“Canada Does Elections Right”

That’s the title of an op-ed today in the NY Times, by David Shribram of McGill University, with the subtitle: “The campaign for prime minister just started. And it’s almost over.”

The piece points out many ways in which Canadian elections [and those in most democracies, I would add] differ from American elections. One reason the piece highlights is the absence of American style primaries. As the op-ed says:

And though the competition for party leader can be bitter and divisive, there is no need for a parade of primaries or for the retail politics that chews up so much time in places like Iowa or New Hampshire.

Of course, concise campaigns come at a cost. A candidate like Mr. Delaney — or like Gov. Jimmy Carter or Senator Barack Obama, both of whom were polling low before campaigning in Iowa and winning the caucuses there — would have no chance north of the 49th parallel. Lesser known candidates have a shot in the United States; in Canada, it’s usually a battle of the elites.

Most Americans, I think, don’t realize how differently other democracies structure the process of choosing their country’s leaders. As those who know my work are aware, I’m particularly interested in the various consequences that have followed since we moved, in the 1970s, to the use of primaries (and caucuses) to determine who the presidential nominees would be from the major parties. This populist system of selection is far different from the way many other Western democracies select their equivalent to our nominees, as this op-ed on Canada makes clear. The piece is also candid in acknowledging some of the costs and tradeoffs with the way countries like Canada structure their elections.

For my views on these issues, for a popular audience, see this Washington Post piece. For a fuller and more academic study of these issues, see here.

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