The results from the Canadian election that swept a liberal government into office, ending a decade of Conservative government, are useful to civic-minded Americans. They tell us a great deal about both Canadian and American politics.
I visited Quebec City, Baie St. Paul, Montreal and Ottawa during the campaign and chatted with many Canadians from the east and west and listened to a lot of political commentary on Canadian TV. The impression I got as a retired political scientist is that Canadians were tired of incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper and conservatism but unsure which non-conservative alternative to pick. Clearly, the majority decided and voted accordingly.
The take-aways for our two systems are three-fold:
The vast majority of Canadians I talked to were disillusioned with their always-retrenching government and politicians who emphasized limits rather than possibilities. Most of them volunteered sentiments that Canadian politics were deteriorating and descending to the level of the U.S. politics and were unhappy about that.
The three parties contesting for the election represented a much broader spectrum of ideas than is commonly found in the United States. Harper espoused ideas similar to so-called centrist U.S. Republicans like John Boehner or John Kasich, but Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau were both substantially to the left of the typical American candidate and sounded more like Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. There was no organized smear campaign labeling them as unpatriotic.
Once the Canadian voters made up their mind, they were able to change their entire government in one election. That cannot happen in the U.S. because our constitution mandates separate and staggered elections for each house of Congress and the president.
It will be instructive to compare how the two political systems react to largely the same conditions in the future.
Jeffrey R. Orenstein, Ph.D.