CANADA HAS slid into a dismal season in which nothing is going right. It's in the early stages of a recession, and unemployment is climbing sharply. The long standoffs with armed Indians near Montreal this summer brought attention to the extensive list of land disputes and Indians' grievances that the government has never got around to resolving. Quite separately, the voters of Ontario have now elected a socialist government. While Canadian socialism has generally lived on the prairies, it's now taking over the country's largest province with more than a third of its population and an even higher proportion of its industrial wealth. This unlikely election doesn't signal any great turn to the left in Ontario but rather a profound exasperation with both of the major parties.
Wits have taken to pointing out that the prime interest rate -- another sore point -- is now higher than Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's standing in the polls. The prime rate is being held high (as here in the United States) by a large federal deficit that the government can't quite seem to get under control. The prime rate is 14 percent while, according to the polls, the percentage of voters who are prepared to signify their support of their prime minister dips on bad days into the single digits.
Mr. Mulroney came to office six years ago as the man who would bring a fragmented country back together again. Now the fissures are wider than ever. The Meech Lake accords, his strategy for reconciling the quarrel between French-speaking Quebec and the rest of the country, collapsed disastrously early this summer. That's the deepest fracture line, but not the only one. The rising price of oil is about to revive the tensions between Alberta, which produces oil, and the rest of the country, which consumes it.
It's conventional in Canada to blame all of these mounting troubles on Mr. Mulroney's pedestrian leadership. But most of them go back long before his Progressive Conservatives came to power, and throughout the past decade the opposition Liberals have been equally destitute of inspiration.
The United States is accustomed to a stable and serene Canada on its northern border, providing markets, trade and (most of the time) reliable diplomatic support. Perhaps it would be wiser not to take all of that for granted. There's not much that Americans can do, or ought to try to do, about these quarrels among Canadians. But it's important to keep it in mind that, for a time, the course of Canadian politics may not be quite as steady and predictable as it has seemed in the past.