Friends or Acquaintances: Implications of the June 28 Canadian Elections on Canada-U.S. Relations
With Governor James Blanchard, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada
John Wright, Senior Vice-President, Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs
Howard Cody, Associate Professor of Political Science and Canadian Studies at the University of Maine
Bruce Anderson, Pollster and a founding partner of the Earnscliffe Strategy Group
Tim Powers, Conservative Party Strategist
A brief history of the 2004 Canadian Election was given by John Wright to open the panel. He suggested that the new group of personalities leading each Canadian party – Martin, Harper, Duceppe and Layton – had shifted their targeted voter since the 2000 campaign. Wright dubbed 2004 the "401 election", after the highway between Toronto and Montreal, where the last-minute swing votes gave the Liberals 25 important seats, and the minority government.
Wright explained the election as a contest of management and personalities. Martin did not create the "Martin Mania" as was expected, and was leader of a country whose voters were looking for change after three Liberal governments, even before the February scandals hit. Harper was forced to make peace with the Conservatives after merging the Progressive Conservative party (PC) with his Canadian Alliance (CA). Combined with ex-PC leader Joe Clark's endorsement of Martin as "the devil you know", and poor management of healthcare and abortion-issue topics, Harper was able to unite the right, but not unite the center. Layton's NDP became more urban-orientated than before, but lost many ridings by small margins.
Wright explained that both the early and Election Day polls were accurate, but the Canadian swing voters of Ontario changed their minds - or made up their minds - in the last few days, which changed the outcome of the election.
Howard Cody used Wright's introduction to look at the new Canadian minority government. He presented historical evidence that the Liberals keep minority governments in tact, but the new government may not offer the level of political stability that business interests want. Cody briefly outlined the NDP's unique position, influencing case-by-case policies and pushing their own wider agenda. Cody expects to see Martin subscribe to Quebec social interests, which mirror much of NDP policy. He also believes Martin will try to govern from the left, and act alone on international issues, such as NAFTA and missile defense.
Tim Powers explained that young Canadians are polarized by the Bush administration, but are integrating into American business and politics in a "Brain Invasion" which he paralleled to America's early Irish immigrants. Powers claimed negative advertising was misleading Canadians during the election, epitomized by the Liberal and NDP campaigns as linking Harper's Conservatives with current US foreign policy. He believes that the "Brain Invasion" will outweigh anti-American feelings in the long run.
Bruce Anderson felt that the importance of the Canadian election was the latest wave of disengaged citizens. He saw a continuation of ten years of increased political apathy in Canada illustrated by citizen's inability to accurately repeat any party platform, a lack of determination to push any single issue to the forefront, nor any perceived correlation between a change in ruling party and change in a voter's life. Through this, Anderson saw the election as a series of regional voting blocs. He claimed these blocs were based on regional interests, and not necessarily adversarial. These regional blocs did not define the cleavages for the election, thus allowing the voter to decide on "light issues", or vote simply for change. Anderson outlined the resulting vote, as a lack of a mandate for any party to govern, which he implied, was a result of very similar party platforms based on laissez-faire government and mild health care reform.
The Honorable James Blanchard sympathized with Harper, who did not have enough time to rid his party of the perceived right-wing agenda before Martin called an election. Blanchard was interested in the outcome of the U.S. election on Canada-U.S. relations and trusts that either Kerry or Bush will work with the Canadian American Business Council on trade issues and dispute resolution. Blanchard offered two future scenarios – Martin can push Bush into multilateral agreements, or Martin and Kerry can move toward multilateralism based on a common heritage of foreign service families.
Drafted by Morgan Pendleton, Intern
David N. Biette, Director, Canada Institute