Vladimir Putin, who has been running Russia since 1999, swapped jobs with his crony Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, and again this year, circumventing the term limits set on the Russian presidency.
Each federal election brings about a certain amount of change in the composition of the House of Commons, but some are more like extinction events. 1984 saw the Liberals reduced from 147 to 40. In 1993 the Progressive Conservatives toppled from 169 to 2. And in last week's election the Bloc Québécois went from 49 members to 4. Member of Parliament is almost always a short-term career, and few Canadian MPs have enjoyed what in many walks of life would be considered a normal 40-year career.
Louis Plamondon is the current ironman of the House of Commons. He was first elected in the Progressive Conservative landslide of 1984, unseating a Trudeau Liberal. A Red Tory with affiliations to labour, it was once suggested to him by a party colleague that he might be more comfortable in the NDP. Instead, he broke with the Tories in 1990 following Meech Lake and joined the caucus of Québéc nationalists who became the Bloc and swept the Conservatives out of Québéc in 1993. When Bill Blaikie quit federal politics in 2008, Plamondon became Dean of the House of Commons, a mainly ceremonial title that includes presiding over the election of the Speaker. As longest-serving Bloc member, Plamondon might be expected to take up the leadership of its four-member rump, but he says he doesn't want the job.
Other current MPs who have sat in the House of Commons as Progressive Conservatives are: Lee Richardson, Bernard Valcourt, Peter MacKay, Scott Brison, Gerald Keddy and Gary Schellenberger.
There's an election going on, you know, in Scotland, to fill the bendy twisty parliament building at Holyrood. The Scottish Parliament has a mixed member proportional representation system, mingling constituency members elected by the good old first-past-the-post method, with regional members chosen from party lists according to the parties' percentage of the popular vote. This is the fourth election for the devolved parliament. Labour won the first two elections, and the Scottish National Party the third. This election started with Labour and the SNP in a statistical tie, but Labour have since gone into a nosedive, and have pretty much given up campaigning in favour of griping about this kind of thing.
At the same time there will be a referendum on whether elections to Westminster should abandon FPTP in favour of AV.
Which means there will be three ballots, one for constituency members, one for regional members, and the referendum. Everyone ought to learn the nuances so there isn't a repeat of last time when a man attacked a polling station with a golf club.
[The Scottish National Party (yellow) win a majority, swamping Labour's (red) traditional stronghold between the Clyde and the Firth of Forth. The Liberal Democrats (orange) and Tories (blue) are also down.]
[In the Westminster referendum, FPTP beat AV approximately 69% to 31%.]
This 1917 Conservative election poster condemns Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier for association with Quebec isolationist Henri Bourassa and by extension the Kaiser and by further extension beer, which the Tories made illegal after the election.
Leaving aside the question of why we would want the join the EU, or whether they would have us, or how you would pull it off if one or more provinces were against the move -- it's instructive to think about how our political parties would fit into the parliament in Strasbourg and interact with the European parties around them. I know I tend to think of our parties only in terms of how they relate to each other, or maybe to US or UK parties. But there are literally hundreds of parties in the European Parliament, and they can put ours in a different light.
The European Parliament currently has 736 members. The plan according to the Lisbon Treaty is to raise the number to 751 and lock it in, but I'm going to pretend that in their excitement to get the Canadians the Europeans decide to tack on x number of seats. What would x equal? Representation is roughly by population, with some tweeking for teeny-tiny countries. (For Malta think PEI.) Canada would be the seventh most populous member, between Poland and Romania. Poland, with about 38 million people, has 51 seats. Romania with about 22 million, has 33. If you apply Poland's ratio to Canada's 34 million, you get 45 seats. If you apply Romania's, you get 51. I'll split the difference and award us 48 seats.
