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With high hopes and low expectations, Canada's minor political parties are fighting on –



In an abbreviated campaign that is testing even Canada’s more established political parties, Liz White is logging long hours recruiting and training candidates to contest ridings she knows they can’t win.

“It’s very clear that parties like us, smaller parties, do not really have an opportunity to send people to Ottawa,” she said from her office in Toronto.

White is the leader of the Animal Protection Party of Canada, which, like many of the country’s 20 registered political parties, has little name recognition and very little chance of winning seats on Sept. 20.

The party — known at the time as Animal Alliance — picked up 4,408 votes nationwide in the 2019 federal election, about 0.02 per cent of the popular vote.

The Animal Protection Party still intends to put candidates on the ballot in at least a dozen ridings to advocate for improved animal welfare laws and stronger measures to address climate change.

“The other parties, as far as I can tell … are not talking in any serious way about what the crisis is and what we need to do to begin to deal with it,” White said.

Animal Protection Party Leader Elizabeth White said it will be nearly impossible for her party to win seats in Parliament without significant electoral reform. (Animal Protection Party of Canada)

Despite the practically insurmountable odds facing Canada’s minor political parties, their leaders and members express an unwavering commitment to the political process.

“It is an all-consuming task,” said Randy Joy, leader of the Veterans Coalition Party, which operates under the motto “truth, duty and honour.”

The party received 6,300 votes and fielded 25 candidates in the 2019 election — its first time on the ballot.

Joy said he wants to expand to 40 candidates for the coming election, though he too acknowledges that winning seats is virtually impossible.

“For us, success is maximizing the amount of candidates we can run and getting the party’s name known,” Joy said from his home in Glace Bay, N.S.

A wide spectrum of ideologies

Just 64,183 Canadians voted for minor parties in 2019 that did not win seats in Parliament — a group of voters roughly equivalent in size to the population of Medicine Hat, Alta.

(That figure does not include Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which received 294,093 votes and had candidates in the vast majority of ridings, despite failing to win a seat.)

Some lesser-known federal parties include the flag bearers for widely recognized but less popular political movements in Canada, such as the Communist Party and Libertarian Party.

Elizabeth Rowley, leader of the Communist Party, said her group is determined to keep fighting in elections and will run candidates in 26 ridings.

The Communist Party’s 2021 platform calls for a “people’s recovery from a capitalist crisis” and includes a plan to build one million affordable homes and standardize 32-hour work weeks.

“If you want more of the same, keep voting the way you’re voting in the last election,” Rowley said from the party’s office in Vancouver, B.C.

Veterans Coalition Party Leader Randy Joy holds a copy of his party’s election platform. (Randy Joy/Submitted)

Others minor parties — such as the Christian Heritage Party and Marijuana Party — are focused on representing special interests or specific causes.

The satirical Rhinoceros Party operates in a different sphere entirely. Its platform includes plans to allow advertising in Parliament and to redraw maps so all provinces are rectangular in shape. The party received 9,538 votes in 2019.

You can see the full list of registered federal parties here.

Held back by first-past-the-post 

The nature of Canada’s Westminster-style, first-past-the post electoral system means that parties registering tiny fractions of the popular vote have virtually no chance of sending MPs to Parliament.

The leaders of minor parties say their long-term viability likely depends on Canada someday adopting a proportional representation system — one that would send MPs to Ottawa based, at least in part, on their parties’ shares of the popular vote.

The Liberals promised electoral reform while campaigning in 2015, but dropped the idea after they were elected.

Steven Weldon, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, said minor political parties will remain stuck on the sidelines without electoral reform.

“As far as them having an independent voice, without a low-threshold proportional representation system, that’s not really realistic in Canadian politics,” Weldon said.

White points to the house of representatives in the Netherlands as an appealing alternative to Canada’s system. Her party’s Dutch equivalent, The Party for the Animals, holds six of the 150 seats in the Netherlands’ lower house.

The system of proportional representation used in the Netherlands also opens opportunities for groups such as the far-right Party for Freedom, a nationalist outfit with hard line anti-immigration and anti-Islam positions. That party holds 17 seats — the most of any party in the government’s opposition.

