Canada’s longest campaign season in recent history will conclude Monday night, much to the delight of politics-weary citizens and even wearier political journalists.
“It’s been a long, endless 11 weeks,” said Gloria Galloway, a veteran political reporter for the Globe and Mail, based in Toronto.
Wait, what? Eleven weeks?
“Well, the first week didn’t entirely count because that’s the week in August that people go to their cottages, so it’s safe to say most people weren’t paying attention,” said Chris Hannay, also of the Globe and Mail. “But it was still twice as long as normal, and people felt that.”
To put this in perspective: When the Canadian election season started way back in August, the United States had two presidential candidates named Rick (Santorum and Perry) who had already spent 19 months going to and from Iowa. (One, of course, has since left the race, while the other still has his eyes on the prize that is more than a year away.)
But this kind of slog is unprecedented for modern Canada, which is used to having election seasons that last about 50 days. In Canada, the prime minister and governor general can dissolve the government and call for an election at any time. This year, Election Day had long been set for Oct. 19, so when Prime Minister Stephen Harper moved to dissolve Parliament in August, the country’s longest campaign season since 1872 began. It was a strategic play to help his Conservative Party of Canada leverage its formidable war chest under campaign-finance laws that set limits on spending based on the length of the campaign.
“Yeah, this one really does feel longer,” said John Ivison, a political columnist for the National Post who has spent the past 11 weeks following the campaign across the country. “We had one in 2006 that felt like it went on forever as well — five or six weeks. That one had Christmas in the middle, so we took a week off for that. But there was a sense that one really dragged on as well.”
Which does not, it turns out, mean that it has been a boring campaign. Quite the contrary, actually. “This could be a real change election,” Ivison said. “An important, maybe even historic, election.”
After nearly 10 years of rule by Harper and his party, a majority of surveyed voters have told pollsters that they want a change. But with two alternatives — the Liberal Party and the actually-more-liberal New Democratic Party — it has been hard to predict who will win and whether anyone will get a majority.
A longer election cycle doesn’t just give citizens more time to get to know their possible leaders. It also allows for more delicious scandals. To wit: Someone dug up Canadian Broadcasting Corp. video footage of a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party urinating into someone else’s coffee cup while he was working as a repairman. Another candidate dropped out after videos of him mocking people with disabilities surfaced on YouTube.
“Had the campaign been shorter, there wouldn’t have been time for all of this to surface,” said Janice Dickson, a reporter for iPolitics. “I guess it’s good in a way.”
Good for the process, perhaps. But you get the sense that Canada would never be able to deal with the infinity loop that presidential politics have become in the United States. If Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isn’t elected president next year, would anyone bat an eye if he started campaigning again in January 2017?
“If we even had to put up with this for a year, I could imagine we would be pelting politicians with maple syrup or whatever it is we do when we get mad,” Galloway said.
Americans may say that they hate politicians and the political process, but 24 million people tuned in to watch the first Republican debate. Sure, that one had Donald Trump, but how then do you account for the fact that 15 million people watched a Democratic debate that featured former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee?
The Canadian appetite for debates, on the other hand, usually allows for no more than a couple of them per election cycle. This year there were five.
“I think a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, God, more debates,’ ” said Hannay of the Globe and Mail. “We offered our debate free to broadcasters, and they didn’t want it.”
When Canadians look south to our system, it seems confusing. After all, our campaigns last longer than most Canadian governments do.
“Strange is not the right word — well, maybe strange is the right word,” said Peter Mansbridge, the chief correspondent for CBC News. “They don’t get how you can be so consumed for so long in the political process of electing instead of the process of governing.”
On the other hand, Mansbridge said, Canadians are ready for their election to be over. When he hosts the evening broadcast Monday night, he expects that most of his potential audience will be watching the Toronto Blue Jays in the baseball playoffs instead of watching election returns.
Unfortunately for journalists and voters alike, a Canadian system that allows for the government to be dissolved pretty much whenever could potentially allow for another election just a few months after this one. But after this endless election, political experts find that unlikely.
“There’d be riots,” Galloway joked.