Elections to the European Parliament occur every five years and are by proportional representation. As we Canadians have no agreed method for doing this, I'll make one up. Any party that polls 2.1% ( or 1/48th) of the national popular vote gets a seat. Using the popular vote results of the last federal election (and rounding off pretty arbitrarily) you get: Conservative 18, Liberal 13, NDP 9, Bloc Québécois 5, Greens 3. The parties fill in the names of the MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) from lists they have drawn up in their back rooms.
So off to Strasbourg! But when they get there the Canadians discover that they're not allowed to sit together. Each party sits with its ideological fellows instead, in one of (currently) seven political groups. It's not absolutely necessary to join a political group, but there are certain disadvantages to being a non-inscrit, among them being a lack of access to funding.
In most cases it's not hard to figure out how the Canadian contingents would align, because many of the parties already belong to international organizations. The NDP, for instance, belong to the Socialist International, an organization that also includes the Socialist Party of France, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and the British Labour Party. All three of these parties belong to the same group in the European Parliament, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats, S&D for short. S&D are currently the second-largest group in Strasbourg. The NDP go sit with them. It should be noted that the Socialist Party of France, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and the British Labour Party have all formed governments in their own countries. If Canada really were in Europe, the NDP would be in power about half the time.
Another difference between Europe and Canada is highlighted by the group to the left of the S&P. The European United Left-Nordic Green Left (EUL-NGL) is an aggregation of socialists and communists who might be marginal in comparison to the S&D, but who can at least get themselves elected. Canada's various communist factions would be extremely lucky to scrape together 20,000 votes nationwide in a general election if they all pulled together, which they don't. (Curiously, Sinn Féin are in the EUL-NGL group. You tend to think of them as sectarians first, and Lefties not at all, an indication of the filtering process that occurs as news makes its way across the Atlantic.)
As the Nordic Green Left name implies, there's more than one way to be Green. For instance, you can be Red-Green (eco-Marxist) or Blue-Green (eco-capitalist). Most Greens in Strasbourg are clustered together in a group called The Greens-EFA. The Canadian Greens draw voters from the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives alike, so I'd expect them to affiliate with this more middle-of-the-road group rather than the EUL-NGL. Like the Canadian Greens, most of the Greens in The Greens-EFA are members of the international Global Greens. The most successful party in The Greens-EFA are the Germans, who have been junior partners in their federal government.
But what's that EFA? European Free Alliance, a collection of parties representing peoples without their own state: Corsicans, Basques, Scots, Welsh, Russian-speaking Latvians. This is where the Bloc would fit. The Greens-EFA is a marriage of convenience between two smallish groups, who together still only make up the fourth-largest group in the European Parliament. Yet it would be home to two of our five parties. For the purposes of this exercise I've assumed that Québéc is still part of Canada. If Québéc were independent, then the Bloc would go sit somewhere else, possibly the S&D, though it wouldn't take long after independence for the Bloc to start spinning off opposition parties and drifting who knows where in the political spectrum.
By European standards, if the NDP are unaccountably small, the Liberals are unaccountably large. You can tell that by looking at the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), a group not a lot bigger than The Greens-EFA. In Europe, Liberals are usually junior partners in ruling coalitions. Examples: the Free Democrats in Germany, and the Liberal Democrats in Britain. And liberals are not considered leftists in Europe. They are centre or centre-right, and often shore up conservative regimes. Oh, wait, that sounds familiar. The Free Democrats, the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party of Canada are all members of Liberal International. The Canadian Liberals would be the largest contingent in the ALDE.
The biggest political group in the European Parliament, taking up a third of the chamber, is the EPP, the European People's Party. This group is made up largely of Christian Democrats and includes Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, and Sarkozy's Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. It's conservative. The Conservative Party of Canada ought to fit in there.
However. The Conservative Party of the UK is in a different group called the European Conservatives and Reformists. The Tories were in the EPP until last year when they split off to form the ECR, in which they hold nearly half the seats. The ECR are in the European Parliament to actively reduce its powers. The word Reform, which in a European context can mean a number of things (including Calvanism), here means just the same as it did in the Reform Party of Canada. Put the Conservative Party of Canada with the ECR.