A day after Canadians went to the polls to elect a new government, Americans looked longingly across the border to a saner kind of democracy.
Canada just concluded its longest-ever electoral campaign —11 weeks. On this side of the border, we find it humorous to think that the Canadians are weary of so much electioneering. As Gloria Galloway, a political reporter for Toronto’s Globe and Mail, exclaimed, “It’s been a long, endless 11 weeks.”
Maybe Canadians just lack the American superpower appetite for politics, politics and more politics. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the population of Canada is so significantly smaller than ours. Or it might be some underlying confusion over here of equating longer, more expensive campaigns with the idea of progress. Somehow, when it comes to politics, it seems like the more, the better.
On the other hand, the Canadian approach could be a sign of sanity. As America hurtles toward the final year (!) of the 2016 presidential marathon, it’s hard for us to imagine a different way of doing things.
We are prisoners of an endless campaign spiral. Prisoners, because there seems no way out, even if we wanted to be more like our sane neighbors to the north. It is the law of campaign inertia — the tendency of a body politic when in motion to continue in motion at unchanged velocity.
But inertia is merely a metaphor. The reasons are as mundane as habit and hype. We’ve simply gotten used to it. Anything less would feel like the air going out of a balloon. What would we do with all that time otherwise taken up with debates, caucuses and primaries?
What about the economic impact? The election campaigns are big job-providers, the only shovel-ready jobs worthy of the name. Legions of strategists, media advisors, speechwriters, bodyguards, media time salesmen, reporters and pundits find gainful (though not necessarily meaningful) employment in the campaign cycle.
But if there is a political will, there is a way. If the U.S. and U.S.S.R. could negotiate nuclear arms reductions, theoretically it should be possible — though highly unlikely — for the Democrats and Republicans to negotiate compressing the election cycle. For example, a one-year limit on all media ads. Or a limit on the total number of hours any single candidate or election committee would be permitted on air in any given week from one year prior to Election Day.
The vested interests (including all the jobniks mentioned above) would, of course, fight it like Prohibition. It’s an infringement of the constitutional right of free speech, they would correctly cry.
Like campaign finance reform, campaign length is something that just cannot be legislated. The campaigns will have to contract, if they ever do, through some natural process, not through legal coercion.
When Americans begin to lose interest in Donald Trump’s latest outrage, or Bernie Sanders’ latest socialist flashback, or Hillary Clinton’s emails, the campaigns will hopefully begin to shrink on their own.
In the meantime, there is no sign of it. Twenty-four million people tuned in to the first Republican debate; 15 million people tuned into a Democratic debate.
Defenders of the American system might argue that Canadian election cycles are so short because there just isn’t much to talk about; so close to the Arctic Circle that things slow down.
There is some truth to this argument, but not a lot. True, the issues facing the United States today, because of its size, power and global reach, are vastly more complex and urgent than those Canada must contend with.
However, there are real issues up north, too. For one thing, Canadians have their own concerns about health care, social security and college debt, much like Americans.
Climate change policy could be a surprisingly important outcome of this election. If the Liberals unseat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, they will likely change Canada’s position on carbon emissions.
A new Canadian government, coupled with a new, more environment-friendly Australian government, could alter the configuration of powers at the COP21 summit in Paris this December.
Canada and Australia are leading fossil fuel producers. If they commit to cutting back their emissions while using less coal and oil sands, they could have a ripple effect — positive or otherwise — for other countries, such as India, which are facing similar challenges.
There is no shortage of important topics to discuss north of the border. They just have found a quicker way to do so.