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Paying attention to Canada’s election

Oct 21, 2015

Someone once said that Americans, including those who live in Michigan, would do anything for Canada except pay attention to it. That was evident again this week.

This nation’s closest ally had a dramatic national election that most “lower Americans” probably didn’t even know was happening – but which may be highly significant for all of us.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the most politically conservative Canadian leader in modern times, had been in office for nine years, and was trying for an unprecedented fourth term. Earlier this month, some polls showed his Conservative Party in the lead.

Most experts predicted a very close election which might end up a dead heat between Harper’s conservatives, the socialist New Democratic Party, and the Liberals, with no party having anything like a majority in Parliament. But that’s not what happened.

Instead the Liberals won a stunning landslide Monday, easily winning a solid majority in Canada’s parliament. They more than doubled their share of the popular vote and won almost six times the number of seats they had just four years ago.

Canada’s new prime minister is a young man with a famous name: Justin Trudeau, son of the legendary Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Though Pierre Trudeau was often compared to the Kennedys, his young and handsome son more clearly evokes John F. Kennedy.

Like JFK, he takes office at the age of 43, has a beautiful and charismatic wife and small children. Canada has never gone in for political dynasties, and the Canadian willingness to elect someone with a famous political name may inspire fans of Hillary Clinton.

While Canada and the United States have many things in common, they are also very different. Even the most conservative Canadians wouldn’t dream of opposing national health care.

But there are things about this election that should worry the right wing in this country. Harper was certainly his nation’s most socially conservative prime minister in modern times. Harper, who got along better with President George W. Bush than Barack Obama, is a climate change skeptic. He pushed a bill called “Canada’s Patriot Act.” He refused to support efforts to investigate violence against Native American women, and in an act of astonishing cultural chauvinism, tried to ban Islamic women from wearing a veil when becoming citizens.

Those policies were decisively rejected by Canadian voters this week. Nearly sixty percent of them voted for either Trudeau’s liberals or the even further left NDP. During the campaign, Trudeau left absolutely no doubt about where he stood. He is firmly pro-choice and opposes any government effort to limit abortion rights.

He plans to move to legalize recreational marijuana immediately. He believes climate change is a huge problem, and promised a new national policy. Trudeau plans to end Canada’s participation in bombing ISIS, to liberalize immigration policies and accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Perhaps most significantly, he said his first move would be to raise taxes on the one percent to support tax cuts for the middle class. Essentially, Justin Trudeau opposes everything the American Tea Party stands for. Knowing this, the voters of Canada elected him in a landslide.

Our two nations are indeed different. But politicians in this country might want to think about all that.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.