Thursday, July 10, 2008

Most Important Election?

Trust Dan Arnold to break up the summer blahs. Once again the Calgary Grit is running a knockout political tournament. This time it is the greatest elections in Canadian history. I'm going to stay away from recent history for my federal picks and leave all my answers to before 1945. My provincial political history stinks so I'm going to have to be more recent. I'll start with a couple of pre-confederation elections.

1841 (Province of Canada): The first election after the rebellions of 1837. The coalition of Baldwin and Lafontaine would be established during this election including the subsequent by-election victory of Lafontaine in York (made famous by the Heritage moment). Although it would take a fair bit of conflict and the burning of a legislature, this election would pave the way, more than any other, for the establishment of responsible government in this country.

1858 (Province of Canada): The double majority system was a pain in the neck to begin with but it became untenable in 1858 with the Liberals under George Brown (not far removed from their anti-Catholic origins) elected in Canada West and the Tories under Cartier elected in Canada East. If 1841 was important because of the cooperation between the provinces, 1858 was important because the provinces couldn't work together. George Brown would never have joined Macdonald's grand coalition if he felt he could govern without it. Without Brown onboard the grand coalition would have been a joke and Canada may never have been born.

1874 (Federal): Alexander Mackenzie may not hold a particularly special place in the hearts of Canadians, but his election in 1874 was crucial. The Tories under Sir John A. Macdonald were mired in the railway scandal and deserved to be defeated. Canadians understood this and, for the first time as a country, threw the bums out. Accountability is everything in a democracy and we got accountability in 1874.

1878 (Federal): Two elections in a row? Absolutely. Canada would be run for the better part of twenty years on the national policy which elected John A. Macdonald in 1878. While his policies have been a mixed bag (Railway-finished; tariffs-eliminated; immigration-became cornerstone of Canada), the national policy is crucial in understanding where we came from as a nation.

1896 (Federal): The election of the second Liberal and first Francophone Prime Minister deserves recognition. Liberals would govern the country with the coalition created by Wilfred Laurier in 1896 for the better part of the next century. This also marked the beginning of 15 years in the wilderness for the Conservatives until...

1911 (Federal): If Laurier laid the framework for Liberal success in 1896, Robert Borden carved the path for Conservatives in 1911. In the first major free trade election (take that 1988), Borden was able to win election on opposition to reciprocity with the United States. His coalition of soft nationalists in Quebec and social conservatives in English Canada remains the blue print for Tories today.

1917 (Federal): If Borden laid the frame for Conservative success in 1911, he laid the path to the opposition benches in 1917. While Borden would win the wartime election, his promise (which he would break) not to introduce conscription would haunt Conservatives in Quebec for generations.

1935 (Federal): The re-election of Mackenzie King in 1935 shows the political acumen of Canada's longest serving Prime Minister. With the other parties promising the moon, King promised to be the Prime Minister Canadians trusted. He won and would end up leading the country through World War II.

1985 (Ontario): The election of the Peterson-Rae coaltion in 1985 would mark the end of 42 years of PC rule. The Tory dynasty finally brought down by the incompetent leadership of Frank Miller and the controversy surrounding Bill Davis' pre-retirement decision on Catholic schools. Ontario elections were a non-issue until 1985. The next ten years would see all three major parties at the reins.

1995 (Ontario): The election of Mike Harris is still viewed with pangs of nausea by many progressives (myself included). However, the election of one of the first real neo-conservative governments in the country deserves noting. Mike Harris' cuts were way too deep and he left a province with deficits in everything from its budget to its schools, hospitals and roads. However, his rise from third place to first place is important, and should be recognized as such.

1 comment:

calgarygrit said...'ve intrigued me with the pre-1867 elections. I may have to sneak one of them in.

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