Monday, September 1, 2008

Election Fever: Canada's Caught It!

By all appearances, Canada will indulge in election jealousy be also trudging to the polls this fall. This may well result in a new Prime Minister for America's greatest trading partner. Canada, of course, uses the "Westminster system", whereby the leader of the largest party in the legislature becomes the head of government. For an American equivalent, consider that as the Democratic Party holds the majority in Congress, Nancy Pelosi would be the head of government. So all 308 members of Canadian Parliament would end up for re-election.

Election dates are not regular in such a system, so an election can happen if a majority of the legislature -- called the Parliament -- so wills it. On the positive side, this means 40-odd day campaigns, rather than the 2-year odyssey to which America has been subjected.

As somebody who lived in Canada for several years, and specialized in Canadian politics for an academic and post-academic career, I have a strong interest in this race. I'll be examining it as it proceeds, but here's the briefest of rundowns:

Canada is governed by the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They do not even have a majority of seats in Parliament, but more than any other party. "Conservative" is a relative term, of course -- Harper and co. are more liberal on issues such as health care than our Republicans, and many of our Democrats. Trying to shlep along without even a majority of seats is tough going as the government needs the help of one of the three opposition parties to pass a bill. So Harper's looking to clear up the issue a bit.

Opposing him is the Liberal Party under Stéphane Dion, a milquetoast academic turned politician. Dion has been rather ineffective in my opinion, and worse still is governing a party tainted by a breathtakingly wide and deep scandal whereby enormous sums were steered toward privileged friends in the private sector. The Liberals are the "Natural Governing Party" of Canada, and this time in opposition is in some ways a time-out punishment. Whether the time-out is over, we don't know, but it may be.

This dissatisfaction with the two main parties may open things up for the minor parties. The socialist New Democratic Party is forever waiting for a break into the big time, and has never gotten it. They have many strong issues, but struggle with a "not ready for prime time" feeling. The Bloc Québécois is a party only concerned with Quebec, whose main platform plank is the eventual sovereignty of the province. Ironically enough, there was a few years in which this group seeking to split Canada ended up as the "Loyal Opposition".

Oh, and the Green Party exists.

It'll be interesting to see how things roll out. My call right now is a minority Liberal government.

PS: Japan's headed for interesting times, following the rather abrupt resignation of their prime minister. Given that no party controls a majority in Japan, they may also face elections this fall, looking for their third prime minister in a year. In sum, there will be leadership changes in 2, maybe 3 members of the G-8 over the next few months. Interesting times.

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