Thursday's debate is the first big event in what will likely be a long slog until Election Day.
That's true in the U.S., but also north of the border. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament on Sunday, which kicked off a campaign that will be the longest since 1872.
Only the Canadian campaign won't be like America's, which seemed to start right after the 2014 midterms (if not right after President Obama's 2012 re-election). Instead it will be 11 weeks — twice as long as recent Canadian campaigns, but a merciful sprint compared with U.S. marathons.
Of course, the unofficial political jockeying in Ottawa began earlier, too. But sensible election laws — including limiting third-party advertising and imposing party and candidate campaign-spending limits during the official window — make it a more reasonable democratic endeavor. Sure, there will be campaign ads. And some analysts believe that the relatively long campaign is due to Harper having deeper campaign coffers. But in a nation where charges of running a U.S.-style campaign can be considered an insult, rhetoric at the debate and throughout the race likely will be more measured than the U.S. version, where the election news has been dominated by Donald Trump's caustic comments.
Harper's Conservative Party faces vigorous challenges from the left-leaning New Democratic Party, which slightly leads opinion polls (and won May's provincial elections in Harper's home base of Alberta). Meanwhile, the Liberal Party, which is more centrist than the New Democrats, will try to re-establish itself as Canada's governing party by re-establishing a political brand: Trudeau. However, Justin Trudeau (son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) leads a party polling third.
Whichever party wins, it's likely that the close Canada-U.S. relationship will remain strong. But there are considerable policy differences, so the parties' approach to Washington would differ, too.
So voters here should keep an eye on the race Up North. After all, there's time. Our election is Nov. 8, 2016, more than 13 months after a Canadian version many think is plenty long already.