As was the case with many countries outside of the United States, Canada had its share of Obama fever back in 2008. His candidacy was arguably seen as transformative, if only by being the first African-American candidate in a serious position to win the presidency. To be fair, the 2008 Democratic primary season also had all the makings of another rendezvous with history: the possibility of the first woman, Hillary Clinton, to capture the U.S. presidency. When Obama ultimately triumphed, Canadians seemed as excited as our neighbors to the south and hope was as much in the air in Canada as in the U.S.
Unlike some of our American friends who may have since soured on President Obama, Canadians generally retain a positive view of the President. It is not an exaggeration to say that his re-election for a second term would be seen very favorably. In fact, the general consensus after the rather disappointing Republican primary season is that Obama will walk away with an easy victory. It seems that many in Canada confuse their wishes with reality on the ground as Americans are bracing for a hard fought election.
The reality is that the United States remains fundamentally a 50-50 nation, with independents holding the key to the final results. The sluggish recovery in the U.S. (20 percent of lost jobs have been recovered) is contrasted by a far more robust recovery in Canada (over 100 percent). While our optimism is somewhat guarded regarding the economy, it is clear we did not have a housing crisis and a financial meltdown of the magnitude of America. Our single payer healthcare system, while under some financial strain, remains very much a major tenet of our social and economic security. Our growth outlook is generally considered good compared to our fellow OECD countries. So we tend to extrapolate our comparative good fortune with that of President Obama’s attractiveness and ask: Why would America change leaders now? The fact is that the economic picture will be a decisive factor in the November election.
It’s been said that the United States is a center-right country and Canada is a center-left country. Actually, given the evidence, it should be said that both countries generally prefer the center when it comes to selecting its leaders. According to nearly all the opinion polls, Canada’s oil rich province of Alberta was set to choose the Wildrose, Canada’s version of the Tea Party, as its government. Instead, this past Monday (April 23 ) it decided to keep the incumbent and mainstream Progressive Conservative party, stewards of Alberta for 41 consecutive years, as its government.
True, Alberta is probably Canada’s closest version of Texas. It has the lowest tax rate in the country, is the home of Canada’s largest reservoir of fossil fuels and generally is seen to be the jurisdiction with the strongest libertarian streak in the country. Over the decades, the governing Progressive Conservative party has become a reliable and stable fixture, despite the obvious fatigue voters are beginning to feel with 41 years of rule. The Wildrose party, with striking similarities to the U.S. Tea party including its brand of conservative populism and its economic libertarianism, seemed at the end of the day, too extreme even in the Canada’s most pro-free enterprise province.
Just as in the United States, Canada has its ideologically based parties, but when it comes to electing its prime ministers and premiers, it prefers that their leaders govern with the widest consensus possible. In a parliamentary system, governments can often be found with a majority of seats but with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Any government that is insensitive to this reality will eventually pay a price at the next political rendez-vous. Pragmatism and compromise are preferred to rigidity and ideology.