- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

American voters will particularly appreciate the line in Tom Stoppard's play "Jumpers": "Democracy is not in the voting, it's in the counting."
When Canadians go the polls on Monday to elect a new House of Commons, their version of our presidential election, we'll get further confirmation of Mr. Stoppard's wisdom. Within hours after the polls close coast-to-coast, everyone will know who the next Canadian prime minister will be. There will be no hangover sense of conspiracy and vote stealing as there is in Florida. And there will no premature forecast as to the winner because Canadian media are forbidden it's the law to declare winners until all the polls have closed in all time zones.
Canada, like its former colonial master, Britain, enjoys a parliamentary system, one which links the legislature and the executive. In that sense there is no separation of the two institutions as there is under the U.S. Constitution. The prime minister of Canada, as in Britain, must first of all be a member of the House of Commons and must run in one of some 300 districts. Were Joseph I. Lieberman, by contrast, to become vice president, a possibility only if the Democratic Party is successful is victorious, he would have to surrender his seat in the Senate.
In Canada, the majority party of the House of Commons elects the prime minister who usually has already been chosen by the membership as their party leader. The Canadian prime minister remains in office for a maximum of five years, when a new election must be called. The prime minister, however, has the power to dissolve the House of Commons anytime he pleases within the five-year term and to call a new election, usually within 30 days. There are no primaries, no Canadian equivalent of New Hampshire or the Iowa caucuses.
The Canadian voter has an uncomplicated ballot and, best of all, no chads, dimpled or perforated. The voter chooses one among several candidates in his district (or, in parliamentese, riding) to go to Ottawa, Canada's capital. But everyone knows that if a majority of Liberal Party members emerges, Jean Chretien, 66, will continue as Canada's prime minister.
Canada's election is of striking interest because it marks the debut on the national scene of the new leadership of the truly conservative Canadian Alliance Party, formerly known as the Reform Party. Its recently elected leader, Stockwell Day, 50, is an evangelical Christian, and much has been made about that by his opposition, a majority of whom are admirers of Fidel Castro. Mr. Day has been smeared by several Jewish groups as an ally of Holocaust-deniers and in turn has been defended by Jewish candidates of the Alliance Party. He has been subjected to such questions as which do you think is more important, the Bible or the Canadian constitution? In short, the Alliance's opponents are panicky even though there is little chance of defeating the Liberals, according to five different Canadian polls.
The real question that underlies all Canadian elections is whether the country can remain a united country or will the 21st century witness its dissolution? Two regions have long been disaffected with Canadian nationalism western Canada and Quebec whose provincial government, having already lost two referenda on secession (one in 1995 by a whisker), plans a third. Mr. Chretien's Liberals have little standing in the Western provinces. Liberal strength comes from Ontario, whose large population gives the province one-third of the House of Commons seats. Mr. Day's real test is whether he can break the Liberal hold on Ontario.
Conservatism a la Margaret Thatcher has had hard sledding in Canada for decades because the so-called Progressive Conservative Party, particularly under Brian Mulroney, was a counterfeit of the genuine article. That is why the party in 1993 went from 155 seats to two seats, and it hasn't made much of a recovery. It now holds 20 seats, and a defeated prime minister, Joe Clark, is trying to make a comeback. The polls don't give him much of a chance.
Mr. Day's leadership test will be simple. His party, then under Preston Manning, got 20 percent of the popular vote in the 1997 national election and won 60 seats. The answer will come Monday.

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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