What is the sound of one writ dropping?
For those of you who don't live in Canada, and possibly for some who do, "drop the writ" is a phrase that means we're having an election. In this case, it will be a federal election. On Friday, the three opposition parties passed a motion censuring the Conservative government for contempt of Parliament and declaring that they have no confidence in the government. Since the Conservatives have a plurality but not a majority of seats in the House of Commons, that means they cannot continue to govern.
On Saturday, Governor-General David Johnston granted Prime Minister Stephen Harper's request to dissolve Parliament and start an election. By law, a campaign has to run for at least 36 days and end on a Monday, so we'll be going to the polls on Monday, May 2.
One curious part of all this is that most of it is by tradition only. It's not part of our written constitution. But it's how the Westminster System has run since, oh, I don't know, the signing of the Magna Carta or something. At any rate, a long time. Stephen Harper has run roughshod over quite a few Canadian traditions, but there are some that even he can't touch.
So the campaign has begun. And since our election campaigns last for not much more than a month, they're pretty intense.
I'm a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada (seriously, there's a membership card in my wallet), so I admit to being partisan. For me, the best outcome would be a Liberal majority. When I moved to Canada in 1994, the Liberals were in power under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Those first years were difficult, because the previous Progressive Conservative government had been unwilling to curb spending. With the debt-to-GDP ratio dangerously high, the International Monetary Fund was poised to step in to impose austerity measures. Instead, Chrétien, together with his finance minister (and, curiously, chief rival) Paul Martin made drastic cuts at the federal level. Within something like two years, they were bringing in surplus budgets and slowly restoring some of the spending they had cut. There had never been such competent financial management in Canadian government, and probably in most coutries in the world.
I miss Jean Chrétien, for all his flaws (and he had plenty). In his prime, he would have had Stephen Harper for lunch and picked his teeth with the bones. He was a tough old bird on the campaign trail and made politically courageous decisions when in power.
Sadly (for me), there is unlikely to be a Liberal majority any time soon. Somehow, people have forgotten that Liberal values are the Canadian values they support. The current leader, Michael Ignatieff, has not yet succeeded in connecting with people. Even a Liberal minority will be an uphill battle.
The worst outcome I can imagine is a Conservative majority. So far, with two minority governments, the Conservatives have been somewhat held in check by the opposition parties. They have still managed to rack up a long list of damage. If the Conservatives were to win a majority, their socially conservative core would be unleashed. I'm reasonably sure a majority of Canadians, even many who voted Conservative, would be appalled by what a Conservative majority would do.
These are not the Progressive Conservatives of Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, and Joe Clark. I can't even bring myself to call this party "Tory." The Tory party died when the last federal PC leader, Peter MacKay, sold out to the Canadian Alliance, previously called the Reform Party. The Harper Conservatives are the Reform Party with a new brand and even less compassion than they had under leader Preston Manning.
If the Conservatives were to win a majority, we'd have four long years to regret it.
Even though I'd prefer a Liberal majority, I know it's unlikely to happen. So I'm urging something called strategic voting. In Canada, as in the United Kingdom and the United States, we have single-member constituencies. That works reasonably well in the US because there are only two major parties. But here we have three, and in Quebec four. So it's possible for a candidate to become MP with as little as 26 percent of the vote, if the vote splits three ways among the other candidates. So I'm begging people to vote ABC—anyone but Conservative. If the Liberal candidate seems most likely to defeat the Conservative, vote Liberal (even if it means holding your nose). If the New Democratic candidate is most likely to win, don't siphon off votes for the Liberal candidate and allow the Conservative to come up the middle. I would even rather see every Quebec riding go to the Bloc Québécois than for a single seat to go Conservative.
Now that I've bored even my fellow Canadians to death, we'll get back to something non-political. But I can't promise not to bore you again before this campaign is over.