Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Unpaid Political Announcement

Current Reading: The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

Inspirational Quote: "Vote early and vote often." -- Al Capone.
"I don't even know what street Canada is on." -- Mr. Capone, again.

Here in Canada, as in the U.S., we are having an election.

I thought this would be a dandy time to point out a few differences between the American and Canadian political process. Mind you, both are ridiculous, but as Winston Churchill observed, "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

First, we have more than two parties. We have a plethora. Don't believe me?

So how do we make sense of so many bewildering choices?

We don't bother. We're pretty laid back about the whole thing. We vote for the people we like and let party affiliations sort out everything else.

The U.S. has the Democrats and the Republicans. Since the U.S. can be described as a democratic republic, I think they are even more confused than we are.

They have the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. They can have a Republican House and Senate, but a Democrat in the oval office. They can't get much done, but sometimes that's a good thing.

Here in Canada, we've just got the House of Parliament, the Senate (a retirement home for long-serving members of parliament who wake up long enough to rubber-stamp whatever gets put in front of them), and the Governor General.

Who's the Governor General? Well, she's (it's a she at the moment) the local representative of the true head of our government: the Queen of England. Yep. A woman who has tea in a country thousands of miles away and about 1/50th our size. Fortunately, the Governor General is given simple instructions: rubber stamp anything the Senate rubber stamps. The upshot is that all of our laws are laid down and passed by Parliament, an elected body whose sole purpose is to argue about trivia and occasionally dissolve into expletives and fistfights.

Of course, after the fights, everyone goes out for apologies over beer. We are Canadian after all.

The party which wins the most Parliamentary seats in the election wins the right to form the government. The party leader becomes our Prime Minister.

A Prime Minister is like a President but with fewer perks.

Unlike our American cousins, elections are not a televised sport. There isn't enough time. Once the government announces an election (every four years), everyone has about six weeks to campaign, and that's not enough time to book ahead on talk shows or variety hours. Of course, we don't really have any talk shows or variety hours anyway. There's Canada A.M., which no one watches, and Royal Canadian Air Farce, which everyone watches and therefore has been taken off the air. Instead, we have radio and print coverage, sound bites on the six-o'clock news and the occasional local speech or fundraiser. We also have web sites because we're techologically savvy, but don't visit them because we're politically apathetic.

Six weeks every four years, that's it. In the U.S., elections seem perpetual, with candidates showing up on Oprah and Saturday Night Live. They say Laugh-In helped get Nixon elected, and Clinton's sax solo on Arsenio was a prelude to his sax in the Oval Office. American politicians have to be celebrities. We've only had one celebrity leader: Pierre Trudeau, Canada's answer to J.F.K. Since then, we seem to prefer our Prime Ministers be uninteresting.

That's Canadian politics in a nutshell, an appropriate repository.

And yet... a moment of seriousness: vote. We are part of a minority in the world, countries where democratic principles exist and have not been entirely subverted or corrupted by the powerful. We must defend that by letting our voices be heard. Apathy is our greatest enemy, and will level great empires faster than any barbarian invasion. There's a wonderful line from "V for Vendetta:" People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.

I am Ulysses, and I approve this message.


AR said...

Absolutely charming.

There are, real or imagined, moral dimmensions to the choices we Americans have to make during elections and that gets very exhausting. Do you have parties that are for or against abortion, big government, and so on?

Ulysses said...

An interesting question. Moral issues don't seem to blow up here the way they do down south.

Pierre Trudeau did many things that helped shape modern Canada and its people. Among those was Bill C150, which decriminalized homosexuality, legalized abortion, and revamped a lot of other sections of criminal law. At the time he said, "There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."

Since then, we've pretty much considered the big questions settled.

About thirty years ago, a Dr. Henry Morgantaler opened a series of abortion clinics in large cities. These attracted quite a bit of protest and made the issue front-page material. However, it never became an election issue.

The last leader who campaigned against big government was Brian Mulroney, who became prime minister and presided over the largest federal cabinet in Canadian history.

As in the U.S., it seems that there are no laws forcing politicians to use truth in advertising.

If you'd like to see a passionate fight, though, criticize someone's hockey team or offer them American beer.