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I’m a Canadian, a longtime small-government libertarian, and sympathetic to US conservative causes. I was for many years a Canadian Liberal partisan (long story, see my bio). This is my first post, though I’ve been a Ricochetti from the very beginning. I just had to weigh in on the confusion I’ve been hearing on the podcasts about the Canadian election.
I know you all like Stephen Harper, and I agree he looks pretty good from a foreign conservative’s perspective. But Canadians didn’t reject that Harper, or even (intentionally) his policies. They just got caught up in a shiny, pretty new thing. It happens to the best of electorates. (US in 2008, anyone?)
Here are some things you don’t know:
- Harper is our Nixon. He is an introvert: moral, bookish, unsmiling, tactical, uncharismatic except in occasional flashes. He is cold to all but his closest advisors, and dislikes having to explain his policies. His strategy was to make incremental changes, hide from interviews, and hope people would understand their brilliance at election time. Telling moment: When sending his six-year-old kid to school for the cameras, [ed. I incorrectly wrote age 9 at first] he shook the kid’s hand rather than giving him a hug. A cold fish indeed. Women and urban voters can’t stand him, personally, even if they like his policies.
- The Canadian electorate doesn’t reject Harper’s responsible, business-friendly policies. This election was not about policy. They voted for a glamorous, young “change” candidate, generally ignoring his party’s unpleasantly left-wing platform. Trudeau’s surge came so late in the day that the media didn’t have a chance to vet him properly; they spent much more time on the heir-apparent in our system, the (now-decimated) NDP. Tellingly, Trudeau’s platform largely leaves in place some of Harper’s signature policies, such as tax-free savings accounts and tax cuts.
- Trudeau is not his father. I have met him and have no love for him, but I will admit he is his own man. His father was a famous French-Canadian political scientist who nationalized industries and spent much of his time battling separatists (and giving them oxygen — separatism came of age during Pierre’s 17-year time tenure). Justin grew up on the other side of the country; he speaks French with an Anglo accent, and lived a quiet life as a drama teacher, uncurious about policy (and generally uninformed). Most Canadians know this. A majority of voters had no opportunity to vote in Pierre Trudeau’s last election in 1980.
- Trudeau may be our Obama. A few years ago, I told a US Republican friend that “We had our Obama in the 1970s,” meaning Pierre Trudeau. Well, Justin may be a better analogue. Rising quickly from obscurity, with little depth of policy experience but surprising political talent, he runs in a “change” year on a left-wing platform that nobody reads, defeating a competent but uninspiring conservative party. Hmm. Let’s hope it doesn’t go that way.
- Canadian Liberals are not analogous to US liberal Democrats. I always get pushback on this point, but it’s true. In Canada, our far-Left self-segregates itself into the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NPD has never held power at the national level. Our Liberals are more akin to your Clinton Democrats, with a smattering of business Republicans. The Liberals are an urban party with a tradition, as they say here, of “campaigning on the Left and governing from the Right.” It is business-friendly, has a good economic record, and in the 1990s, brought our federal debt-to-GDP ratio from 63 percent to 34 percent through massive spending cuts. (Much of our debt is provincial, so that higher number constituted a debt crisis here in 1994). Both Trudeaus campaigned to the left of this tradition. We’ll see if Justin respects it.
- Foreign affairs weren’t on the ballot. The only issue was whether we would take more Syrian refugees (Canadians had ignored the ISIS/Syrian issue until September). Trudeau will take a few more: 25,000 versus Harper’s 10,000. Sadly, he will also pull out of the international ISIS mission, but Harper’s contribution was pretty small, anyway. Relations with the US, often a flashpoint in our elections, were undiscussed.
The biggest issue in our election was Harper’s personality. After nine years of his quietly refusing to make any case for policy — conservative or otherwise — the Canadian opposition parties managed to paint Harper as an out-of-touch, petty extremist. It isn’t fair, but it isn’t surprising.
Canadian conservatives have to learn to become happy warriors. Now, America, please show us how it’s done.