertde”, writing in the Texas-based (but internationalist in scope) “Agnonist” notes a similarity between Mexican and Canadian politics that I hadn’t noticed before:

Canada has strict financing rules, … We don’t allow big donations to political parties. …  the Liberals pushed through a bill that gave a public subsidy to political parties of $1.75 per vote received in the last election. That law led to the creation of the Conservative Party as the right realized that small donors would not support two right-wing parties.

While the Canadians allow for limited private campaign contributions (something considered bribery in Mexico), both here and in Canada, the public financing of parties based on their vote in the previous election is a factor in how parties (especially the minor parties) form coalitions or define their platforms. The practical effect has been to weed out smaller parties, or encouraging mergers among parties for purely monetary reasons.

There used to be two Canadian conservative parties, but the Alliance and Progressive Conservative Parties (the latter having the weirdest name in North American politics except for Mexico’s “Institutional Revolutionary Party”) merged in 2003. The merger gave them relative numerical parity with the “traditional” ruling Liberal Party. Thanks to those state subsidies AND having access to private donations, the Conservatives have more than adequate funding for propaganda and party organization.

The Liberals, being somewhat inept at fund raising, and the NDP, which largely depends on state financing (being socialist and all, they’re less likely to have party stalwarts capable of making sizable private donations), could both capitalize on the miserable showing by minor parties with complementary ideologies (Greens, etc.), or… if Canada is to become a more or less two-party state, the NDP might peel off enough Liberals to form the second party, offering the electorate a real ideological choice.

Of course, Mexico was, for all practical purposes, a one-party state since the late 1920s until the late 1990s, but that one party, the PRI, is — like the Liberals in Canada — considered the middle of the road, “safe” fall-back governing party. With no particular ideology (although theoretically socialist), it isn’t seen as offering much of a choice to the present conservative governing party, PAN.

Here’s where Canada and Mexico diverge though. PAN — basically through its own political leader’s mistakes and missteps — is expected to lose the next presidential election. IN THEORY, it is not wedded to capitalism or conservative economics (though in practice, it is). In by-elections, it has had some success by running fusion tickets with the leftists (PRD and the small Convergencia and Workers’ Parties) as a reformist ticket. While the reformist promises are yet to be met (at least here in Sinaloa. In Oaxaca, there are promising reforms, but then again, the state was so poorly run, that any new administration was bound to be an improvement), the fusion tickets mean increased funding for the parties on the winning side.

The PRI being the one to beat, these “left-right” coalitions were marriages of convenience at best, and not expected to last.  Which they don’t seem to be doing.  I know Aguachile and others think it’s madness for the PRD to go it alone in upcoming elections (they don’t, at this point, poll anywhere near as well as they did before the 2006 elections), Mexico —again like Canada — does not have permanent elections, nor long election cycles.  Anything can happen in the next year before the election season actually starts.

There is a presumed PRI candidate (Enrique Peña Neito) who, like Canada’s Stephen Harper, is “George W. Bush minus the warmth and intellect“).  While right now Peña Neito has the backing of the country’s most important opinion setter … Televisa… there is plenty of time for siphoning off that support.  The Calderón Administration (PAN) is losing support and — with a dozen or so PANistas expecting to enter their party primaries — they could very well end up with a compromise candidate by default … acceptable to all, but electable by none.

The left, while strategically distancing itself from some of the more problematic left-right fusion by-elections (like for the governorship in the State of Mexico, which the PRI would have won, thanks to changes in state legislation meant to preserve the party in the governorship) has been organizing under the radar.  I noticed the other night that the two supposed rivals for the PRD Presidential candidacy, Andres Manuel López Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón are making nice, and admit their differences are more stylistic than substantial.

The PRD, and its minor allies may yet make a deal with the conservatives, but, in any rate, losing an election doesn’t mean they lose influence.  PAN wants to prevent the return of PRI more than it wants to prevent a PRD victory, and, while not likely to embrace the Socialists platform, will be more than willing to work with PRD against PRI, as it has in the past.   I don’t see PAN as having much to offer in the way of anything new, and not so much the concern that a PRI  victory would be a step back to the days of the quasi-one party state as a return to failed policies of the 80s and 90s.

“Hope” and “Change” worked pretty well in the U.S.  It may not have worked out in practice, but the left can run on those and they’re a a hell of a lot better campaign slogans than what’s offered by right/center both in  Canada (Conservatives and Liberals) and Mexico (PAN and PRI):    “preserve the status quo” and “good enough, considering”.

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