Elections you haven't heard about

So how about those byelections? Truly portentous events portend. The eyes of the world are on Montmagny, Que.

Oh, you thought I meant New Jersey, where the Republicans just captured a bright blue state house. Or Virginia, where they took back the Old Dominion from the glorious Democrats by 18 percentage points. Or New York's 23rd district, where a liberal Republican was ousted for excess liberalism before they even voted, allowing the Democrat to squeak by a Conservative insurgent. Or the Maine referendum, where gay marriage lost for only the 31st time in 31 U.S. state votes.

Pshaw. I'm talking about Canada's byelections. Elections Canada insists such things are under way in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Hochelaga, Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup and New Westminster-Coquitlam. Maybe the problem is the names. In a classic Pace Picante sauce ad, a southern cop denounces the dreaded other brand made in "NEW JERSEY?!?" whereas it's hard to spit out "Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup" with indignant regional pride.

The insulting alternative would be to conclude that politics in the United States is more interesting, more important or both. But that cannot be. After all, we know Canada is on the cutting edge of progressive soft power environmental social justice and the world longs for more of us, while the U.S. is obnoxious, overbearing and primitive.

Tuesday's Citizen reported a Historica-Dominion Institute poll saying nearly 90 per cent of us like Barack Obama and 70 per cent like individual Americans, but less than half feel at home in the U.S. (only one third of Quebecers do, but since they don't feel at home in Canada either, maybe they're just malcontents). Things haven't changed since 2005, though back then only 21 per cent of us liked the no-good low-down incumbent Republican worst-ever president. And more than two thirds think Canadian and American values are as different as in 2005 or more so.

It's hard to test the last point since they don't let us vote on stuff like gay marriage up here. Heck, they don't even let our parliamentarians vote on it. Our values, if any, are an undiscovered country. But who cares? "American-style" remains the ultimate political insult.

So it strikes me as a bit weird that the Ontario Liberal Party just held a convention in Windsor so boring no one noticed it (apparently including their own webmaster) where the keynote speaker was former John Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen. Talk about fresh new ideas ... from before Michael Ignatieff even went to Harvard.

Even stranger, an NDP press release in May hyperventilated that their federal convention in Halifax in August would feature a keynote address from "Anita Dunn, director of communications to the Obama for America Presidential campaign" and a speech by Marshall Ganz, a "Harvard University lecturer" who "advised Obama on organizing, training and leadership development.". And it quoted the NDP's national director that, "The focus of the convention will be on winning strategies for the next campaign. With Obama's inner circle, we'll be learning from the best." You can readily imagine what the NDP would say if the Tories boasted of learning tactics from a top American operative. Then there was a Sept. 2 e-mail showing Jack Layton and the slogan "CHANGE you can BELIEVE IN," which I vaguely associate with some Illinois senator's presidential campaign. Not that we're jealous.

Oh, and when Ralph Nader urged Canadians to support the NDP in 2004 or the "Quebec party," whose name he hadn't bothered to learn (dang ignorant Americans who come to Canada in July with skis on their roof racks), Jack Layton said "We appreciate his endorsement ... I think it will underline that someone of great credibility is supporting us." No doubt he'd control his sneer reflex if Sarah Palin endorsed Stephen Harper.

The point is, Canadian politics is really interesting and conducted on a far more elevated plane. Except when the Liberals demand an emergency debate on H1N1 to find out why the Tories favour influenza (oh yeah, because they're uncaring bums) and why they bought vaccine from one company (oh yeah, because the Liberal government signed the contract; talk about a debating emergency).

That's why we're glued to the Hochelaga byelection, to see whether the Bloc can get it back from the Liberals, or the Liberals from the NDP, or the Tories, or whoever used to hold wherever it is. And whenever they're voting.

We just took a glimpse at New Jersey to see if Americans were enlightened enough to adopt our crushingly expensive health-care system complete with long waiting lines. They're not. They're loud vulgar bums. Now back to the Musquodoboit Valley.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson