The latest flap over Missouri GOP senatorial candidate, Todd Akin, and his atrocious comments about “legitimate” rape received much coverage north of the border. This, along with the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, has led many Canadians to wonder about the state of the Republican Party today.
It was not always that way. The presidency of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s saw much cooperation and few differences between the governments of both countries. The Reagan years also marked important areas of cooperation such as in acid rain and free trade. Over the years, many in Canada recognized the Republicans as friendlier on economic issues despite clear contrasts on social and cultural issues.
Yet, since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Canadians have shown more interest in candidates of the Democratic Party. This can be attributed partly to a question of similar views on the role of government and social issues, as well as the tone of the rhetoric. The 2008 election and the selection of Barack Obama reinforced this sentiment. Most Canadians would still prefer President Obama win in November.
With a close election in the offing between President Obama and Mitt Romney, Canadians will have to come to grips with the reality that the Republican ticket of Romney–Ryan could win. Considering we have a Conservative government in our nation’s capital, one can actually expect that relations could be warm and productive. Would a GOP in November be good news to Canada? How will Canadians react? Before answering, let us see how Canadians see the GOP.
With the Republican Party convention taking place from August 27 to 30, it may be useful to see why today’s Republicans have become less attractive to Canadians than in the Eisenhower and Reagan years. A lot has to do with the changes that have occurred within the party since the mid 1960s. While the party has been ideologically conservative over the years, it was always typical of U.S. political parties with a moderate wing. Moderation and ideology were compatible in the interests of the party and the nation. This was the pattern that characterized the Republicans and saw that very party as generally supportive of civil rights.
In the mid 1960s, the conservative movement headed by Barry Goldwater led to a decided shift to the right especially in the area of foreign policy. The affirmation of American values and the propagation of these values on the world stage made the GOP more assertive on questions of national security. At the same time, Canada was slowly moving to the more restrained role of a middle power, exerting its influence through international organizations and forums.
The next two decades saw the increasing emergence of the religious right and social conservatives who took cultural issues like abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and birth control, and brought them into the mainstream debate. Meanwhile, Canadians had moved to legalizing access to abortion services, recognizing gay marriage and decriminalizing the possession of marijuana.
It is clear to many Canadians that the conservative movement in the U.S. has made today’s Republican Party more rigid and ideological in its expression and policies. The Tea Party faction even makes it less favorable to free trade and environmental issues. The current controversy on women issues make the party appear out of the mainstream of the major parties in North America. Canada’s Conservative party is far less ideological in its policies and rhetoric.
Rank and file Republican convention goers will pay lip service to Ronald Reagan during the party convention, but today’s GOP is more right wing than the one led by the venerable former President. It is fair to say that Eisenhower also would have had difficulty finding his place at this party convention. But, ultimately, it is America’s choice in November, and Canada will eventually adjust as good partners and neighbors do. The enthusiasm may be lacking, but in a curious way it may work out in Canada’s interests.
John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. His Twitter account is @JohnParisella
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.