Opinion: Forgetting about our own politics, Canadians care more about American elections

Obama and Harper

There are some pretty solid reasons why Canadians are not so inspired with politics and leaders in our own country. For one, people like grandeur, celebrity, and big-budget everything. American elections have that – displayed unashamedly at the National Conventions and, of course, last night’s event.

Like it or Not, People Love The Circus

Written by Asher Isbrucker, a Guest Contributor. Follow Asher on Twitter: @AsherKaye.

Canada doesn’t even offer that in our films (which are exceedingly limited in quantity and quality), let alone our politics. Everything is done here on a smaller scale. The vast majority of people are drawn by big personalities on big screens more than a strong political platform and outline of policies.

And, of course, America is the center stage of everything right now. Things that happen in America pretty much happen everywhere else in North America. While the politics in the States may not directly affect us Canadians (especially not as directly as our own Prime Minister) it feels like it does. The President influences our intake of popular culture – as the primary supplier of our popular culture is the USA. The cult of personality that follows big names like Obama and Romney (if Romney has an identifiable personality – excuse the partisan aside) is infectious beyond borders. Why would it not be? We are drawn in by it.

Canada’s politicians usually are not as colourful, or at least not as obviously so. That is because politics in Canada, for the most part, focuses on politics. Here, it is still more about the positions, the decisions, the policies, than it is about personality and big inspiring speeches. And that is boring to the majority of people. Of course, politics in the States is still very much focused on politics, I mean, it is politics. But personality and ego pervade so prominently that they cannot be ignored. It would be interesting to see poll results of the election had nobody every seen or heard of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama – a decision based solely on their platforms.

And, to be honest, Canadian politics is not very intuitive. Of course, people should be more educated on how it works. Every Canadian citizen should understand at least the basics of how our government works to regulate our country and by extension our lives, but we do not, and it is not the simplest thing in the world – at least, it is not often put in layman’s terms. That is not to say that the electoral system in the States is extremely simple by comparison, but people see those big names on the ballots that they have been seeing on television, reading about in the papers, and been formulating their own opinions about.

Here in Canada, you get your friend’s mom, a neighbour, and the local hockey coach trying their hand at politics, along with a few other actual politicians, for various parties, all with different platforms (although some are so similar most people do not really know the difference), and you vote for a “riding,” after which some sort of process happens by which a new Prime Minister may or may not be selected.

It can be explained and understood by reading a Wikipedia article (which is not necessarily ideal, but for the matter it provides a decent and largely accurate background of the politics of Canada), but fact is most people just do not want or care to do that.

Naturally, we are going to be more interested in a charming aurator and leader of 300 million people, or Mitt Romney, than the relatively boring leader of 34 million people in a country that, for the most part, does not seem to be doing anything, in a political system that many just do not understand and is not very intuitive.

It does not surprise me in the least.

“51% of Canadians did not know that we do not directly elect our Prime Minister”

Written by Kenneth Chan, a Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow me on Twitter: @kjmagine

In the fall of 2008, during what is now known as the 2008 Parliamentary Crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempted to get away with calling a vote of non-confidence and a coalition government “treason” and “coup d’etat,” even though such procedures were completely normal in a Parliamentary system of government and had been enacted before by subsequent governments. Although he successfully stirred public opinion towards believing it was “treason” and a “coup d’etat,” it was an outright lie, and even Harper himself became Prime Minister by “overthrowing” the last Liberal government in 2005 under Paul Martin’s leadership by using the same non-confidence procedure. Although he wanted to form a coalition government at the time, nobody wanted to join forces with him.

So what exactly spurred the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Quebecois (the opposition parties) to contemplate a coalition just 27 days after the 2008 election? In the government’s first budget shortly after the election, Harper had proposed to eliminate the $1.95 per vote subsidy each party attained for every vote garnered during the federal election. The opposition viewed this as a snide political move by the reigning Conservative party, which was much more dependent on corporate and rich donors for its revenues than the voter subsidy.

Ultimately, the opposition parties saw this move as an hostile attack on democracy. Unlike the Conservative party, their operations were largely dependent on the voter subsidy and it would certainly have greatly affected their capacity to engage the Canadian populace. Furthermore, the voter subsidy system would also have brought the Canadian political system much closer to the American system, one that favours the wealthy and privileged rather than one that would level the playing field to allow all political parties to participate.

The voter subsidy elimination proposal was attached to a money bill, which are matters of confidence. Under our Parliamentary system of government, every money bill proposed to the House of Commons has the risk of collapsing the government should the Members of Parliament vote against the budget proposal. Therefore, the opposition was given the choice to whether support the budget or bring down the government. It should be noted the proposal to change Canada’s election financing rules was not the only grievance the opposition parties held, the effects of the recession became quite apparent by this time and the Harper government had refused to introduce any fiscal stimulus to curtail economic shrinkage and job loss.

According to a Ipsos-Reid survey conducted in December 2008, shortly after the Parliamentary Crisis, a majority of Canadians did not know some of the very essentials of our Canadian political system:

  • 51% of Canadians did not know that we do not directly elect our Prime Minister;
  • 75% did not who our Head of State was. 42% falsely answered that the Prime Minister was the Head of State, 33% falsely answered that the Governor General held the title. Only 24% accurately answered Queen Elizabeth;
  • 41% were unable to correctly identify Canada as a ‘constitutional monarchy.’ 25% described Canada as a ‘cooperative assembly’, while 17% believed we were a ‘representative republic.’

To say the least, these findings are troubling.


