Being very sensibly immersed in summer, you may not have heard the most recent political news: Canadians are preparing for a federal election for this autumn.
This is almost unheard of here, as political parties usually have the good sense to call fall elections in the… you know… fall. However, the incumbent party apparently wants to make Canadians hate democracy with a blind fury, and plans to make this happen by inflicting more than 100 days of campaigning on them.
I know from my own experience as an outsider looking at the American or European Union situations that the politics of another country or group can be … puzzling sometimes. So today I offer you this primer on the Canadian political system.
Parliament: Where the Canadian government sits in Ottawa, Ontario. This is large, old and imposing brick building with a high fence at the front, and a nasty drop into a cold river at the back; it is covered by several feet of snow at least eight months a year. We sentence 300+ people to work, eat, and breathe there for terms of up to five years, and wonder why they come back changed men and women.
Member of Parliament: This is a local person who has been convinced to run for a seat in the government. Like in any other democracy, Canadians will plant lawn signs, canvass, campaign, and rally around their chosen victim until election day. After that, they regard him or her as a “politician,” to be muttered about darkly in the coffee shops.
Opposition: The parties that fail to form the government collectively form what is known as the Opposition. They get to second guess and criticize the government’s every move, which makes their jobs way more fun and less work than actually governing. See also Armchair General, Monday Morning Quarterback and Movie Critic.
Question Period: A period of time every day that parliament is in session, where the government and especially the Prime Minister must face the Opposition and answer questions about its policies and conduct. Americans should try this some time.
Lawn Sign: Candidates typically go to great trouble and expense to get supporters to place partisan signs on their lawns. This is probably a singularly ineffective way to advertise because,
A) Someone who is committed enough to put up a lawn sign is already going to vote for you;
B) Anyone who is undecided will be further confused by a walk through any average neighbourhood: “Oh look! A Liberal sign. Maybe I’ll vote Liberal. Wait! A Conservative sign. Perhaps I’ll vote Conservative. Hang on! A New Democratic Party sign. Think I’ll vote NDP. Whoa! Another Liberal sign. Maybe I’ll vote Liberal.” And finally,
C) This being an autumn election, most of the signs will be buried in the snow across much of the country by polling day anyway.
Door-to-Door Canvassing: Another dubious campaign strategy is going door-to-door. Typically a campaigner will knock on your door, shake your hand, and say something like, “I’m Joe Blow, and I’d like your vote this October.” This year, candidates will likely say, “I’m Joe Blow, and I’m really, really desperate for a new pair of runners. Mine gave out six weeks ago.” Or they may say, “Mm! Mmm mmph mmmph mmm!” because they’re bundled up in a toque, scarf, mittens, earmuffs and a parka.
Door-to-Door II: Whether or not it’s a good time of year, Canadians still value a personal visit and a handshake from the local candidates. This is just one of the many unreasonable expectations we have for our politicians. My riding, for example, has 106,144 people it, which means the local candidate would have to shake something like 1800 hands a day to meet everyone, or die trying. The riding of Nunavut, meanwhile, has only 26,745 people – which might make a personal visit doable, if only the riding wasn’t 2,093,190 kilometers squared in size.
Bad Seasonally-Themed Political Writing: From a voter perspective, the only thing worse than facing a polling day blizzard will be enduring the bad thematic political writing. Look for headlines like: “A Fall for Harper?” or “Opposition Wants To Rake In The Votes ” or “Who Will Exit First: The Maple Leafs or NDP?”
Photo credit: RouxRoundel. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons