If early polls are any indication, the next Canadian parliament may be even more unstable than the one just dissolved! As the election campaign begins, an Environics Research poll suggests that the Liberals are down nearly two percentage points from 2004, the Conservatives are up by a hair, the New Democrats have jumped more than four points and the Bloc Québecois is up by a point and a half. While these changes hardly seem monumental, they are significant in terms of the likely distribution of seats, potentially changing the outcome in anywhere from 30 to 40 seats.
With the Environics poll in mind, I quickly scanned the 2004 results and discovered that, if these numbers were to hold until election day, the new House of Commons would likely include 108 Liberals, 103 Conservatives, 60 Bloquistes and 37 New Democrats—more or less. Another minority parliament—and one that is far worse than the last one, since no party would enjoy a mandate to govern alone, while the influence of the separatist Bloc Québecois would be magnified. The NDP would have nearly twice as many seats as now but only a fraction of the influence! (It's bad enough that the first-past-the-post system gives the Bloc nearly half again as many seats as it deserves, without the added insult of giving it the balance of power in a divided parliament.)
Only three governments could emerge in such a divided parliament. The best scenario, perhaps, would see a “grand coalition” of Liberals and Conservatives, akin to the current government of Germany, which would make the old “unite the right” movement look timid in its aspirations. If the Bloc maintained its earlier position when it once found itself as the second-largest party in the House, then the NDP would become the official opposition. The second scenario would see either the Liberals or the Conservatives enter into an unholy alliance with the separatists, in return for concessions that might leave most Canadians longing for the days of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. The third scenario would see the Liberals continue in office, governing timidly to ensure that either the Conservatives or the Bloc were always onside, until once again the two latter parties came together to bring down the government and force another election—undoubtedly before a year had passed.
Canadians can only hope that public opinion shifts during the course of the election campaign, so that the election returns a government able to govern, either alone or in partnership, without being beholden to those who would balkanize our parliament on their way to destroying our country. Unless things change dramatically between now and election day, we will find ourselves in need of either dramatic electoral reform or a fundamental political realignment in this country, so that the affairs of state aren’t dominated by the party that finishes in fourth place when the popular vote is tabulated—a party that seeks to destroy the very country that tolerates its existence.