We are in the Writ Period!
Are you pumped? Are you ready to rock and roll? Does the idea of Election 2015 thrill you to the core of your being? Is anyone still awake?
This past Sunday Prime Minister Stephen Harper called upon the Governor-General and asked that Parliament be formally dissolved. If you missed it don't worry. Outside of the Ottawa Press Gallery nobody cares.
For most of Canadian history calling elections went something like this: Parliaments had a life of five years. In theory a Prime Minister could request dissolution any time during those five year but, as a matter of convention, tended to wander into Rideau Hall at about the four year mark.
When he ascended to the Prime Ministership, Stephen Harper promised and eventually introduced fixed election dates. Since he presided over two minority governments the whole idea of a fixed date was moot. When a minority government falls it matters not the date. In 2011 the Harper Tories snagged their first stable majority government. This means that in 2015 we will be treated to the first federal fixed date election in Canadian history.
Thrilling stuff I know.
The idea of fixed election dates is an American idea. For a century and a half Canadian political leaders have wisely avoided this particular goof on the part of the American Founding Fathers. Why are fixed election dates a bad idea? Because when you know something is going to happen you can't help but plan for it. When you know the date exactly you plan for it incessantly. This is why American politicians are in constant electioneering mode. It's why you can't watch American TV without being bombarded with election advertising.
Thanks to Stephen Harper this terrible idea has now been introduced into the Canadian body politic.
While the election officially kicked off on Sunday it's really been going on since the Dauphin was acclaimed Liberal leader in April 2013. By October 19th we'll have had two and a half years of quasi campaigning. Constantly bombarding people with something they don't care about is not an ideal way to overcome voter apathy.
Back in the bad old days, when elections calls where made on little more than Prime Ministerial instinct, there was an air of drama. Well by the standards of Canadian politics there was an air drama. This isn't one of those countries where anything genuinely violent or controversial will happen.
Still the "will he or won't he" tension would at least generate a few decent headlines. It would slowly begin the processing of waking up the Canadian electorate from their default apathy about anything not involving the hockey playoffs.
Once the PM had done his photo-op on the front steps of Rideau Hall he'd jump on a bus, plane or limo and begin the campaign. Shortly there after the opposition leaders would do much the same thing. For the next six to eight weeks hectic name calling, back bitting and carefully staged campaign events would dominate the news cycle. At long last the campaign would be over, a new government would be formed and everyone could forget about elections for the next four years or so.
Please explain to me why the old system didn't work perfectly well?
In his infinite cruelty the PM has imposed upon the Canadian people, who never did him any harm, a formal eleven week election campaign. The longest since 1872. Much of Canada still wasn't part of Canada in 1872. After eleven weeks of politicking those regions might be thinking of leaving. British Columbia we will miss you dearly. Newfoundland much the same.
Lest we complain the status quo remains. As Ronald Reagan once observed status quo is Latin for the mess we're in. Our particular mess has a dull and worthy quality befitting our national character. This brings us to the vital question: What is Election 2015 about?
Is it about Justin Trudeau's fitness to rule the nation? No, because nobody in their right mind thinks the Dauphin is fit to rule. He's a front man for those shrewder than himself. If current polls are to be trusted it appears that Canadians are not keen on a Gerald Butts government.
Perhaps it's about Thomas Mulcair and his ability to lead. Can you, the good and sensible people of our fair Dominion, imagine yet another Quebec lawyer as ruler of all the Canadas? And if you can hold that mental picture, while still holding your lunch, have you thought carefully about who is part of Team Mulcair?
However astute and moderate a PM Tommy might turn out to be, he will still need to build a cabinet. Have you seen the timbers of the NDP caucus lately? Do you want this woman running the environment portfolio?
Canadians, it is understood, are creatures of habit. We likes what we likes. There is a tendency for the electorate to plunk for the bank manager candidate. The safe pair of hands who won't screw things up too much.
As a people we generally avoid Messiahs or Rabble Rousers. It offends our sense of proportion. We want someone clever enough to deal with basic problems but sensible enough not to wreck the place between elections. In our long national history we have deviated from this common sense approach just once. Way back in 1968 we took a wild and daring risk. The result was fifteen years of Pierre Trudeau.
Bill Davis, perhaps the most quintessential of Ontario politicians, famously attributed his success to a simple formula: Bland works. Stephen Harper is our bland candidate. Beneath the bad hair cut the enormous brain continues to plot. It plotted the Canadian Right out of the political wilderness. It plotted Canada away from the disaster of an Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition. Nimbly has it darted us through the shoals of the world economy. He ain't great but he's better than what else is on offer.
This October my fellow Canadians lets us be boring. Let us be sensible. Let us be bland. It's what we do best and why, whatever happens over the next eleven weeks, Stephen Harper will still be running the joint for years to come. All hail the new Mackenzie King.
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