Thank God that Canadians, unlike Americans, do not vote in elections based on their family histories. Traditionally, a Republican votes Republican irrespective of who is running for the White House, or their political platform. A Democrat does likewise. And both follow the rationale that "it was good enough for my parents and grandparents, so it’s good enough for me." It’s a tribal mentality at best, and our neighbors to the south seem happy with their inherited political status quo.

But there are "signs and portents" of interesting changes in the air.

Barak Obama has already made history by being the first African American ever nominated to run for America’s highest office. It will be even more historic if he is actually elected President. I believe he has a good chance - if, and only if, young Americans resist the forces of apathy and cynicism and come out to vote on November 4.

In Canada, where political tribal mentality has far less influence, most Canadians will readily debate about parties, policies, candidates and their track records during the run-up to an election. Our official campaign periods are shorter, our overall system is less complex, and we have enough coffee shops to give everyone a seat from which to air their views.

If both Republicans and Democrats are trying to convince American voters that they are more able and better qualified to bring substantive change to Washington, Canadians should be debating the same question for the federal election on October 14.

And just who is able and qualified to bring genuine and positive change to Ottawa?

To answer that question requires a bit of "homework." You need to examine each party leader’s resume and track record, their party’s policy and the performance of its MPs - not just during the current session of Parliament, but over the years.

Our federal government - whoever runs it after October 14 - urgently needs to accept and implement deep policy changes regarding the economy, the environment, Afghanistan, health care, child poverty, energy, education and a number of other pressing issues. We need a leader in Ottawa who believes that what is good for Canada does not necessarily mirror what is good for the U.S.

This principle of Canadian autonomy and integrity must be marketed to the U.S. on the strength of its positive aspects, for you can be sure that the right-wing and neo-con politicians on both sides of our border will spare no effort to insist that Canada toe the American line.

Americans must be persuaded to see once and for all that dragging Canada into American military confrontations all over the world - and in years to come we will see more of them on the scale of Afghanistan and Iraq – is simply not beneficial for either country.

Now, more than ever, Canada cannot afford a timid prime minister. We need a world-class leader who will work on an equal footing with the new U.S. president (whether Republican or Democrat), as well as with other leaders of Europe and the Americas, to achieve lasting world peace based on justice. And working globally is the only way to achieve sustainable Canadian prosperity. Canada must no longer be an acquiescent junior partner to the U.S. in manufacturing world crises and military confrontations – the Americans are good enough at doing this on their own.

Let the U.S. keep its military might and let Canada instead emerge once again as the wise adviser. Our American neighbors can have their massive army of combat soldiers while Canada develops an army of diplomats, negotiators, peacemakers, builders and helpers.

The Liberals first sent our young men and women to Afghanistan in 2002 and supported the Conservative extension of Canadian military presence there until 2011. If either party forms the next government, it will inevitably mean more Canadians killed in Afghanistan, adding to the shameful total of almost 100 deaths to date and hundreds more wounded.

All these lost lives and grieving families are victims of their government’s policy of appeasement. If the sophistication of the weaponry used by allied forces on the ground and by American air power above them is any indication, up to 1,000 Afghani lives (many of them civilian women and children) have been lost for every Canadian killed. This is not the road to peace; it is a road to more death, destruction and human misery.

Even worse for Afghans, after 9/11 the U.S. shut down all the Muslim charities which used to help them. Ironically, these same charities were operating before 9/11 with the help and the encouragement of the U.S. government.

Canadians who want to see our young out of combat duty in Afghanistan would do well to consider the New Democratic Party in the upcoming election. Given the heavy political baggage that the Conservatives and Liberals are dragging into the campaign, only the NDP can make a strong and constructive effort and support our troops by committing to bring them home on or before 2011. This will bring peace to Afghanistan much faster than the way we are trying to do it right now.

For Canada, to regain its strong economy, low inflation rate and low unemployment, Ottawa must invest in new industries. This is not the same thing as the obscene vote-buying stunt the Conservatives pulled recently when they doled out large handouts to the American auto industry so it can create so-called "new jobs" in Canada. The funding was given without any overall plan and with no guarantee of commitment that the industry would invest in environmentally friendly mass-transit systems, rather than gas-guzzling and polluting trucks and cars. The Japanese have been operating auto manufacturing plants in Canada for decades: why doesn’t Ottawa insist that the Americans go and learn something from them?

You can also trust the NDP to repair our social safety net; taking care of the elderly, young, ill, vulnerable and homeless in our society. The party is also committed to restoring our public health care system, eradicating child poverty, and closing the growing disparity gap between rich and poor Canadians and between the Have and Have-not provinces.

NDP initiatives will also include renewed efforts to improve the living conditions of Aboriginal and First Nations peoples, who lag behind the rest of Canadians in education, income and health levels, as well as restoring the civil liberties of all citizens and easing the crushing debt burden on graduating university students.

In breaking his own fixed-election-date law and calling an early vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is clearly hoping this credibility gamble will gain him a majority government.

But Harper continues to play the same political games he played while with the Reform Party; his policies are still Reform-like and can appeal only to right-wing lobbyists.