The Canadian elections today are actually kind of exciting

GlobalPost
Conservative leader Stephen Harper speaks to supporters at a rally in London, Ontario on Oct. 13, 2015.

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NEED TO KNOW:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said that the national election being held today in Canada was not a “popularity contest.” He might have said that because, well, Harper is not very popular.

He also said it because it’s true. In the wild world of the Canadian parliamentary system, voters don’t choose a single national leader, or even a political party. Instead, they elect 338 members of parliament. Whichever party holds the majority of seats in the end gets to choose the prime minister, and that doesn’t always match the popular vote. In the United States it is the same, but different: A candidate can win the popular vote, but lose the Electoral College.

Harper called the Canadian polls on Aug. 2, which means this has been one of the longest elections seasons in Canadian history. Yes, it was less than two months long. Yes, that’s the longest period of campaigning there has been in Canada since 1874.

Harper called the elections earlier than usual in the apparent hopes of increasing the Conservatives' chances of winning. Instead, the Canadian election is in an exciting dead-heat. It is literally anyone’s for the taking. So sit back, turn on the CBC, and enjoy the ride.

Harper’s signature agenda items have been the economy and national security. He’s cut taxes and empowered security agencies in all sorts of ways. He is up against the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau, who despite his party's name is really pretty moderate. There’s also Tom Mulcair of the New Democrats — the progressive in the crowd, who started out strong but has faded during the course of this oh-so-long 79-day election cycle.

WANT TO KNOW:

You might remember the Ethiopian drought and famine of 1984 and 1985. It was the cause du jour in the West. Pop musicians repeatedly made mediocre music — sometimes even offensive music — to raise money for its victims.

Ethiopia has changed a lot since then. It now lays claim to the world’s fastest-growing economy, which is overseen by a government that has managed to halve the poverty rate in just 20 years. They did this by running Africa’s largest social protection program, allotting 70 percent of public capital to pro-poor sectors, and doubling the size of the road network to connect farmers to markets.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a country that was for decades ruled by a military junta. It’s a remarkable turnaround that you never hear about. That may be because there's no more famine in Ethiopia, and hence no more pop songs.

Ethiopians these days are more resilient than ever to the devastations of drought. And that’s good, because Ethiopia is being hit hard right now.

GlobalPost went to North Wollo, the most drought-sensitive area of the country. Farmers there said their crops have failed. The annual rains fell for only three days. Risks of hunger and malnutrition now affect millions.

So while Ethiopia’s food security system is now far more advanced — knitting together agricultural training, emergency relief and early warning systems for crop failure — this drought is severely testing it. If the safety net works, and it can prevent another devastating famine.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Droughts are a global problem. And in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, a drought is allowing people to glimpse the distant past, and maybe also our collective future.

There is a reservoir fed by the Grijalva River. But the waters are receding. The water level of the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir has now gone down some 80 feet. Where there was once 80 feet of water, there is now three-quarters of a colonial stone church.

The church was apparently built by a group of monks who arrived in the mid-16th century. It’s quite a sight. You can see photos of it here. And as you look, you can imagine one possible future: the glaciers have melted and all our great cities lie crumbling beneath 80 feet of water.