Election 2015: An American’s Perspective
Photo Credit/Pete Souza
Despite growing up in western New York, I knew almost nothing about Canadian politics when I started at the University of Toronto. Americans are not taught much about Canada - much less is politics - in classrooms or the media.
Four years later, after three years in Toronto, two Canadian politics courses with Nelson Wiseman, and a lot of time on the threehundredeight.com blog, I know quite a bit more than I did. During the 2014 Ontario elections and the 2011 Albertan elections, I enjoyed a uniquely Canadian political experience. With the coexistence of the 2016 American election campaign and the current Canadian general election, I have been struck by similarities between the parties and their leaders to American counterparts in a way I hadn't been in previous elections.
The first is between the Harper Conservatives and the Republicans. At first glance they’re not exactly the same; the outspokenness of Republican social conservatism, militarism, and xenophobia is unparalleled in Canada. Harper has worked very carefully to avoid pushing a social-conservative agenda, by not challenging same-sex marriage and even voting against a pro-life bill in 2012. However, beneath the surface, Republican attitudes linger. Harper’s dismissal of environmental protection in favour of preserving jobs and the economy, Harper’s anti-terrorism law C-51, new citizenship regulations, are right out of the Republican playbook. These are not your father’s PCs, the moderate Mulroneys have been purged from the Tory caucus leaving a Republican flavour. The party only distinguishes itself from its American counterpart by knowing when to keep its mouth shut.
Meanwhile, Thomas Mulcair comes off as much more of a Hillary figure. Mulcair and Clinton are both experienced, able politicians trying hard to brand themselves as more centrist. Neither is afraid to play dirty and to attack their opponents and gain a soundbite. Moreover, they both have to try and to make themselves appear warm and personable. They both fail miserably: Hillary’s laugh is forced, Mulcair’s smile is creepy.
If Mulcair is Hillary, then Trudeau is Obama; their popularity fueled by charisma, charm, and optimism. Like Obama, Trudeau’s popularity has been dented by political reality. Both dealt with attacks that cast doubt on their ability to lead: Obama with the famous ‘3am phone call’ ad, and Trudeau with the avalanche of Conservative attacks ads. Both have also demonstrated a willingness to compromise their ideals on national security, something that has hurt them with civil libertarians.
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The ingredients are the same, but the results are not so predictable. As these two parallel races near the home stretch, Americans and Canadians will have to make two very unique decisions.