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

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else 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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