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Editorials Trudeau, Scheer and the blessings of small differences

As of Wednesday, we know the length of the federal election campaign: 40 days and 40 nights. We seem to recall a Bible story with the same chronology; something about a family and bunch of animals stuck on a ship. This is sort of like that, though at the end of the voyage only some of the passengers will be released to dry land and a rainbow – a place on Parliament Hill.

There’s a feeling among some Canadians, and a few of our colleagues in the news media, that this election is a lot of sound and fury signifying meh, an all-dressed nothingburger served without relish, or the political embodiment of Seinfeld’s “show about nothing.” That’s because, goes the argument, there’s not a lot of daylight between the two leading parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, or even, if you add in the Greens and the New Democrats, the four leading parties.

Yes, Canada is fortunate that our politics, although marked by highly polarizing rhetoric, features main parties whose policies are mostly not radically different. Canadian politics is still playing out, for now, in gaps measured in feet and inches; meanwhile, much of the rest of the world has moved to a political metric system where partisan distances are computed in megameters. Let us count our blessings.

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Although Conservatives will spend the next 40 days insinuating that four years of Liberal government have made life unlivable, the claim doesn’t hold water, and even those with no plans to vote Liberal know it.

And while the Liberals intend to spend the next 40 nights saying the Conservatives will teleport Canada to a time so dank as to make the Dark Ages look like an all-inclusive beach resort, reasonable non-Conservatives know that’s just a bit of an exaggeration.

But if this election is something less than a comic-book choice between good and evil, that’s because it’s also something more than a cartoon version of politics. Canada is a mature democracy, and this a vote featuring nuanced choices carrying actual consequences.

Yes, the Canada of tomorrow will be different depending on which party, and which ideas, are running Ottawa after Oct. 21. Radically different, no. Meaningfully different, yes.

Restricting ourselves to the two main parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, there are differences on issues ranging from taxes to benefits to the role and size of government, and from climate change to pharmacare. Both are making the middle-class the target of their campaigns, and both are promising more prosperous middle-class lives, but they offer different roads to get there.

In this space over the coming six-and-a-half weeks, we’ll be exploring those policies, and looking at whether the differing plans have a shot at making Canada and Canadians better off.

Who forms the next government matters, which means that your vote matters.

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Okay, full disclosure: Maybe not every vote in every riding. Hey, that’s the reality of first-past-the-post, or any system of representative government.

It’s true that one extra Liberal vote in the bluest corner of rural Alberta is not likely to make a difference; it’s true that one extra mark for the Conservatives in the safest of Liberal ridings on the Island of Montreal won’t flip a seat.

But there are many other places where a lot can change, if even a small number of voters change their minds, change their votes – or stay home.

Take the 25-riding City of Toronto. In 2015, it went solidly Liberal red, but many Toronto districts were won by relatively small margins. And in 2011, more than half the city’s seats went to the NDP or Tories.

It’s a similar story in the even more vote-rich 905 area code. In 2015, voters painted it mostly Liberal red, with the Conservatives taking only three seats. That was a sharp shift from 2011, when the 905 was mostly Tory blue.

How people in the Greater Toronto Area vote, or don’t vote, matters. It could decide the election.

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Or consider Alberta. In 2015, the Liberals won two seats, in Edmonton and Calgary, and the NDP won a seat in Edmonton. Whether those beachheads are maintained, grow or shrink could determine who forms the next government, and whether it’s majority or minority. If you live in Calgary or Edmonton, your vote matters.

Or look at Atlantic Canada, which the Liberals swept in 2015. That was a historically unusual outcome, which will only be repeated if enough voters decide that it should.

The choice is up to voters. You’ve got 40 days on the Ark to think about it.

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