There will be a big event taking place on Monday north of the border, and chances are you don’t even know about it. Canadians will go to the polls to vote in one of the fiercer elections for prime minister in recent years.
Since I regularly watch the news from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) here in Grand Forks, I have been paying attention to the election ever since Canada first discovered in late November that it would be voting on January 23rd. It’s been highly interesting to see how another country, besides the United States, conducts an election, as well as to follow along with all of the noteworthy events that inevitably happen in any campaign.
But it’s also been interesting to see, first hand, how a parliamentary form of government is operated. On the one hand, I like how in Canada’s system (and a lot of other parliamentary systems in the world), nobody can really say for certain when, or even if, an election will take place until the precise moment when the current prime minister dissolves parliament and issues a date for an election. Unlike in the United States, where a presidential campaign generally begins one (or even two) years before the actual election date, Canadian campaign seasons only last for as long as the prime minister sets the election season, which is usually anywhere between two and three months.
People don’t vote specifically for the prime minister; rather, the person who becomes prime minister is technically just a regular politician seeking office in whichever district he/she lives in. The only difference between this politician and the ones in the other districts is that whichever party this person affiliates her/himself with has designated him/her as the party’s leader, which basically just means that, should the party that this person represents win at least a plurality in the election, this person will become prime minister. In Canada, it’s also actually possible for a party leader to lose the election in whatever district he/she represents and still become prime minister, but I won’t go into that here.
All that you need to know about Canadian politics is that there are two major political parties and two fairly influential “third parties.” The two major parties are the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party and the two sizable “third parities” are the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois, which is almost exclusively found in Quebec and has pushed for Quebec independence in the past.
The Liberal Party has had control over the post of prime minister for well over a decade, even though its influence began to wane after the 2004 election, after which it formed merely a minority government in parliament. This means that, though the party held the most seats in parliament and got to install the prime minister, it did not hold over 50% of the seats – it merely had a plurality of them.
Of course, it’s not that hard to see that any party that has a pluralistic majority is going to run into some problems with its competitors in trying to effectively govern. The Liberal Party did have this problem, but that’s not what took it down. Rather, the party became involved in a big and complicated scandal that basically involved spending a lot of Canadian taxpayers’ money highly irresponsibly.
So two unlikely partners, the Conservative Party and the leftist NDP got together in late November to take advantage the Liberal Party’s folly and plurality in parliament by calling for a special parliamentary vote – a vote of no-confidence toward Paul Martin and his Liberal Party. As expected, the vote passed, and, for the first time in Canada’s history, a parliament was dissolved solely on a vote of no-confidence.
That was eight weeks ago. When the parliament was dissolved, a lot of political analysts figured that, despite the scandal, the Liberal Party would still stay in power because, at the time, the other parties did not appear to have as good of leaders or as solidified of platforms.
Right now, however, it’s become essentially a sure thing that, come Monday, the Liberal Party will fall from power. The most likely person to replace Paul Martin as prime minister is the leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper. He’s run a highly successful campaign that has both effectively reminded Canadians of the Liberal Party’s scandalous ways as well as shown him to be a good orator and compassionate citizen.
Thanks to the mess that the Liberal Party created, the NDP – under the direction of Jack Layton – has also gone up in ranks and, on Monday, will likely have one of its stronger showing in years, not to mention that it should, along with the Conservative Party, be influential in taking away parliamentary seats from the Liberal Party. Despite this, I sort of get a bad feeling about the NDP, thanks to the almost pathetic way it has been begging for votes. The NDP’s primary strategy to try to sway fed-up Liberal Voters who, more than likely, share a lot of the ideological views as the NDP and tell them that they ought to lend the NDP their votes. That is, all we’re asking is for you to vote for us just this once. You won’t ever have to again, we promise!
All of this begs the question, what about Paul Martin and his Liberal Party? Although it would never admit it, the party sorely looks like it will be a tattered and defeated thing on Monday. Still, Mr. Martin continues to tread through Canada desperately trying to remind Canadians how much they need to fear Stephen Harper and his conservative ideology. The Liberals often say that a Harper-led government would be much more like a George W. Bush government than the European-style government that they have been trying to encourage for the last few years. Like the NDP, the Liberal Party also seems to be running around begging for votes at this point. Still, I must admit, Canadians should be terrified of a George W.-style regime in their country. The Liberals indeed may have been the driving force in keeping Canada from turning further into a mini-USA in the past six years or so.
Without a doubt, the Liberal Party has produced the best television attack ads during this election. The “Choose Your Canada” series of ads often use sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek humor to harass the Liberals’ nemesis, Stephen Harper. I recommend going to the Liberal Party’s site, right here, and viewing some of the ads if you have time. The “Washington Times,” “Diversity,” and “Campaign Promises” are especially good.
Whether those ads have actually helped the Liberal Party’s cause is up for debate. But once the results of the election are known on Monday, I will post an update. C-SPAN or one of its other two channels will probably replay the CBC’s news coverage on Monday as well.