Canada's Undelayed Way with Elections

Article excerpt

American voters will particularly appreciate the line in Tom Stoppard's play "Jumpers": "Democracy is not in the voting, it's in the counting."

When Canadians go the polls on Monday to elect a new House of Commons, their version of our presidential election, we'll get further confirmation of Mr. Stoppard's wisdom. Within hours after the polls close coast-to-coast, everyone will know who the next Canadian prime minister will be. There will be no hangover sense of conspiracy and vote stealing as there is in Florida. And there will no premature forecast as to the winner because Canadian media are forbidden -it's the law - to declare winners until all the polls have closed in all time zones.

Canada, like its former colonial master, Britain, enjoys a parliamentary system, one which links the legislature and the executive. In that sense there is no separation of the two institutions as there is under the U.S. Constitution. The prime minister of Canada, as in Britain, must first of all be a member of the House of Commons and must run in one of some 300 districts. Were Joseph I. Lieberman, by contrast, to become vice president, a possibility only if the Democratic Party is successful is victorious, he would have to surrender his seat in the Senate.

In Canada, the majority party of the House of Commons elects the prime minister who usually has already been chosen by the membership as their party leader. The Canadian prime minister remains in office for a maximum of five years, when a new election must be called. The prime minister, however, has the power to dissolve the House of Commons anytime he pleases within the five-year term and to call a new election, usually within 30 days. There are no primaries, no Canadian equivalent of New Hampshire or the Iowa caucuses.

The Canadian voter has an uncomplicated ballot and, best of all, no chads, dimpled or perforated. The voter chooses one among several candidates in his district (or, in parliamentese, riding) to go to Ottawa, Canada's capital. But everyone knows that if a majority of Liberal Party members emerges, Jean Chretien, 66, will continue as Canada's prime minister.

Canada's election is of striking interest because it marks the debut on the national scene of the new leadership of the truly conservative Canadian Alliance Party, formerly known as the Reform Party. …