Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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No recount up north

The election is over. No, not ours, dreamer. Theirs. Canada's.

Canadians in large numbers grumbled at the quickie election called by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and then gave his Liberal Party a third consecutive mandate.

Although Canadians elect only the member of parliament from their riding, or election district, leaders of the five political parties actively campaign nationwide, usually in a more low-key manner than their American counterparts.

But despite signs that Mr. Chretien's popularity is declining, Canadians remain a fairly cautious lot. They may have looked with fascination, distaste, or a combination of the two upon the political carnival down south, where two American presidential candidates are locked in a virtual tie and fighting in court over the vote count.

That alone could have persuaded Canadians to stick with the known quantity. It is their habit to vote Liberal in federal elections anyway. And the conservative opposition was divided between the Canadian Alliance, strong in the western provinces, and the more traditional Progressive Conservatives, who founded the modern government of Canada shortly after our Civil War.

Aided by a virtual sweep of Ontario, which has a third of the seats in the Canadian House of Commons, the Liberals gained an absolutely majority, with 172 seats. The Alliance, led by a newcomer, Stockwell Day, moved up from 58 seats to 66 seats and gained votes in every province. The Bloc Quebecois lost ground to the Liberals. That is a good piece of news because it shows that French Canadians in Quebec may be interested in pursuing other goals than the chimera of separatism. The New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives retained a foothold, but little more.

The campaign was blessedly short, 36 days, though by Canadian standards unusually nasty. Chretien fatigue bothered many Canadians, but they were concerned even more by allegations that Mr. Day would tamper with their health-care system, the third rail of Canadian politics. Voters also feared Mr. Day's social agenda too closely resembled that of the Republicans in the United States.

By winning three elections in a row, Mr. Chretien matches the record of William Lyon Mackenzie King, a contemporary of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and fellow French Canadian, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in the early years of the 20th century.

With the notable exception of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who died recently, Canadian prime ministers have often been colorless individuals with a gift for political cunning. That fit Mackenzie King, whose tenure over three decades is close to a fifth of the time since confederation in 1867.

Mr. Chretien is entitled to celebrate his victory. He has forestalled the Quebec separatist movement, hopefully for years to come. However, he symbolizes the born-to-rule attitude of the Liberal Party, which would have turned him out in short order had he lost rather than gained seats.

Mr. Chretien's divided opposition may not always remain so, and many Canadians are impatient for him to pass the baton to a new party leader, perhaps Finance Minister Paul Martin. It is better to exit gracefully with the sweet taste of victory. Canadian history has not dealt kindly with those who lingered on stage too long.

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