Canada’s Election and Its Effects on the US

October 14, 2015 Updated: November 26, 2015

Whinging all the way, Canadians are stumbling through the last week of their preternaturally extended federal election campaign. Indeed, from listening to the laments, one would think that a society of 100-yard sprinters had been condemned to run a mile.

Such wailing and gnashing of teeth obviously amuse U.S. observers whose federal elections are marathons, beginning the moment the last vote is counted in the previous election.

Nevertheless, like enduring the “coldest winter” or the “hottest summer,” the “longest (modern) election” is one for your books.

Still no Canadian will be surprised the process has barely twitched the U.S. political seismograph, beset as we are with the fulminations of Donald Trump, the e-mail evasions of Hillary Clinton, and/or the persistent inability of the Republican Party to find a teacher for its House of Representatives kindergarten.

U.S. citizens may be unpleasantly surprised to awaken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, and find a very different Canada.

Lack of interest does not mean lack of importance.

Indeed, U.S. citizens may be unpleasantly surprised to awaken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, and find a very different Canada from the denizen of the North that we have been able to ignore for the past nine years under the benign administration of Prime Minister Harper and his Tory government.

For a U.S. observer, several points have been startling:

  • The persistence until very near to the campaign’s conclusion of extremely close polls among the three major parties (Tories, NDP, and Liberals). It was “horse race” polling at its most seductive: every party led at one juncture or another. And nobody was convinced that the polls, given their repeated failures in recent elections, were definitive. Even at this juncture, with the NDP apparently swooning to third place, a last minute surge in voter participation, youth vote, and/or “black swan” driving changes in voter intentions, a Mulcair/NDP victory (at least with a plurality) is not impossible.
  • The back-from-the-dead Liberal surge. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau may indeed be “just in time” for a party, which for several elections has had more history than presence. Trudeau’s substantive résumé is slim, essentially based on having been born, but his charismatic credentials are strong. And he learned enough to deflect the intensity of the “He’s not ready” Tory advertisements, which were head-shaking accurate six months ago when, as the old sobriquet goes, he opened his mouth only to change feet.
  • The visceral antipathy directed at PM Harper by normally polite Canadians. It is a malign animosity normally reserved for pedophiles who eat puppies for breakfast.

But how could this still mutating political scene affect the United States.

Let us see “worst, first.”

An NDP government. Start with the reality that Mulcair called President Obama a liar by suggesting he didn’t have photos of the dead bin Laden when he declined to release them. Then recall that the NDP not all that long ago called for Canada to withdraw from NATO. And now the NDP has rejected (without reviewing) the just-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Moreover, Mulcair would withdraw Canadian forces participating in Iraq and elsewhere. Combined with NDP de facto cancellation of the F-35 program, it would be hard to see what would remain of bilateral defense cooperation. Relations would be strained at best.

Second, the same.

A Liberal government. Reportedly, Trudeau never visited Washington until October 2013, a curious omission for any politically engaged Canadian. Historically, the Liberals prefer the worst possible bilateral relationship with the USG that will not prompt direct retaliation. Hence, Trudeau would stop Canadian air attacks in Iraq/Syria; cancel the F-35 program; but continue to support the Keystone pipeline (not necessarily a positive in Obama administration eyes). Relations would be “arms’ length”—polite official meetings but no invite to Camp David.

Last the best of all the game.

A Conservative government. A the minimum, these are the “devils we know”—we are accustomed to each other’s foibles and what can/cannot be expected. Over nine years we have worked out accommodations on border security and perennial trade/transit irritations (for example, the Windsor bridge issue). We have reached accord over TPP; we are on the same page for combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, resisting Russia in Ukraine, supporting Israel, and rejecting Iranian effort to build nuclear weapons. Occasionally, Ottawa may hit a note more loudly than Washington, but we are reading from the same sheet of music.

Relations could be better; Harper and Obama have a prickly relationship driven by personalities as much as substance (the Keystone nondecision). But it could be worse.

With any other government, relations would be worse.

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David T. Jones

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.