You wouldn’t know it from the American media, of course, but Canada too is headed into a national election. And they also just had their first debate.
Among the 35 million Canadians, of course, many welcome the fact we don’t take more interest in their affairs. For when we do, it often is a disaster. Note the continuing schmoozle over the Keystone XL Pipeline that even snuck into our national presidential debate. It has become symbolic as well as a practical concern for us down here as well as for Canadian oil and gas. For Americans, it represents an aggressive energy policy and jobs versus supposed environmental concerns. For the Canadians, it is another example of how common North American interests are hostage to domestic political concerns, especially in the U.S., critical to Canada’s expanding exports markets especially at a time of falling oil prices.
There was some irony, too, in the fact that some of the basic points in their debate were not too far from our own. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was under attack as the Canadian economy sags, intertwined with the slow American recovery. The North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] among the United States, Canada, and Mexico has spurred the largest trading relationship in the world, running well over $2 billion daily. With one in every seven jobs in Canada depending on U.S. trade, no wonder the ups and downs of the U.S. economy have almost immediate impact north of the border.
Critics say Harper, running for another four-year term subject to parliamentary support, has pushed up the national debt by $150 billion and that despite his tax cuts private sector investment founders. Harper’s response is that they want to raise taxes and create bigger deficits which would only make things worse. Sound familiar?
Harper hints he won’t seek another term after this one. Of course, in one of the world’s most complicated parliamentary systems, he could drop through an unforeseen parliamentary trap door at almost any time. Furthermore, Canada has its own peculiar longer term national issues. And they were brought up in the complicated debate that tangles four different national parties – with strong regional interests. Harper’s three opponents, young  Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau, New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair and Green party Leader Elizabeth May, are all left of his own steadfast prairie conservatism. .
Canadian politics, exemplified in its second largest province, French-speaking Québec, are as often as not even more conflicted by provincial and federal allegiances than our own contradictions between states and federal voting patterns. The socialist Canadian Democratic Party, for example, is now caviling to French-speaking separatists. But despite the end of the Liberal Party’s virtually monopoly in Québec, it still hangs on to a sizeable if fissured federal delegation from the province. The Canadian West has a long tradition of maverick populist movements which, in some ways, Harper exemplifies.
Perhaps the biggest question in this fall’s election [Oct. 19] is how much the young  Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau can trade on his father’s spectacular popularity as an earlier prime minister. If his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, recalled for Americans a Canadian John F. Kennedy in his two prime ministries totaling 15 years, young Trudeau sometimes looks and acts like a Canadian Barack Obama.
We have watched, admiringly, as Harper has taken Canada further out of the U.S shadow, particularly given Obama’s faltering foreign policy. He has been forthright about pushing the Keystone pipeline project, while at the same time threatening to take Canada’s oil directly to Chinese and other growing Asian markets with an alternative pipeline to the Pacific. His careful balance of Communist China as a major trading partner is a model for Washington.
Caught up in the mob scene in our own presidential derby, we will be watching the Canadian choice out of the corner of our eye. It’s one of the most important, if unrecognized, American interests. But we are quietly cheering for Harper — if that won’t hurt his chances furthering resentment against the colossus to the south which in the past has played its own role in Canadian politics.