19 January 2006

Even-tempered Canadian expats aren't arguing over January 23 election

Story by: David Agren

The 2004 U.S. election stirred political passions on Mexico's Chapala Riviera (Lakeside). Friendships reportedly dissolved over political differences and members of opposing parties would avoid each other in public. Open politicking led to a politically charged atmosphere at some Lakeside events – most notably at a speech given by Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The former Texas railroad commissioner drew jeers after delivering a partisan address.

In comparison, the competitive Canadian election, which takes place on January 23, has intrigued many in Lakeside's Canadian community, but featured little acrimony.

"We came down here to get away from it all," said Erik Benedictson, a Chapala resident, originally from Lake Cowichan, British Columbia. "We're still keenly interested," he added, explaining he regularly watches coverage via Star Choice satellite. "We just don't rant or rave about it."

The Canadian election pits the embattled governing Liberals against the Conservative Party (Tories), left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and openly-separatist Bloc Quebecois. Recent polls put the Tories in front by a double-digit margin, although the Liberals launched a series of deeply-negative attack ads last Tuesday.

Recurring scandals have diminished Liberal fortunes – especially in Quebec – and the party has so far run an uninspiring campaign. "You could never have predicted the Liberals would run such a bad campaign," said Adam Daifallah, co-author of the recently published book, "Rescuing Canada's Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution."

"They're making gaffes everyday. … It's a total reversal [of the 2004 race]."

According to Rob Parker, vice president of the Canadian Club and a former federal politician, who served as a Conservative member of parliament for nine months in the late 1970s, "There's been a great deal of interest" in the election race and many partisans reside at Lakeside. But most Canadian expatriates aren't arguing over the upcoming vote.

Parker, who lives in Ajijic, said all of Canada's main parties are well-represented at Lakeside, although, due to demographics, some of the smaller parties probably had few adherents.

"I haven't run into any Marxist-Leninists or Communists [down here]," he quipped, referring to two thinly-supported Canadian parties, which have never had a member elected to Parliament.

"There are certainly strong feelings among the supporters of each of the three major parties."

No Canadian political party has campaigned in Lakeside this year. Unlike the big two U.S. political parties, the Canadian parties have no foreign offshoots to drum up support or sign up voters. During the last U.S. election, heavyweight campaigners, including George P. Bush, the president's nephew, and Diana Kerry, Democratic candidate John Kerry's sister, courted expatriate voters in Mexico.

Adam Daifallah said contrasting political cultures explain many of the differences.

"Politics in the United States is a sport and it's professional," he explained.

"In Canada we don't have that same phenomenon. It's still very much a pastime. It's not the same obsession."

Parker attributed the lack of politicking in Lakeside to the fact Canadians have less of a history of voting from abroad – unlike their American neighbors. Also, Canada seldom holds elections in the winter – a time when the Canadian population at Lakeside swells.

To make participating in the election easier – for supporters of all parties – the Canadian Consulate in Guadalajara, Elections Canada and the Canadian Club worked out a unique voting-abroad scheme.

Approximately 150 Canadian expatriates living at Lakeside cast ballots between January 5 – 7, voting at an informal poll run by the Canadian Club.

Erik Benedictson voted during the three-day event, saying afterwards, "The Canadian Club made it easy."

He explained that the club helped with obtaining ballots, publicized the vote and provided a full list of the candidates names in each of the ridings for the special write-in ballots. (Canadian voters only elect a local member of parliament and do not directly choose the prime minister.)

Rob Parker said the marked ballots would be shipped to Canada on January 12, arriving well in advance of the January 23 deadline. A source at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City said that as of last Thursday, 914 Canadians had registered for voting. The embassy also facilitated shipping ballots back to Canadian through its diplomatic bags.

The current race could result in another minority Parliament, meaning Canadians could face another election within the next two years, something Parker promised to be ready for.

"We've had some practice," he said with a chuckle.

From the Guadalajara Colony Reporter

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