September 07, 2008

It's on

It turns out that our neighbours to the south are not the only ones holding a national election this fall. When I went to church this morning, the street corners were unadorned; on the way back at noon, the campaign signs were already up. Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the walk across Sussex Drive to Rideau Hall and asked the Governor General to dissolve the 39th Parliament.

The current Conservative government was elected on January 23, 2006 and sworn in on February 6. This Parliament is the largest minority in the history of Canada, being short of a majority by 30 seats. Its term of office for 2 years and 214 days, making it also the longest serving minority government.1

Ironically, it was the Harper Conservatives who passed legislation last year to implement fixed election dates for national elections. Had the writ not been dropped, the next federal election would have been October 19, 2009. In effect, Mr. Harper has broken his own rule by calling for a federal election a year early. (Though if my understanding of the new system is correct, no rule was broken, really; this simply means that the next general election will be 4 years later on October 15, 2012, assuming nothing happens in the meantime to hasten it.)

Harper has demonstrated himself to be a canny politician. In 2006, the Canadian and American governments finally resolved a long-standing softwood-lumber trade dispute. They lowered the federal sales tax not once, but twice. The Prime Minister has especially showed his mettle in the last year: with the Opposition Liberal party reluctant to force an election, the Conservatives were able to pass a number of "confidence" bills that the Liberals opposed but could not defeat without forcing the government to resign: amongst them, passing the 2008 federal budget, and extending the current military mission in Afghanistan to 2011 (no later than 2009 was considered "non-negotiable" by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion). This strategy has shown up Dion as an ineffective leader and fomented dissent on Canada's political left between the Liberal and New Democratic Parties. On the other hand, there are also a handful of political scandals currently in the news that don't cast a positive light on the Tories, either.

So the next 30-odd days are going to be interesting. I'm projecting a Conservative victory, though I'm not going to commit to predicting a minority or majority government at this stage.

Meanwhile, I have to practice writing that little X within the circle.


1 You win some, you lose some footnote: I'm not counting the 14th Parliament of William Lyon Mackenzie King (1922-25), which ran longer but was not consistently a minority.

September 06, 2008

And now . . . this - Sept. 6/08

See, I told you we're all gonna die

Scientists working on the world's biggest machine are being besieged by phone calls and e-mails from people who fear the world will end this Wednesday, when the gigantic atom smasher starts up.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, where particles will begin to circulate around its 27km circumference tunnel on September 10, will recreate energies not seen since the universe was very young, when particles smash together at near the speed of light.

The machine has been shadowed by internet-fuelled concerns that it will release energies so powerful that it will create a runaway black hole that will engulf the planet, or a "strangelet" particle that would transform earth into a lump of strange matter.

[Full Story]

On the one hand, I have to admit I've always wanted to see Switzerland. On the other, I was hoping to get there by a more scenic journey than being sucked through the earth's core.

However, we should remain hopeful that the LHC might help us discover the long-elusive cluon, leading us at last to a cure for human credulity.