Featured image credit: Wikipedia



About the author

Author Avatar
Kenneth Chan is Vancity Buzz's Deputy Editor and Social Media Manager. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, business, retail, economic development, infrastructure, politics or anything that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com

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  • Tim

    Wow, this site truly is for dumb people. thanks for the great article. 

  • Gretchyn

    Actually they were bang on. People need entertainment, watch Canadian news it’s boring and thus no one listens. And your idiotic comment only alludes to your own stupidity. 

  • PG

    Agree but also I think our people aren’t as divided. The U.S. mid west is no better than radical Islam. 

  • Tim

     No, this article is suggesting that Canadians don’t understand their own political system, which I find hard to believe at any large scale. So, either the article is for simple folk, or the author is making claims that his/her own lack of knowledge of the system is somehow reflective of the majority.

  • Altered State

    Bang on! No one cares about politics in Canada because it lacks the WWE flare.

  • Aaron

    This Tim person needs to calm down.  We get it, you’re anonymous internet opinion #23,491,293 and if someone disagrees with you, they’re wrong.  We get it.

    Anyways, I agree with some of the points and disagree with some in this article.  Yes, Canadian politics lack the flare and media show of the U.S. counterpart, and that’s a major reason.  HOWEVER, the more pressing thing is another point the article touches upon.  Why is that the major reason?  It’s not a valid reason, and actually points the finger straight back at the populace.  It’s the people themselves that are drawn more to the show of it, they should be equally as involved in our own…but they’re not.  Can’t blame the Americans for that.  They know the herdlike mentality pretty well.

  • Guest

    It’s not just the pomp and majesty. They are way more radical than our parties, and their stances are on very emotional issues. People in the US have to choose between food at medicine. People in the US have to vote to keep a president out of a office who would use his religious leanings to decide who can get married, and who should have a baby. It’s ludicrious.

  • guest

    Agreed. I had hoped this article would comment on the implications of each candidate becoming president and the impact on our lives. The subject was very light and lacked substance. Van City Buzz can do so much better. This was the work of ass journalism.

  • http://twitter.com/TheFalconer Don F

    This article is… well, wrong.

    In our last election, 61.4% of the country voted.  Last night in the USA, about 30% showed up to the polls.
    I would say that shows at least a basic understanding of the democratic process in this country.  The “process by which a new Prime Minister may or may not be selected” is just ridiculous, whether this is an opinion piece or not.

    Just because you had to look up a Wikipedia article in order to figure out how elections in this country work, doesn’t mean that our country as a whole doesn’t care.  Where, besides Wikipedia, did any of the research in this article come from?  Or is it really just an opinion piece saying “I’m a couch potato so unless politics is on primetime I don’t care”?

  • Nicolb

    I’m looking forward to your rebuttal, which I’m sure will be exceedingly well-written.

  • http://twitter.com/Monk3yBaby Wilson

    This comment is… well, wrong.

    Average voter turnout in USA averages above 55%, source: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/data/turnout.php

    You discounted absentee voting and early voting.

    However, your main point may be valid, but you need a better argument to back it up.

  • http://twitter.com/TheFalconer Don

    That’s fair – but I still stand by the fact that if we have over 60% turnout, we’re not disinterested in Canadian politics.

  • Bobmagee

    I would be interested to see a poll surveying Americans on their full understanding on how the electoral college works…

  • Bobmagee

    Also, who cares if people don’t recognize the Queen as the ‘head of state’…we’re a freaking sovereign country. LETS START ACTING LIKE ONE. 

  • Randywoo

    Acting like one won’t make you one if people don’t even know how the system really works. And if people don’t know they’re not, they won’t move forward with the proper course of action to make Canada independent.

  • Randywoo

    While the article is shallow and doesn’t argue other aspects as to why Canadians may be more interested in what happens in America, it hits it on the bullseye on this particular point: people like theatrics and grandeur.

    The American political machine is hard to ignore, afterall it is fueled by 300 million people and is of course the world’s powerhouse economy.

    More or less, there’s also a reason why Canadians gravitate more towards American culture. Aside from the same language, it’s hard to ignore the massive elephant over the fence. The USA has the economies of scale to produce innovation and culture that Canada would never be able to do.

    Canadian culture is largely American culture, and American politics is of course infused into American culture. That’s another reason why Canadians certainly care more about American politics, or at the very least give more interest.

    And let’s face it, it’s fun to watch our southern neighbours fight over silly, trivial things… watching the Tea Party, moronic and public personalities bring back the same arguments from the 1950s.

  • SP

     You are absolutely right. We don’t have candidates trying to make abortion illegal or take away unemployment insurance and healthcare.

  • http://twitter.com/TheTseShow Peter Tse

    I think it is fair to say that in Canada because of the choice we have in parties that it isn’t as polarizing here as it is in the US. 

    In the US people view one as right and one as wrong while in Canada the fact is that all of the policies are all socialist to some extent. I mean this by saying a Canadian conservative government is more socialist than an American Democratic government.

    My point I am trying to say is that the gap between each parties policies aren’t as far apart as it is in America therefore the major issues in Canada are minute compared to the major issues in the US.

    I am not saying we don’t care about our government but an election in Canada isn’t as ground moving as one in the US

  • Andrew Chobaniuk

    What percentage of people in the United States are aware that they do not directly elect their president? Given the choice, I’ll stick with Canada’s electoral system, it’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good one. Granted as someone with a keen interest in politics and having studied it in University I do find the lay persons knowledge of our government disturbing.