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Green Party chief Annamie Paul resigns, calling it ‘worst period’ of her life



Annamie Paul announced her resignation as head of Canada‘s Green Party on Monday after losing in her own district in last week’s parliamentary election, stepping aside just under a year after becoming the nation’s first Black leader of a mainstream national party.

Paul, 48, said she felt she was never truly allowed to lead the fractious environmentally focused party and was not interested in going through a fight to remain its chief. She called her time as party leader “the worst period in my life.”

“When I was elected and put in this role, I was breaking a glass ceiling,” Paul told reporters in Toronto. “What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was breaking a glass ceiling that was going to fall on my head.”

Paul came in fourth in her own Toronto constituency – won by the Liberals – and the Greens dropped 4 percentage points nationally in the Sept. 20 election compared with 2019. They won only two seats in the 338-seat House of Commons compared with three two years ago.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a third term, albeit with a minority of seats in parliament.

Paul, a Toronto lawyer, beat out seven other contenders to win the leadership of the party last October. But she has for months been in a battle with the party’s federal council, which tried to oust her before the election. The party did not provide funding for Paul to hire a campaign staff or a national campaign manager.

“I just don’t have the heart for it,” Paul said, referring to going through a leadership review invoked by the party immediately after the election.

Of the discord within the party, Paul said she had never been given the opportunity to lead and “I will not be given that opportunity.”

Jenica Atwin, one of the three Green parliamentarians, left the party in June and joined the Liberals. Atwin was elected as a Liberal last week.

Atwin has said her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Paul is Jewish. Atwin on Twitter criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament were anti-Semitic.

The Greens had appeared to be well-positioned going into this year’s election, as most Canadians indicated that fighting climate change was one of their priority issues. But Liberals and the left-leaning New Democrats promoted their own climate plans and capitalized on the sense of chaos within the party.

Paul said during the campaign that she had thought several times about quitting, but wanted to stay and fight for important causes. Paul was the second person of color to head a federal party in Canada after Jagmeet Singh took over the left-leaning New Democrats in 2017.


(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Caesar-Chavannes offers a 'breathtakingly candid' look at life in politics – The Hill Times



In her memoir Can You Hear Me Now?: How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose, which was one of this year’s finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for the best political book of the year, former Liberal-turned-Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes details, among other aspects of rawly examined life, her time in Parliament and her less-than-rewarding experience as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary. Ms. Caesar-Chavannes left the Liberal caucus in 2019 to sit as an Independent after a falling-out with the prime minister and disillusionment with the Ottawa status quo. The book, described as “breathtakingly candid” by the Writers’ Trust jury, was published by Random House Canada.

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Debt Limit Fight as Much About 2022 Politics as Fiscal Policy – BNN



(Bloomberg) — The U.S. is heading to the precipice of a debt default as much for the sake of campaign ads and political branding as fiscal philosophy.

While agreeing that the statutory limit on U.S. borrowing must be raised before it’s breached sometime next month, Republicans and Democrats are completely at odds over who should act. 

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell argues that Democrats alone are responsible since they are pursuing a partisan multi-trillion dollar tax and spending plan. The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, accuses Republicans of trying to “dine and dash” on the cost of their 2017 tax cuts and wants their fingerprints on the vote to raise the debt ceiling.

The debt limit fight has become part of an ongoing struggle between the parties to shape public perceptions of President Joe Biden’s agenda heading into next years congressional election.

For Republicans, it puts the focus on the overall cost of Biden’s economic plan, rather than popular components like paid family leave and an expanded child tax credit. And it ties Biden to the rising national debt, never mind the ballooning deficits under former President Donald Trump.

That prepares ground for the kind of traditional Republican campaign against tax-and-spend liberalism that McConnell is trying to steer his party toward instead of centering the midterm election on cultural issues and Trump’s false charges about election fraud.

At its most basic level, McConnell’s bid to force a Democrats-only vote to raise the limit gives the GOP ready ammunition for campaigning.

“It’s another line in the attack ad,” said Michael Steel, who was then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s press secretary during the 2011 fight over raising the debt limit. “Increasing the debt limit is a terribly unpopular vote.”

Many lawmakers make little effort to cloak their political motives. Republican Senator Rick Scott, who heads the Senate GOP’s campaign committee, said he expects Democrats’ votes in favor of raising the debt ceiling will feature prominently in the 2022 election.

