Crossing fingers: A Canadian observer's view of the US election

Home / Crossing fingers: A Canadian observer's view of the US election

Up here in Canada we’ve always had a love/hate relationship with our southern neighbor. In many ways, the U.S. is like the taller, better dressed and financially successful cousin in the family, while the U.K. is our eccentric great aunt.

We have no desire to be just like our cousin – a fact which baffles many Americans I meet – but we Canadians appreciate that he’s built something pretty grand. We also take no small measure of joy in poking fun at him, or when he does something a little foolish.


So imagine my delight when the tallest, most outspoken, most financially successful American,
(if the candidate was to be believed) any of us could imagine volunteered to run for the Republican nomination. For the most part, I thought this was hilarious, if not a little embarrassing for my cousins down south.

I snickered as he exaggerated his business prowess. I laughed out loud at the hubris of thinking the Mexicans would pay for their own wall. Sure there were dark moments, but they were easily offset by the Alice in Wonderland stream of nonsense coming out of his mouth. Most of Canada was doing the same.

Then something changed. For one, he looked like he was going to clinch the nomination. That wasn’t so funny. Then he was found to be flirting with white supremacists. That wasn’t funny at all. Then he suggested deporting every American Muslim. It seemed that just across the Southern border, America was staging its own version of our 2015 Federal Election, the longest, most divisive election in Canadian history.

The Conservative party’s platform, included, among other things, a ban on wearing the Niqab, and a hotline for reporting suspicious activity by immigrants. It pitted some mythical idea of real Canadians against others, and was widely viewed as an all-time low in Canadian politics. All we were missing was a wall.

Up against the Conservatives, the Liberal Party ran a son of an immensely popular former Prime Minister who had burst into the public’s eye with a stirring speech at his father’s funeral. Trudeau the younger brought hope, optimism, and what he called “Sunny Ways,” a concept he borrowed from an earlier Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, to contrast with the Conservative Prime Minister’s reputation for dishonesty, secretiveness and his controlling nature.

However instead of the misogyny of the American campaign, we had personal attacks of a different kind on Trudeau. A scathing series of ads mocking his physical attractiveness, his charm, and his youth all intended to portray that he ‘wasn’t ready’ for the task of governing. A role, it was implied, more suited to grown-ups.

While we are used to our American cousins doing things on a grander scale than we do, this time you really out did yourselves.

The spectacle of seeing a such a figure get so far in your election – even if he is stopped in his tracks on November 8th – has diminished the American political process somewhat in our eyes. Where were the damning recordings of Trump’s words, and the accusations of sexual assault during the primaries when he could have been stopped?  

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a Hillary love-in. Many observers suggest our current government – centrist by Canadian standards – would ideologically fit neatly into the Sanders camp. A lot of what Hillary has done and stood for bothers us as much as it bothers many people across our southern border. But in comparison to her rival, the fact that there is even a single undecided voter baffles many of us.

Which leads us to Wednesday night’s debate. Most Canadian election debates are sober affairs, three or four people around a table discussing concrete policies with all the ferocity of a high school drama teacher and a group of bankers. (spoiler: Trudeau was once a high school drama teacher). Generally the only cringe-worthy moment is when an Anglophone tries to stumble through their answer to the obligatory French language questions.

So for us, the debate in Las Vegas was a spectacle worthy of the city that has hosted so many bloody fights. Trump was vicious, personal, incoherent, and totally divorced from reality. North of the 49th we all stared in horror.

Clinton’s relentless use of his own words against him, and her characterization of Trump as a puppet of the Kremlin and serial sex offender were devastating. When the audience laughed at his assertion that nobody respects women more than he does, we laughed as well. And when Trump threatened to not acknowledge the results of the election, we gasped along with you.

There was no schadenfreude. Only sadness.

Not from all of us, though, it should be noted. Over five million people voted for the Conservatives in our last election, and they won enough seats to form the official opposition. Many of those people now praise Trump for the same reason partisan Republicans do.

There’s a perception, however inaccurate, that he’s a straight talking, successful businessman. What happened in 2015 though, is that the consensus swung away from the Canadian right of centre, and there was an overwhelming rejection of their politics

We know Trump is trailing bigly in the polls. We also know what happened in the UK over the Brexit vote, and we admit to being a little nervous. In the last provincial elections in Ontario and British Columbia, the election result was the opposite of what polls had predicted, so we don’t all perceive Clinton’s lead to be the bet-your-mortgage result of many U.S. commentators.

Still, many Canadians are hoping America will take a page from our book this time. When faced with a race baiting, dog whistle conservative bully for election, we did exactly what you would expect of us. We threw him out on his ear, and voted for hope, for optimism, and yes for Sunny Ways. Most Canadians, I think, would encourage America to do the same.

America, and more specifically the American electoral process will get through this, as we got through our own brush with tea party politics. Many people thought that the 2015 election in Canada would result in a period of self reflection of what it was that had gotten us to so low a point.

Instead, we were so overjoyed with our handsome, charming Prime Minister and his gender balanced cabinet that we opted instead for relieved expressions that everything was back to normal. An opportunity to look at ourselves more critically was lost.

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We would do well to learn from America’s past six months to be ever vigilant, to remember that politics at its ugliest is often lurking just below the surface.

Collectively, now we wait, and cross our fingers that this November turns out as well for America as well as last October did for Canada.

Jason Allen is a commentator on Canadian politics who has driven from Vancouver to St. John’s. He lives 45 minutes north of the U.S. border in the Pittsburgh of the North, Hamilton Ontario.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill

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