Most Americans, it’s a safe bet, probably don’t know that Canada has a national election on Monday, with the increasingly probable outcome that our friends and neighbors will have a new prime minister.
And most Americans, it’s an even safer bet, are probably unaware that the United States is a large and divisive issue in that campaign. There are other issues — taxes, child care, drug laws, same-sex marriage, the Kyoto treaty — but the issue that really gets the local juices flowing is the United States, just sitting there to the south — massive and, most infuriatingly to some Canadians, unaware when not being indifferent.
The cruelest charge leveled against Conservative Stephen Harper, whom polls show the likely winner by eight to 13 points, is that he is in the thrall and mold of conservative American Republicans.
His opponent, Liberal incumbent Paul Martin, is heir to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, perhaps best known here for having a senior aide who called President Bush a “moron.” It was impolitic and there were apologies all around, but the insult probably wasn’t too far off the thinking in Chretien’s inner circle.
Unfortunately, Martin also inherited a nasty corruption scandal and that, plus voter fatigue with 13 years of Liberal rule, have combined to make it heavy going in the polls. And what is the United States good for if not as a wedge issue for embattled foreign politicians? Martin has played up his refusal to join the United States in Iraq and to cooperate in missile defense and what he sees as Bush’s wrongheadedness on global warming and the U.S. export of gun crime to Canada.
When the U.S. ambassador to Ottawa, David Wilkins, mildly remonstrated at this U.S.-bashing, Martin reacted as if Wilkins had been caught red-handed trying to fix the election with CIA gold. He would not be “dictated to” by the United States, no, sir.
It is received wisdom in Canadian politics that Bush would be happy to see Harper elected. This view probably overstates White House interest in internal Canadian politics, but the fact is that, with plenty of blame on both sides, relations between Ottawa and the Bush administration got off to a sour beginning, and the U.S. president would probably welcome a chance at a fresh start.
Canada is our closest ally and largest trading partner; a reliable partner in Afghanistan; we share the world’s longest undefended border; and if Canada’s politicians want to beat up on us, that’s OK because we probably won’t hear about it anyway.
Harper concludes his stump speeches with “God bless all of you and God bless Canada,” for which he has been criticized as sounding so American. We’re pretty much fine with whomever the Canadians elect, but we like the sentiment — God bless Canada. We hope that’s not too American-sounding.