Canadians vote -- and get it right

The U.S.'s northern neighbor conducts a national election without a chad -- or butterfly ballot -- in sight.

By Salon Staff

Published November 30, 2000 8:00PM (EST)

While lawyers, judges, secretaries of state and two mediocre politicians continue to haggle over vote recounts and re-recounts in the post-post-election season, Canada's turn at the polls on Monday was over almost as soon as it began. The citizens of the U.S.'s northern neighbor proved their remarkable electoral savvy by -- apparently -- voting for the people they actually wanted to vote for.

The Liberal Party of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, which has been in power for seven years, picked up a solid majority in the 301-member House of Commons, guaranteeing the popular politician a third straight term. The center-left Liberals have now increased their representation in the legislature to 172 or 173 seats, depending upon the outcome of one district where a recount will be done because of the closeness of the vote.

The results reflected general satisfaction with the nation's strong economy. Chrétien, a Quebecois opposed to the regional independence movement, also picked up additional seats in the French-speaking province -- a sharp slap to the Bloc Québécois, the separatist party that portrayed him as a traitor.

The election did expose a gnawing dissatisfaction in the less-populated western provinces, which resent the concentration of political and economic power in the eastern part of the country, including Ottawa, the capital. The conservative Canadian Alliance, which ran on a platform of large tax cuts, won big in the west, where it picked up all but a handful of its 66 seats. The party had expected -- wrongly, as it turned out -- to make inroads in Ontario and other eastern regions. Two other parties, the center-right Progressive Conservatives and the leftist New Democratic Party, split the remaining seats.

Despite the fact that Chrétien was only three-and-a-half years into his second five-year term, he had called the election in order to seek what he said was a "fresh mandate" from voters -- something the next U.S. president would surely covet. And in contrast to Florida's election fiascos, Canada was able to report virtually all the results of its 13 million ballots just a few hours after the polls closed.

Some Canadian commentators blustered on about the superior efficiency and fairness of the country's electoral system. Canada uses paper ballots that voters mark with an X, eliminating any potential confusion over chads or butterfly designs. Each party is entitled to send a representative to watch the count, and close races are automatically recounted.

But with typical Canadian restraint, Pierre Blain, a government spokesman, declined to criticize the U.S. "All the democracies must look at their systems themselves," he told the Associated Press. "It's not for somebody from another country to look at them."

Only one unusual incident marred the election: In Nova Scotia, a man ran off with a ballot box and threw it into a waste-treatment lagoon, apparently protesting the fact that the water near his home was polluted. But, hey -- no problem. Officials simply called up all 126 people who had cast the soiled ballots and invited them to vote again.

Salon Staff

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