A year of political turmoil in Canada is approaching a climax after the
non-government parties, who have a parliamentary majority between them,
agreed to force an early election, although the exact date is still up
in the air.

Despite being similar to Australia in many ways, Canada has developed a
very different party system. Prime minister Paul Martin represents the
Liberal Party, a middle-class centre-left party of the sort Australia
has not had for the last hundred years. In a minority since the 2004
election, the Liberals had governed with the support of the New
Democrats, a smaller socialist party. Even then their majority was
precarious, and last week the New Democrats finally deserted the government completely.

The opposition is led by the Conservative Party, formed before the last
election by a merger of the old Progressive Conservatives, who were
almost wiped out by the GST in the 1990s, and the Alliance (formerly
Reform Party), a free-market party with a dash of Hansonism. Also in
the mix is the separatist Quebec Bloc, which doesn’t contest elections
in the rest of the country but last time won more than two-thirds of
the seats in Quebec, where it is effectively the only opposition to the

The three opposition parties therefore have very little in common, but
they all want an election. The government has agreed to go to the polls
before the end of April, but the opposition are demanding early
February. In latest news, Martin has rejected their ultimatum, saying that they’ll have to put
up a no-confidence vote to force him out. But a no confidence vote this
month would mean an election in early January, and a campaign over
Christmas; Martin is gambling that voters would blame the opposition
for the inconvenience.

Constitutionally, the Liberals are on solid ground; as Martin said in a
statement on Monday, “There is no such thing as non-confidence lite.”
Parliament can’t force an election for some future date. But voters are
unlikely to appreciate the constitutional niceties and more likely to
grasp the opportunity to punish a scandal-ridden government – although
finding something coherent to put in its place is going to be more
difficult. Either way, it looks like being an interesting few months in