I should state first that I am an American. But I am also a student of Canadian politics. Here's how next week's election looks to this south-of-the 49th parallel progressive.
A week from today, Canadians will face a choice:
To go forward on a nuanced path toward social justice for all, equal rights for all who consensually choose to love, environmental consciousness, guaranteed health care for everyone, continued separation of church and state, and the perpetuation of Canada's image as a nation that does not reflexively choose war every time fear raises its ugly head.
The other choice:
To slide back from what makes Canada special. Allowing profit-minded private enterprise to compete for, or even subsume, guaranteed national health care; cut back social programs in the name of budgetary efficiency; propose referenda that if approved, would deny all adult Canadians the right to marry who they love; enact de jure or de facto rollbacks of environmental safeguards, strip down Canada's national rail system, let religious teachings slip into civic and even governmental life.
Such a fate awaits a Canada with the Conservatives, and their quite socially and economically conservative leader Steve Harper in power.
Would it be that the choice was so clear, though.
The current majority party, the Liberal Party, has been in power for 12 years. In recent years under the stewardship of Prime Minister Paul Martin, scandal and impropriety have not been absent from the halls of power. Although Martin has not been even indirectly implicated thus far, the most charitable statement one might make is that he hasn't always chosen his associates wisely.
For my fellow progressives who live north of the 49th, the obvious alternative would be the NDP (New Democratic Party). They are the ones with a truly fair agenda that does not give the slightest bit of deference to parsimoniousness in the name of budgetary efficiency. Personified by their enlightened leader, Jack Layton, the NDP is the party that will stand for justice, peace, and environmental stewardship against the same type of intolerant and greedy forces that besmirch our civic and social life here in the States.
But NDP cannot win, at least nationally. They have strength in the cities and even a few select rural ridings, but as I and the polls see it, they just don't have national heft.
As an American, this current Canadian election reminds me of our 2000 elections. A Democratic administration was coming off an impeachment controversy, and a very conservative Republican was running as a "compassionate conservative." The progressives flocked to NDP kindred spirit Ralph Nader, while too many moderates and liberals voted for Bush in the belief that for ethical reasons the party controlling the executive branch had to change- and that Bush couldn't be all that conservative.
Well, those Nader votes as well as those of defecting liberals and moderates cost Al Gore the election. Now, here in the States, we are about to confirm a Bush-nominated Supreme Court nominee who, by his statements and his record, embraces the power of the central government, is opposed to a woman's right to choose, and would likely vote to roll back the separation of church and state.
I am seized with the parallels between the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and what you Canadians are facing right now. Well-meaning progressive voters pulled the lever for their passions rather than vote pragmatically.
I know that it is tempting for you Canadian progressives tired of scandal to vote NDP, sit this one out, or vote for the Conservative Party in the hopes that they won't be all that conservative.
But I have to tell you that many of us (not me, but many fellow progressives) made that mistake back in 2000. And we are about to pay for it in ways that frankly, are both depressing and a bit scary.
Canadian progressives, please don't make the same mistake we did in 2000. Vote with your head, not your heart. The NDP can't win, and an ethically challenged, moderately progressive party is a better choice than a socially conservative party embraced in the halls of business and by members of evangelical megachurches.
I know the choice is not appealing, but to me, it is clear. Vote Liberal, and keep Martin around.