Monday, May 26, 2008

A New American Election

Like most Canadians, I’m a fan of many things American. From American movies to American sports to American television, I just can’t get enough of what you folks have on offer.

But when it comes to Presidential elections, I think I’ve finally had enough. Don’t get me wrong; up until now, I’ve enjoyed following your quadrennial races for The White House. After all, where else can you watch a slate of Republican and Democratic high flyers go after one another for months at a time?

But, in the end, that’s the problem. Your elections are no longer just political marathons. Now they’re the equivalent of a Presidential triathlon.

As a Canadian, I’m used to much shorter elections. Five weeks, to be exact. In fact, it looks like an election may be called here any day now and it will be over even before you folks have chosen your two Presidential nominees.

Now I can hear some of you saying: "But what kind of process is that? How can you discuss all the issues in five weeks? And how can you test a candidate’s mettle in the crucible of political combat in such a short time?"

Well, in my experience, you can. Five weeks is plenty of time for candidates to canvass the issues, debate their opponents and appeal to the electorate. And as for testing a candidate’s suitability for higher office, all that your drawn out process demonstrates is that some candidates can survive the rigors of the campaign trail for up to two years.

Surviving such a process may be a badge of honor but I’m not sure it ensures that you end up with the best and the brightest leading your country. Who in their right mind would subject themselves to such a grind? Isn’t it likely that a shorter campaign might encourage more leaders from the business, academic and military communities to come forward and offer their services to the nation?

Another drawback to your current structure is the limited choice for the average citizen. In most Presidential elections, the voter gets to choose between two candidates, the Democratic and Republican nominees. Occasionally, you also get a serious third party candidate although there’s seldom a realistic chance that he or she can do more than act as a spoiler.

In contrast to your two-party system, we Canadians have five or six viable options to choose from. They span the political spectrum from the Conservative Party on the right to the quasi-socialist New Democratic Party on the left. We even have the environmentally-friendly Green Party and a separatist option in the Bloc Quebecois for independence-minded voters in Quebec.

Such a wealth of choices lends itself to a more engaged electorate. We’re not exemplary in this regard but I’m sure our sixty per cent plus voter turnout for federal elections tops your participation rates in recent years.

Having many parties represented helps to moderate the views of the government of the day. It also helps to promote and ultimately enact more progressive legislation such as gun control, gay marriage, legalized marijuana and public health care.

Some criticize our multi-party system as inefficient because it sometimes leads to a minority government where the party in power only has a plurality of seats in the House of Commons. But a minority government is not always a bad thing. In order to stay in power, such a government must seek support from other parties which often leads to productive compromises. In fact, some commentators have lauded minority governments as more efficient, more responsive and more reflective of the popular will than their cumbersome majority counterparts.

The Canadian electoral system is by no means perfect. But given the limitations of the American process and its inability to reflect the will of the people, it may indeed be time for a change this year: a wholesale change to the way you choose your national leader.

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