“Oh yeah, you’re going to hear about it a lot,” Scott said.

Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, said the party-line debt limit vote will “absolutely” help crystalize the case that Democrats’ spending is out of control. “It will be very effective in Iowa.”

Democrats are already heading into a challenging midterm campaign, particularly in the House, where the party has a slim majority, Democratic-leaning states are losing seats to Republican ones in the Census reapportionment, and the president’s party typically loses members during midterm elections. Control of the 50-50 Senate also is in play.

“It’s total political rhetoric, drama,” Michigan Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell said. “We shouldn’t be playing political games the way we are.”

Democratic leaders have primarily responded by casting the GOP as reckless with the economy in their readiness to risk a debt default as well as their actions when they controlled the White House and Congress. 

The total U.S. debt rose from $19.8 trillion, or 104% of gross domestic product, when Trump took office in 2017 to $28.1 trillion, or 128% of GDP when he left in 2021. The $8.3 trillion increase during Trump’s single term is almost as much as the $10.6 trillion rise during Barack Obama’s two terms.

Democrats claim their $3.5 trillion economic program won’t add to deficits because it will be paid for with tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, though they haven’t finished negotiating a final version and the independent Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet made a projection. A separate bipartisan infrastructure package backed by Biden would add $256 billion to the national debt over the next decade, the CBO estimated.

Democrats voted with Republicans three times during the Trump presidency to raise or suspend the debt limit to avoid default, despite opposing the 2017 Republican tax cuts that added to the debt.

This time, McConnell is insisting Democrats use a process called reconciliation to pass the debt limit increase in the Senate without Republican votes. Democrats so far have refused. They instead added the debt limit increase to stopgap legislation to avert an Oct. 1 government shutdown and fund disaster aid, daring Republicans to oppose the measure. The legislation passed the House, but Republicans have vowed to block the measure in the Senate when a procedural vote is taken as soon as Monday.

Assigning Blame

So far, Democratic efforts to blame Republicans for the stand-off haven’t worked. Asked which party would be more to blame if the U.S. defaulted, 33% of Americans said Democrats, 42% both parties, and only 16% Republicans, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll taken Sept. 18-20.

The stability of global financial markets and strength of U.S. economic growth once again are on the line in the resulting game of chicken. 

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, warned in a note to clients that even a short default would raise borrowing costs to U.S. taxpayers for decades. A prolonged default on U.S. debts would cost the country 6 million jobs, drive down U.S. stock prices by a third and wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth, Moody’s predicts. 

Even without a default, brinksmanship over the debt limit between Republicans and the Obama administration in 2011 provoked the first-ever downgrade in the U.S. sovereign credit rating and contributed to a stock-market slide.

The political payoff for the risk is nebulous.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres, a 30-year campaign veteran, can’t think of a single election in which a debt limit vote played a decisive role.

“There may be some campaign out there that someone can point to,” Ayres said, “I can’t come up with one.”

Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a think tank aligned with the Democratic party’s moderate wing, also argues there’s “more bark than bite” in established political wisdom that votes to raise the debt limit are perilous. 

Voter Reaction

Even so, many moderate Democratic lawmakers represent closely divided constituencies and aren’t anxious to add to their political risks. Public feeling on government debt can be potent.

“American voters’ sensitivity to debt and deficits shows up episodically, but when it shows up it shows up with a vengeance,” Kessler said, citing the Tea Party movement that began in 2009 and helped provide energy for the Republican resurgence in the 2010 midterm elections.

Pete Brodnitz, a Democratic pollster who has worked for party leaders’ House Majority super-PAC in battleground races every election the past decade, said the midterm results will hinge on what the public believes about the party’s economic strategy. And that is the critical battle beneath the surface.

“An economic narrative is critical,” Brodnitz said. “If the economy gets better, Democrats won’t be helped unless there is a Democratic strategy people associate with it.” 

The debt limit fight is playing out just as Congress debates the spending packages that will enact the Biden agenda and voters are forming impressions of the plan.

“They want the narrative to be the Democrats just want to spend,” Brodnitz said. “We need the narrative to be we’re trying to invest in our future, and the Republicans are trying to stand in the way.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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