Change is a major theme in world politics lately. But not in Canada, where 2011 is setting up to be the Year of the Incumbent.
Canadians from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains are in the mood for the status quo, as five and possible six of the provinces headed to a fall election are on track to re-elect their incumbent governments.
Even this year’s federal election was an exercise in smooth sailing. Though the New Democrats soared to second place and the Liberals and Bloc Québécois fell by the wayside, Stephen Harper’s five-year-old government was re-elected for another five years. In Quebec, scene of much of the election’s change, it could even be argued that the province’s voters simply exchanged one social democratic opposition party for another.
Popular governments in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island are safely on course to be re-elected, with their incumbent governments leading the main opposition parties in their respective provinces by about 30 points. Brad Wall and Robert Ghiz, the country’s two youngest premiers, will almost certainly be re-elected for a second term in Saskatchewan and PEI, while Kathy Dunderdale is expected to extend the lifespan of the Progressive Conservative government in Newfoundland and Labrador, first established by Danny Williams in 2003.
The New Democrats in Manitoba, who have held sway in the province since 1999, are also in a good position to be re-elected, with the most recent polls (though several months old) putting them neck-and-neck with the opposition Tories. Premier Greg Selinger, taking his party into its first election with him as leader, has an approval rating of 52 per cent, according to a recent Angus-Reid poll. That compares quite favourably with the 32 per cent score he registered in February.
Though not required to enter into an election campaign until 2013, rumour has it that the governing Tories in Alberta will call a snap election after they choose their new leader next month. Gary Mar, who has sat in the cabinets of both Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach, led a recent poll of PC voters in the province, and is the frontrunner to become the party’s next leader. The Progressive Conservatives of Alberta, who have governed the province since 1971, are comfortably back on top in the polls and are expected to cash-in on that popularity before Wildrose, the Alberta Party, and the Liberals (and their newly minted leader) can get back on track.
But it is Ontario where the thirst for change was thought to be strong enough to topple the government of Dalton McGuinty, who first formed government in 2003. Tim Hudak’s PCs held a massive lead over the Liberals as recently as July, but on the eve of the campaign the race was narrowing. Now two polls released this week put the Liberals ahead of the Tories by one to three points – certainly not a landslide, but enough to give McGuinty a third term.
Even the much maligned Jean Charest is looking good in the wake of the internal squabbles of the PQ, while premiers Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia and David Alward of New Brunswick are leading in the latest polls. Only Christy Clark of British Columbia looks shaky, but the next election in that province is two years away.
All of this adds up to the impression that Canadians are content with their current roster of governments - or at least unhappy with the available alternatives.