Lessons from Canadian politics

British political commentators love looking to the US. It’s why mention “TV leader debates” and you won’t have to wait long until someone mentions the 1960 JFK versus Nixon affair but you’ll have to wait an awfully long time until someone mentions the earlier 1950s pioneering effort in Sweden.

Some of this US-fixation has a decent excuse. The US is the world’s dominant power. Some has a hard-nosed practical excuse – no foreign language knowledge needed to follow American politics. But some is circular – we pay attention to the US, because we know about the US, because we pay attention to it.

When you remember the number of other Parliamentary democracies (something the US is not) which also are mostly conducted in English, those other countries get rather short shrift.

So let’s take a brief look at Canadian politics (though noting that some Canadian political habits are very different from ours). Some of the story is familiar to UK ears. Non-Conservative party in power for years. The equivalent of the Chancellor takes over as Prime Minister after years of waiting and then leads his party to defeat. Opposition Conservatives, however, do not win a majority on their own.

Conservative PM Stephen Harper is now approaching his fourth year leading a minority government, having strengthened his position at one election in the interim. With talk of the next election heating up the political rhetoric and campaigning at the start of the year, especially with a Budget due in February that might bring down the government, Canadian politics show how big the impact of the ban on TV advertising (party political broadcasts aside) is on UK politics. For the Canadian political news is dominated by news of attack ads, counter-attack ads and appeals for money to run more attack ads.

The content of some of the ads has taken a pasting in the media, as with this acerbic comment inThe Globe and Mail:

The Conservatives can defend their new ads as accurate – provided that those who view them are among the most gullible folk who ever walked the Northern Hemisphere.

This isn’t going to be a quiet political season – and for those looking for overseas electoral lessons ahead of the large round of May elections here in the UK, Canada is a good place to keep an eye on.

UPDATE: Learning from Canada is now rather in fashion amongst Liberal Democrats.

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