As I watch the tragic comedy that is the American election, it has come time to point out the fact that Canada goes to the national polls on Tuesday with an amazingly similar problem. How do we elect a representational government when the choices are so unpalatable?
The current government is a minority Conservative one. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who worships George W. Bush in an unseemly way, is mostly like Bush, yet unlike him at the same time. The likeness is this: he believes he's right and to hell with everybody who disagrees with him. And he's not going to let a little thing like the law stop him from ruling the universe ... well at least Canada. He wants to cut taxes and set up little fiefdoms called provinces. That's minimizing government. He WILL interfere in citizen's lives, but more or less wants less of that interference than his American idol. And the unlike aspect boils down to this. More than a third of the country still likes, admires and trusts him.
Harper likely broke the law in making a hasty call to elections three months ago. It was go to the polls now or be wiped out when the newly federally-mandated elections were to be held NEXT October. Not a stupid man (yet another difference), Harper saw the impending crisis looming. At least sort of. He knew the economy of North America, driven so largely by the USA, was going into the toilet. He didn't realize it was a four-flusher, but he saw the downturn that was inevitable. He needed to go now, or face the kind of accusatorial politicking that he and his party couldn't win against. Also, another year meant another 12 months of his various political flunkies screwing up. That happens to all governments. Sometimes, a majority government can afford to slough off a few seats because of the very human failings of its politicians, some newly exposed to having power.
But the best part of calling the snap election was that it came at a time where he could run ads BEFORE calling the election, painting the Liberal leader Stephane Dion in a negative light and NOT have it count against electioneering limits. Plus, the coffers of the opposition parties weren't nearly in battle readiness, as each other party was enjoying that last little lull before ratcheting up for the lawfully planned election next year.
Too bad that pesky law stood in Harper's planned way. No matter. He ignored it. The ultimate Shrubbist approach. So we vote Tuesday.
Dion is as intractable in his own way as Harper is in his own. Dion is a great minister, knowledgeable, dogmatic and usually right. He is, surprisingly, a lousy leader. He just can't bend. And the decision that the Liberals pre-announce The Green Shift, a booster for Canadian responsibility to the ecology of the country and the planet, was probably the deciding factor in Harper calling the election.
Canada is a liberal country. Not a Liberal country, but a liberal one. We elect Liberal governments regularly, throwing them out in a spasm every now and then when the party gets too big for its britches. Pork and screw-ups cause these spasms. We resent majority Liberal governments handing out pork without regard for public outcry. And long-term majority governments get lazy and stop remembering they are there to serve the people and not their cronies. So the spasm. But spasms end and so do our brief dalliances with the Conservative party.
If Dion had kept The Green Shift under wraps until after in place as a majority government, his party could have enacted the plan. The trick was to get INTO power while enjoying the majority an act like The Green Shift requires to become law. Then, four years of implementation would blunt its negative impact in campaign sound bites. "He wants to raise the gas tax." Simple, and enough to push Dion into third place in the national picture when the election campaigning got started. It was, and is, one of the greatest PR blunders in Canadian political history.
Of course, there are other parties in the election. The New Democratic Party has always been strategically to the far left of the Liberals, but jumped inside, towards the centre, because of The Green Shift. Unlike the two extremist idealogues that head the main parties, Jack Layton is a humanistic leader who is undoubtedly the best of the lot contesting for the job as Canada's leader. A Layton-led Liberal team without The Green Shift baggage, would be a majority winner (Old NDP-er Bob Rae, a runner-up to Dion in the Liberal leadership race, would have been equally successful). The problem with Layton is that his party's tenure as the ruling party in Ontario was one of the great social misadventures of the last century. While the NDP are more centrist than ever, that fear lurks that they would jump back to the edge once opportunity presented itself.
The Green Party is relatively new on the national stage. Well-spoken Elizabeth May has gained admirers from across the nation to her party's cause. In fact, some 10 percent of Canadians polled say they support the party. About the same, all from Quebec, support the Bloc Quebecois, originally formed to support the idea of Quebec separatism. Which should tell you something. Any respect I personally had for May disappeared when she elected to run against a supposedly unbeatable Conservative candidate in Nova Scotia while passing up a solid chance to gain election victory in the Green stronghold of British Columbia. Leaders lead from the front, not from the sidelines. In politics, anyway.
So it comes down to voting for one of the above. Not.
That's the rub. Unlike in the United States, where you get three votes for your national representation (four, really), Canadians vote once. And that's NOT for the leader of the country. We vote for our member of parliament and hope that he or she acts responsibly, voting for the prime minister if given the opportunity, else providing a staunch voice for our local concerns. Compare that with the American system where each citizen can vote for President, each of two senators and for a representative to the House. With that kind of spread-the-wealth opportunity, Americans can blunt the power of the party IN power, or allow it unfettered reign. With a little judicious use of the ballot, Americans can roughly achieve that that we have here, minority government. Or make the mistake of giving the right or left total control.
I have long held that I have to vote FOR somebody, not against. As a result, I have spoiled four of the last six ballots I entered the booth with. Only twice have I been convinced I should actually vote for a particular candidate. And having talked to the three main party's candidates, I find myself, once again, intending to cast a counting vote in the election, rather than voting for them all. All in this case, meaning none of the above. I SERIOUSLY contemplated a vote for a party I have never voted for in my life. As much as I despise Harper's willingness to dispense with the law of the land, I DID seriously consider the Conservative candidate. She might very well be a strong voice in the advent of a Harper win, majority or minority. I could not ignore that benefit to my community.
In the end, in three days' time, I will have to see if my initial decision survives the next two days' worth of news. The edge of the cliff I stand on is pretty thin.
As for prognostications, I'm calling for another Conservative minority. One that includes the enticing possibility of a coalition of the Left actually having a majority. That's pie in the sky dreaming, because it would possibly lead to Prime Minister Layton. Much more likely is that the left won't align completely against Harper, instead preferring to keep him in check through these next rough four years. And the key, I think, is that the Bloc will become national heroes in one respect. Their blocking of Conservative gains in Quebec will actually stop the Conservative majority from becoming reality.
That has to be the defining irony of Canadian politics.