There is at least one reason for the election no one here says they want and everyone is preparing to fight. Ignored during the last campaign, foreign policy is back with a bullet.
When it comes to this country's place in the world, Canadians suddenly have a lot to talk about.
According to Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, this peaceable kingdom with peacemaking as well as peacekeeping in its past is prepping for the future with 10 to 15 years of fighting.
He might be prescient. Even though more conflicts are either ending or being managed rather than erupting, this century is off to a shaky start that could well get worse before it gets better.
If so, Canada can expect to play a more significant supporting role than it did through the late '80s and early '90s when defence, diplomatic and development efforts were reduced to background extras on the global stage.
Despite Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier's wild accusation of a decade of darkness, Paul Martin recognized the problem and got started on solutions.
The most internationally concerned and savvy prime minister since Brian Mulroney, Martin started the military reconstruction now underpinning the Afghanistan mission and laboriously reframed foreign policy.
At Hillier's urging, Ottawa shelved its Cold War weapons and thinking to begin creating armed forces capable of speedy domestic response and swift offshore intervention as well as the slow, problematic work of stabilizing failed and failing states. Institution-building would be a priority in this hemisphere as well as in Africa and a trading nation would get serious about the challenges that come with India and China rising.
Neither the process nor the plan was perfect. But they were methodical and transparent.
That's no longer so. Following billions of dollars in new spending is now the most reliable guide to military planning.
It's increasingly difficult to distinguish foreign policy from Conservative election planning. And there are only a few encouraging signs that this Prime Minister grasps the economic significance of what his predecessor unhappily labelled "Chindia."
Flexibility is essential for a military at war, foreign policy will always be linked to diaspora politics, and, as former prime minister and external affairs minister Joe Clark says, new governments typically understand more about the country than the world.
But it's also true that democratic discipline demands explanations when policies start bouncing between the guardrails.
Canadians have no way of knowing if $650 million for 120 leased and mothballed tanks is money well spent or if O'Connor's grim predictions are a reliable forecast or just a tactical justification for a suspect purchase.
Nor is there adequate evidence to understand where or how wisely Conservatives are positioning Canada abroad.
It's not necessary to have another early and unwanted election to fill those blanks.
A prime minister with a presidential grip could relax it long enough to engage the country in the full discussion it didn't have before the Afghanistan mission was so hurriedly extended with so little due diligence. What makes debate so important is that Afghanistan is more than a difficult mission; it's also the laboratory where much of Canada's evolving military and foreign policy is field-tested.
In practice as well as in philosophy the Armed Forces are edging closer to becoming interoperable - as well as heavily dependent - on the United States, just as foreign policy, with a few notable exceptions including Arctic sovereignty, is becoming more aligned.
There are as many defence, security and continental cohabitation advantages in that closeness as there are difficult, overarching questions about Ottawa's freedom to hunt national interests as relentlessly as Washington pursues its own.
Most of the time Canadian hegemony will track that of the United States. Along with much of the world, the federal government shares Bush administration worries about state-nurtured terrorism as well as its hope for the calming effects of democracy, rule of law and open markets.
But that doesn't give any prime minister carte blanche to muscle poorly considered extensions through Parliament under threat of an election, obscure how long the troops stay, or radically rewrite the long-term military plan one purchase at a time.
And, beyond Afghanistan, voters and taxpayers need to know where in the world Harper is leading Casnada.
Is this country retreating to the region where its voice will be a small echo of Washington? Will it retain the military capacity and diplomatic distance to act independently?
There are better ways than an election to get answers. But if that's what it will take, let the campaign begin.
James Travers's national affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Where is PM taking us?
Canadians have no way of knowing if $650 million for 120 tanks is money well spent or if our defence minister's predictions that Canada should prepare for 15 years of fighting are a reliable forecast or just a tactical justification for a suspect purchase