(Polls suggest young people will turn out in record numbers for the The federal Monday, May 2. Traditionally, they haven’t and no one knows whether the polls will prove correct or be another disappointment to parties hoping young people will support them. The following is the opinion of one St. Thomas student about how Canadians approach the business of voting, compared to our neighbours to the south. )
On Monday, May 2nd, the Canadian election will for all intents and purposes be over. It has been, by Canadian standards, a dramatic election. The attack ads, scandals, and general snarkiness displayed between the parties is to be expected. After all, Canadian democracy is built on an adversarial system. There is much to be said against the way politics are played out in Canada. I think, however, that there is also much to be said in praise of our system, especially as I watch the wheels start to turn on the election machine in the United States.
The candidates in this election have paid a lot of lip service to the idea of getting out the youth vote. As far as I’m concerned, if they can manage to keep our political discourse a notch above our neighbour’s they’ll be a long way to accomplishing that goal. So, without further ado, here are five reasons Canadian elections don’t drive me quite as insane as those in the States.
1. Short and Sweet
In Canada, elections are short. It was only March that the election was first announced. We’re barely into May. That’s about two months of campaigning, tops. Sure, we have to put up with semi-campaigning all the time, and Harper’s strategy of “permanent campaign” kind of pushes that envelope. In the States, however, buildup for elections start YEARS before any of the candidates will actually become serious contenders, which brings me to my next point…
2. No Joke Candidates
If I have to read one more article about Donald Trump’s or Sarah Palin’s candidacy for President of the United States, I will throw up. Not purely in disgust, but simply because my entire vision of the world and how reality works will have been shaken six ways from Sunday. At least Palin HELD office. Trump, for all his business success, is a human punchline. The ink wasted on his candidacy would be better used doing profiles of water-skiing squirrels. At least the squirrels have better hair.
In Canada, since we have a parliamentary system, no-one really “runs” for Prime Minister. Still, at the outside, you know who the serious candidates will be. The Liberal leader, the Conservative Leader, the NDP leader, and (since we love irony) the Bloc leader. There are fringe parties in Canada no doubt, but we keep them where they belong, ON THE FRINGE. There are important issues at stake, and I have better things to do then hear Trump talk about his “great relationship with the blacks.” Speaking of issues…
3. Idiotic Scandals and Conspiracy Need Not Apply
The second Trump opened his mouth and reignited the “Birther” conspiracy in the United States I actually contemplated murder. Another round of “debates” about a long settled issue ensued. Petty, idiotic “scandals” get high billing online and in papers, and manage in each instance to rot what little integrity is left in the process. (Not to harp on this point, but once again THE ELECTION IS NOT EVEN CLOSE AND ALREADY WE’RE HEARING ABOUT HOW THIS WILL AFFECT IT!)
I am not saying Canada is devoid of political distractions, but at the very least ours tend to be rooted in fact, or at least be marginally relevant. When Harper kicks people out of rallies based on information on their Facebook pages, that is relevant to the election because it tells you something about his character. Even the Conservative attacks on Ignatieff, spurious though they may be, have something to do with his actual conduct, and have some bearing on the election. They are also not borderline-insane comments like…
4. Sensible Political Rhetoric
When was the last time you heard any of the federal candidates speculate openly about whether one of their opponents was the Anti-Christ? Anybody hear about how Jack Layton accused Stephen Harper about being a secret Muslim? What about Elizabeth May literally calling for the assassination of Gilles Duceppe?
No? Nothing? Right, because nothing like that happens in Canadian politics. The candidates play dirty, to be sure. Witness again Harper’s campaign suggesting that Michael Ignatieff wants to be Prime Minister only for personal gain. Canada, however, seems to have a good handle on politics. Even though candidates debate important issues, even though those are sometimes questions of life or death, they aren’t worth dividing ourselves over. The Canadian discourse understands that much better than the American one does, and I am thankful for that.
5. Being Prime Minister Does Not Make You God
There are, perhaps, good things to be said about the respect the American people have for their president. At times, however, the respect given to the office, and the mystique surrounding it, takes on a cultish air. It may be a function of their position in the world, since in an absolute sense the United States has more power, and more responsibility, than Canada.
But the President is just a man. And the office is just a political office. Even staunch supporters of the federal leaders in Canada know this. We are aware that being Prime Minister doesn’t endow you with supernatural powers.
Maybe this is why I find Canadian elections more tolerable. They are the appropriate length, have the appropriate seriousness, for what they are. Unless you are a politician, elections are not life. The democratic process requires them, and it is a process we undertake in order to renew our democracy. But Canadians seem to know that we do this only so that we can continue with the things that really matter.