A Few Reasons Why You Should Care About Canada's Elections

Oct 20, 2015

Our election might be a year away, but Americans might want to pay attention to the political dynamics playing out up north.
Credit I am I.A.M. via Flicker Creative Commons

There’s been a particularly competitive, expensive campaign season brewing in recent months that could have implications for the future of North American policies on trade, energy, the environment, immigration and more.

We are, of course, referring to the race playing out among our neighbors to the north. Canadian federal elections were held Monday — and, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, voters provided the country's Liberal Party with enough seats to upend the Conservatives. 

This majority means that the Liberal Party's leader, Justin Trudeau, has ousted the incumbent leader of the Conservative Party, Stephan Harper, as Canada's prime minister.

So why should an American voter care about the Canadian results? Here are a few reasons, inspired by a conversation on the elections during Monday's edition of The Exchange.

1.  This year’s Canadian campaign season was longer than most — but still shorter than ours
On average, according to CBC reporter Margo McDiarmid, Canadian elections only last for about 37 days. This campaign season, at 78 days, is the lengthiest in recent memory.

In Canada, McDiarmid explained, the election is always held on the third Monday in October —but the prime minister can decide to “call” a campaign to begin by moving to dissolve parliament. (This page has more details on the timing of Canadian campaigns.

Harper moved to call the election earlier than usual this time, in the hopes that this would give the Conservative Party a competitive advantage to spend the large sums of money they were poised to pour into the race. What it ended up doing, McDiarmid said, is energizing some of Harper’s opponents and their supporters.

2.   U.S.-Canadian relations are shifting, by some measures
“If you really look at American-Canadian relations since World War II, there’s really been a partnership where the U.S. has been the muscle, and Canada’s been the conscience, and that’s certainly how Canadians like to think about it,” University of New Hampshire associate professor of history Kurk Dorsey observed during Monday's Exchange.

The two countries have historically formed alliances on major deals like NATO and NAFTA, Dorsey said. And while that cooperation is unlikely to change drastically in the immediate future, the recent years under Harper’s administration have seen a shift in which Canada is taking a more aggressive posture in some areas of foreign policy — forming a “steadfast” friendship with Israel and showing less hesitance in launching an air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, Dorsey said. With another new administration in power, this American-Canadian relationship could continue to change in the years ahead.

3.  Keystone XL and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are big issues up north, too
“Things that matter in the United States in the upcoming election, like the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are real live issues in Canada as well right now,” Dorsey said.

The trade deal has become a major issue in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, particularly in the conversation among Democratic candidates. Canada, however,  is also a player in the trade deal.

As noted by University of New Hampshire research associate Zach Azem: The incumbent, Harper, has gone out of his way to endorse that deal, while Liberals are taking a “wait and see” approach and the NDP is staunchly against it.

According to the CBC, the NDP is against the Keystone XL pipeline, while the Liberals and Conservatives are supportive of the project.

4.  Candidates differ on data collection law, which has implications for U.S.
Earlier this year, the Conservatives passed a bill that expands the government’s ability to collect and share information. The Liberals (who won the majority in Monday's elections) are supportive of some parts of the legislation but oppose other components, according to Azem. The NDP was looking to repeal it altogether, he said.

Given the close proximity of the two countries, the future of this policy could have an effect on counter-terrorism measures in the United States.

If you’re looking to dig into the race more, we recommend checking out: