NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Top L), Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Top R), and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (Bottom L) at a press conference in Toronto, on Aug. 6, 2015. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images) Canada's Prime Minister and Conservative candidate Stephen Harper (Bottom R) at the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
With Canada’s election on Oct. 19 probably still too close to call, opinion surveys indicate that about 35 percent of Canadians are focused primarily on the economy; but many also have major concerns about personal security and peace in an era of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Vladimir Putin. The international scene is clearly playing a greater role in this election than is usual.
Assessing the four national leaders, my ranking from the best downward would be Thomas Mulcair (New Democrats), Elizabeth May (Greens), Stephen Harper (Conservatives), and Justin Trudeau (Liberals).
Mulcair has run a principled campaign. Being raised in a family of 10 children perhaps gave him an advantage in identifying social justice concerns of Canadians. He also overcame for some the perception that NDP governments are profligate spenders. His human rights and rule of law-based support for the court decision to allow a woman to wear a niqab at a citizenship ceremony after removing it in private for identification purposes was courageous in the face of mostly unsympathetic public opinion.
May is knowledgeable, positive, smart, kind, and passionate as Greens leader. With no prospect of winning, she is able to speak common sense without worrying about offending voters. Her university studies were delayed so that she could support her immigrant family’s restaurant in Nova Scotia; this life experience helps her understand how most Canadians cope economically. She cares deeply about the natural environment, but unfortunately is unlikely to win more than a handful of seats in the new Parliament.
Harper’s best strength is his leadership during difficult economic times since 2006, including the just-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership, which appears to be a major achievement. His biggest hurdle is the conviction among many voters that after a decade it’s “time for a change.” The slow processing of Syrian refugees is blamed on him. So is an unnecessary fight with the Supreme Court of Canada and the erosion of some civil liberties. Another complaint is that he micro-manages his Cabinet, MPs, and issues. His banning of the niqab at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies is attracting some voters while appalling others as crass wedge politics.
Justin Trudeau is young, charismatic, bicultural, and carries a famous name. Unfortunately, despite seven years in Parliament, he still lacks solid experience nationally or internationally in either the public or private sectors. He is prone to serious gaffes, such as praising the party-state in China, and his campaign promises according to his party’s platform document total almost $139 billion. When first chosen leader, he provided a major boost to his party; now its historic strength, reinvigorated in some regions and major cities, appears to be assisting the Liberal campaign.
A major problem in the race with the Conservatives is that there are three center-left or left parties competing in our long outdated first-past-the-post and winner-take-all electoral system.
An average of current national opinion polls (Oct. 11) has the Liberals in the lead at 34.2 percent support, followed by the Conservatives at 31.2, the NDP at 23.4, and Greens at 4.8.
Regardless of the final seat count on Oct. 19, the U.S.-Canada relationship will probably be no better or worse than it has been for years, largely because our two countries are now seen on both sides of the border as alternative civilizations and thus increasingly unlikely to diverge or converge on public issues. Our expectations of each other are finally becoming realistic.
There have been continuous ups and downs between us. With the differing concepts of nationhood, both need to learn more about the other beyond the undefended border, which both separates and links us in a unique relationship. Since the War of 1812, the rising and ebbing reservoirs of goodwill have eased the peaceful settlement of a host of major disputes and irritations alike.
The continental sky is not falling. We are still each other’s best trading partner, with $2 billion in services and goods crossing the border each day. Militarily, we are co-operating against ISIS in the Middle East. Canada was the host to negotiations, which led to the normalizing of U.S.–Cuba relations after half a century. Productive relations between our two countries will continue with some occasional bumps regardless of the political hue of the new government in Ottawa-quite possibly a short-lived partnership of the Liberals and New Democrats.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”