Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Canada is going to have an election on October 14. Much like in 2000, when Canadians voted three weeks after Americans but learned the results of their election two weeks before Americans, the Canadian election will be much more efficient than its American counterpart. The former began on Sunday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. The latter began when Rutherford B. Hayes narrowly beat Samuel Tilden despite the fact that Tilden won the popular vote, setting up the current mess between Barack Hussein Obama and John Sidney McCain.

If it seems strange that the Conservative minority government has lasted close to three years, and stranger still that this was both the smallest (40% of seats) and longest-lasting minority government in Canadian history, it's stranger still that American political discourse for the last eight months has revolved around the the next government. The politics section of the New York Times site has become the "Campaign 2008" section, and news about the day-to-day operations of the world's most powerful country is scarce.

On the other hand, Canada, I've always felt, is a country that really runs itself, at least when it comes to federal elections. The provinces wield much of the power, and it's hard to say that Stephen Harper did anything to appreciably change the lives of Canadians. This ambivalence is reflected in polls over the last two years, which generally show the two major parties as having equal support, with the Conservatives sometimes breaking the 40 percent threshold at which a majority government is possible. In fact, the dominant issue in the election will be that Harper didn't appreciably change the lives of Canadians by failing to act on greenhouse gas emissions.

Harper as Prime Minister has rightfully acquired a reputation for being dictatorial and having a surprisingly genuine antipathy for the media and the public. At the same time, Harper is an excellent leader, the sort of person you'd love to follow if you agreed with him. Harper's Conservatives can't shake Stephane Dion's Liberals in opinion polls, but Harper trounces Dion by a nearly 3-1 margin when discussing leadership (32% think Harper would make the best Prime Minister, 12% think it would be Dion).

Given that Canadians vote for Members of Parliament and not the Prime Minister directly, I'm strongly inclined to avoid casting a ballot for my semi-literate five-term MP and defeat him in any way possible, including casting a vote for a Conservative counterpart who will be similarly illiterate but good at capturing the ethnic vote. There is, unfortunately, no Green Party candidate, unfortunate because the Greens are just 153 seats shy of a majority.

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