Two Elections Compared

It’s an interesting time on the political agenda. Today, here in Canada, our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper dissolved parliament and called an election for October 14, 2008. Meanwhile down in the States, their presidential election process has been going on for 18 months or more with a final resolution still eight weeks away (November 4). The two countries obviously live under different systems of democracy. We here in Canada have a parliamentary system where the government leader (prime minister) is a member of the legislative assembly and is selected by the political party that is able to elect the greatest number of members of parliament.

On the other hand, the United States functions under a republic system, where there is separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. Thus, the country elects its president separately from its legislators. But why does it take so long to decide who will be each party’s presidential candidate?

In Canada, party leaders are chosen within the party. There are no primaries that let the public decide who they would like to see run for each party. Instead, party leaders are selected either by ballot within the party or the more traditional way of sending delegates to national conventions (as the Liberals selected their leader a while ago). Personally, I’m in favor of this process becoming more democratic, with at least each party member having a vote, as some parties are doing.

In the States, however, the more democratic method of primary elections appears to have gotten totally out of control. Now, I must admit that I am a former U.S. citizen that came to Canada more than 35 years ago, and am now a citizen here. However, I did vote in one presidential election before I moved to Canada and remember the primary process being much less cumbersome, with candidates being selected within a few months instead of years. I think the problem lies with each state being able to set its own primary agenda. As more and more states adopted the primary system, they vied with each other to have each of their primaries take the national stage, in hopes of being an important turning point in the election. As a result, primaries started occurring earlier and earlier and more spread out so that campaigns focus on each state. The result has been a very expensive and exhausting process that is more of a marathon than a selection process. I can’t help but have the feeling that the eventual candidates selected are more survivors than victors.

Since this is a federal election, perhaps the primary process in the U.S. should become more federal, where everyone goes to the polls at the same time to elect their presidential candidates in their party of choice….? It would be less expensive, take less time, and maybe make the process less taxing on the public. Whether that would elect better candidates is another issue, but at least more candidates might be attracted.

I just offer this as an outsider looking back into my former home country. Our system here in Canada has its own problems, but at least our election will be over in less than 40 days, from start to finish.

So, what’s wrong with that?


About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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