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Canadians Go To The Polls In Tight National Election

Liberal Party candidate Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign event Frobisher Bay in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada.
Paul Chiasson
The Canadian Press
Liberal Party candidate Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign event Frobisher Bay in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada.

Canadians are heading to the polls today for what promises to be one of the closest elections in the country's history. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has held Canada's top office for nearly a decade, is narrowly trailing Justin Trudeau, leader of the centrist Liberal Party and son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who served in office from 1968-1979 and again from 1980-84.

Other candidates in the race include Thomas Mulcair, of the left-leaning New Democrats and Elizabeth May, the Green party candidate.

The fact that there are multiple left-of-center standard bearers means that even though a majority of Canadians favor progressive parties this election season, Harper could still win a rare fourth term. To combat that possibility, have sprung up, allowing progressive voters to "trade" their votes in different "ridings" (as Canada's election districts are known), which might improve the chances of electing a left-of-center government.

Canada has a parliamentary system, where the leader of the political party that wins the most of the seats in the House of Commons automatically becomes prime minister after the election.

What is at stake for Canada's southern neighbor (a.k.a., the United States) in this election? Canada is our biggest trading partner. And a switch from the conservatives to the liberals could have a pronounced effect on Canada's energy policies. Harper hails from the oil-rich province of Alberta, which has been dubbed Canada's Texas. Under his leadership, the country withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the world's legally binding plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions. He has also been a strong backer of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Alberta into the U.S. While Trudeau is also a supporter of Keystone, he has said Canada needs to regulate its carbon emissions.

Trudeau was a teacher and public speaker before he became head of the Liberal Party in 2013. Opponents have derided him as a lightweight. But both the sluggish Canadian economy, which is heavily dependent on commodity exports, and Harper's long tenure in office have helped Trudeau take an almost nine-point lead, per one of the latest polls.

On Sunday, John Oliver of HBO's "Last Week Tonight," weighed in on the race and defied a Canadian law forbidding foreigners from telling Canadians how to vote. With the help of Canadian-native comedian Mike Myers, he made a memorable pitch to Canadian voters to turn Harper out.

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Alexandra Starr