Canadian politics can’t compete
OTTAWA his is lining up to be a make-or-break year for the four main federal leaders, the ruling Conservative dynasty in Alberta, as well as the three parties that are vying for the top spot in a realigning Quebec. In the likely scenario of a 2008 federal election, only the winner can absolutely be counted on to be around by this time next year. Elections tend to set a changing of the guard in motion and after the next one, three of the four main parties could end up replacing a losing leader. The cracks in the Alberta Conservative façade could shift the tectonic plates of a province whose die-hard Tory loyalties most Canadians have come to take for granted. Quebec Premier Jean Charest and/or the Parti Québécois could rise decisively from the graves they had widely been consigned to in 2007. At the dawn of a new year, both are still alive and kicking. In terms of significance, though, none of those potential domestic developments — as compelling as they may turn out to be — will stack up to the American presidential election. The U.S. campaign is a competitive contest featuring a set of strikingly diverse characters at a time when the Canadian scene is dominated by blandness and a relatively high degree of uniformity. None of the major federal parties has a Hillary Clinton or a Barack Obama anywhere near the leadership fast track and when the Prime Minister hosts the premiers later this week, it will be an all-white all-male gathering. The outcome of the American election also stands to have as much and possibly more impact on the big issues that will dominate the national scene this year than the election choices of Canadians. How the next American administration addresses the Iraq quagmire, for instance, cannot but have a domino effect on the Afghan front. The latter has always been part of the larger picture of the U.S. war on terrorism and it is on those terms that Canada engaged in the region. In theory, Parliament will decide the future of the Afghan mission within months. But should the Canadian deployment be extended beyond next year, its next phase stands to unfold against a yet undefined American foreign policy background. Take then climate change. It is already a given that the decisive negotiations on a follow-up to the Kyoto protocol will not take place until the dust has settled on the presidential election. But the American vote will also affect the intensity and the success of Canadian efforts to curb global warming, regardless of the party in power on Parliament Hill. AWhite House that embraces the international fight against climate change would force Canada to scramble to keep up or else risk economic consequences. In the reverse, one that stuck to the current isolationist course would make it more difficult for Canada to live up to the goal of a substantial reduction in carbon emissions without endangering the country’s competitiveness. Meanwhile, the upset outcome of the Iowa caucuses already serves as a useful reminder to prognosticators and politicians alike of a familiar but too often forgotten lesson. As Clinton’s third-place finish demonstrates, there is no such thing in politics as an unbeatable candidate and a certain outcome. But then Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion are already living proof of that particular reality. Chantal Hébert’s national affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.