At first blush, it seems so unfair. How come the Yanks get all the sexy politics? The election seasons north and south scream contrast. Progressives there have a leader but no issues. We have issues and no leaders.
But maybe we are deeper into Obama-land than we know. After all, he's the one saying it is all about us, not about him. And here in Canada he's right. We are indeed our only hope.
No need to reiterate Stéphane Dion's well-documented charisma challenge. And Jack Layton's boast that he's applying for the PM's job is pure spin.
As for Elizabeth May, few beyond her small Green party faithful are ever going to see her in action now that she's been excluded once again from the "leaders" debate. Only Gilles Duceppe seems to have the rhetorical chops to call Stephen Harper on his hidden agenda. But he's not on our ballots.
Welcome to our new progressive reality - the leaderless election. In fact, if we look to leadership at all, we are doomed to another Harper government - not just here in Canada but also on the world stage.
It's a dangerous time, and the stakes are incredibly high. The economic problems we face are the price of throwing in our lot with a dying, outmoded system. Vast opportunities are waiting to blossom, but new infrastructure is needed to make the change. Meanwhile, Harper has the budget dancing on the edge of deficit. Those arts cuts are just the beginning.
With another Harper government looming like listeriosis over a meat counter, it's beyond heartbreaking that we have no Barack Obama to inspire or offer hope of any kind. But there are some upsides to our political conundrum if we are smarter this election than we have ever been.
We have one big advantage over our progressive friends down south. We are not a conservative country.
Progressives of one stripe or another are the majority here. Democracy could be our sweet spot, but only if we find a way to land ourselves there.
The sentiments of progressive-minded Canadians blossom forth, as they should, into different party expressions, enriching the national political dialogue and broadening the menu of political choice and accountability.
How fortunate we are to have the NDP and the Greens fulfilling this hard-fought-for mandate of diversity and choice. But Canada's fertility of political expression, when fed to our first-past-the-post electoral system, is now seriously prone to cancel itself at the polls, leaving the reins of government in the hands of dangerous Conservatives.
Suddenly, Obama's mantra of bi-partisanship and cooperation takes on, for me, an unexpected Canadian twist.
Not being immersed in American politics, this aspect of Obama's message has never particularly resonated for me. And yet, looking at the Canadian situation, I see its possibilities for us. We do have to work with each other across partisan lines or leave future generations scratching their heads in the dust.
If we, the electorate, play follow the partisan leader, we will split the vote and elect Harper. It is time for a change. Can we do it? Yes we can (I hope).
But first we need to clear our minds of two outmoded lefty ideas and one big Liberal assumption.
Fellow lefties, please, let's get with Einstein and finally acknowledge that everything is relative. There is no way to exercise your vote for absolute good. We need to stop criticizing the idea of choosing lesser evils.
In life, we need to make smart choices in limited circumstances that give us the best possible outcomes. So, too, at election time. True, there are times when a symbolic statement is the best one can do. This is not one of those times.
Here's the second, bigger point the left needs to face. Neo-conservatism has changed the world. Now that its shock-doctrine politics have been shaped into a global fine art, there is indeed a meaningful difference between Conservatives and Liberals. The old tweedle-dee, tweedledum idea that they are just the same belongs in that proverbial "dustbin of history."
Of course, you shouldn't have to say that to anyone who's spent recent years in Ontario. We had a good dose of shock prep administered by Mike Harris, and it wasn't pretty. If you are not sure about whether it's worth choosing the lesser of two evils, ask anyone in the social service world. They will assure you that the weak-kneed and often wrong-minded Dalton McGuinty is night and day to Mike Harris. It's that simple.
Ontario ain't nirvana, but we have a health tax instead of deficits and spending cuts made on the backs of the sick and the poor.
But Tony Clement, Jim Flaherty and John Baird are not only still with us. They have moved up. It's up to us to move them out. The only way we can do that is to cooperate across party lines so we don't split the votes that can defeat them and all their scary friends.
If we listen to our leaders from whichever party has the pull for each of us, be it Green, NDP or Liberal, we will all go down. But if enough of us in each riding put our partisan loyalties aside and vote for the candidate best poised to defeat the Conservative, all the parties will win.
In the 39 ridings where the Conservatives won the last election by a margin of 10 per cent or less, a small vote shift between parties would have elected 24 extra Liberals, four more Bloc members and at least 10 extra NDPers.
Informed cooperation would also elect two Greens (Blair Wilson in BC and Elizabeth May in Nova Scotia).
These are just the start of the big wins that are right there waiting for us if we choose to make democracy work for us instead of against us.
Ironically, the Liberal minority government that this small vote shift could usher in actually gives Layton the job of co-prime minister.
It also highlights the false Liberal claim that voting to defeat Harper is code for mindlessly voting Liberal. Take Olivia Chow's riding, where Bob Rae recently claimed that voters should support a no-name Liberal against Chow to defeat Harper. Who is he kidding? This is the kind of partisan lying and manipulation that will defeat us all.
And it is especially foolish for the guys facing the biggest bloodbath if we don't cooperate intelligently.
The NDP may have the most to gain from smart voting percentage-wise, but it's the Liberals who may have the most to lose if they alienate NDP support in legitimately swing ridings that could go Conservative.
If we apply the latest Environics poll percentages to the 2006 election results, the results are alarming. In Ontario alone, the Liberals could lose 20 of their ridings to Conservative candidates, while the Tories would take just two NDP seats.
These strategic considerations are less important in our own great metropolis, where Tories are an endangered species these days - though anything can happen and there are ridings in the broader GTA that are vulnerable to Tory takeovers.
If the Conservatives stay at the 38 per cent popular support and there is no cross-party movement to cooperate among all the parties' grassroots, the final cross-country tally would likely put the Conservatives just three seats short of a majority.
We are at a historic moment of danger/opportunity, and it is sexy - in a certain way.
On October 14, either the grassroots will win-win-win by informing ourselves deeply about our own riding before we vote, or the leaders will take us all down.