Why Americans Should Care About Canada's Election
The outcome of Monday's election is going to mean a lot for whichever wang Americans pick to be their next president.
More coverage of Canada's election on VICE:
As you've probably heard, Canada is at the end of one of its wackiest, and most depressing, elections ever. Or maybe you haven't heard. You Americans probably have your own stuff going on. It's cool. We don't mind.
To catch you up, this election has been a slow-motion car crash between Canada's two traditional ruling parties—the Liberals and Conservatives—and the traditionally socialist New Democratic Party (NDP). First, we watched the NDP squander their lead by campaigning as the political equivalent of alcohol-free beer. Then, a good chunk of the campaign was dominated by a debate around banning the niqab, with the Conservatives teaming up with a Quebec separatist party to stoke some anti-Muslim fervor. Towards the end, it came out that a presumptuous senior staffer on the Liberal side was actively trying to help the Canadian oil industry figure out how to lobby his boss, in the event that he becomes prime minister.
Enthralling as it might be to watch a lion maul a clown, Canadians have had to endure three months of this circus, and it's getting a little old. Although, come to think of it, your campaigns last two years, so I guess we're lucky on that front. But, bullshit aside, the outcome of Monday's election is going to mean a lot for our southern neighbors, and especially for whichever wang you Americans pick to be your next president. So we've put together a little guide to get you up to speed.
So Canada is a Parliamentary democracy, which means Canadians elect a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent their local district (we call it a "riding."). That MP then goes to Ottawa to sit in the House of Commons. Whichever party wins the most seats in the House of Commons (usually) forms the government, and that party's leader becomes the prime minister.
Because Canada has a first-past-the-post system—meaning that whichever candidate in each district who gets the most votes wins—it's common for MPs to get elected with just a third of the vote. Same goes for the government: the Conservatives won just 36 percent of the popular vote in 2006, got re-elected with 36 percent in 2008, then got re-elected again with just shy of 38 percent in 2011.
Since Canada has three major parties, and two minor ones—the Green Party, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, which only runs candidates in Quebec—it's common for the House of Commons to be split. If a party fails to win half the seats in the House, then they've got to curry favour with the other parties in order to get their legislation passed. If they win a clear majority, though, they can basically do whatever the fuck they want.
WATCH: VICE Meets Justin Trudeau
What's the deal with Stephen Harper?
For the past nine years, the prime minister has been Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party. He is, irrespective of his politics, a bit of a dick.
After beating a scandal-plagued Liberal government in 2006, Harper quickly set to work in remaking the government in his image. He cut taxes and downsized government, slashing red tape wherever he could find it, all in the hopes of kick-starting Canada's natural resources sector—which worked pretty well. Obviously, that corresponded with a shit environmental policy that saw Canada quickly withdraw from the Kyoto Accord, and fail to adopt any meaningful CO2-reduction plan since.
Harper blew up Canada's foreign policy by replacing the United Nations-approved glad-handing and pensive chin-stroking with a lot more slamming fists on desks, yelling at douchebag foreign dictators, and funding opposition groups in countries that have shit governments.
The Conservatives also aggressively re-worked Canada's justice system. On the one hand, they cracked down on crime, domestic violence, and pedophilia. On the other, they jacked up penalties for drug possession and implemented a slew of mandatory minimum penalties that have managed to stuff the country's already-full jails to the point of crisis—kind of like your prison system.
One of Harper's most controversial accomplishments was the passage of something called Bill C-51, often dubbed "Canada's Patriot Act". The law expands law enforcement's ability to detain terrorism suspects without a warrant, allows the government to takedown so-called 'terrorist propaganda,' gives Canada's spy agency the power to use force to 'disrupt' threats, and expands information sharing amongst intelligence-collection services.
Harper also hates the media. VICE Canada had a whole saga of trying to ask him a single question which, in the end, cost us about $9,000.
But one of Harper's grossest policies, and hands-down the worst aspect of this election, is his obsession with the niqab. His government introduced a policy that forbid would-be citizens from wearing face-coverings when they take the—entirely symbolic—oath of citizenship in Canada. The courts here told Harper's government that policy was super fucking illegal, but he nevertheless promised to ban it again.
Doubling down, mostly out of a hope that aggressively secularist Quebecers and subtly racist Albertans would dig it, Harper promised to open up a tipline to allow citizens to report their fellow countrymen for "barbaric cultural practices" (like public female genital circumcision, apparently) and opened the door to banning the niqab at government offices.
The niqab became arguably the most talked-about issue of the whole campaign, which is roughly akin to going to a public library only to find out that it only has Stephen King books. All sorts of Canadians, and a few foreigners, have taken to the foreign press to pen their protest editorials about Harper. Columns in the Atlantic, the New York Times,Esquire, the Guardian, the New York Times again, the Independent, the Economist, and a bunch of others—all basically tripping over themselves in histrionics, calling our prime minister a racist autocrat. Coming to Harper's defense was Republican strategist and closet Canadian, David Frum, who blamed the "political and media elite" for the "imbalance between the furious rage against Harper and the puniness of the micro-transgressions that ostensibly provoked that rage."
We're sorry for taking up so much of your newspapers and magazines, by the way. We know that you'd rather be reading thinkpieces about Donald Trump. But this is a big deal for us, because someone might actually beat Stephen Harper.
Who are his opponents?
Going into this election, the NDP were the odds-on favorite to win, for the first time in Canadian history. The party, still somehow a member of the Socialist International, trucked themselves to the political center with aggressive vigor in recent years. Unfortunately for the NDP, though, it appears to have sunk their campaign.
The party was hoping to capitalize on the popularity of their leader, Thomas Mulcair, who kind of looks like a bear. He's pretty much what you'd imagine when you think of a Canadian politician—ill-fitting suits, that retired lumberjack body that keeps you warm in the winter, and a French-sounding last name that non-French speakers are incapable of getting right.
Unfortunately for the NDP, it jettisoned all its beliefs in the process. They decided to campaign on a $15 dollar minimum wage, which we understand is all the rage right now in America (the Canadian federal government, however, only has the power to set wages for a tiny fraction of the workforce, so Mulcair's promise would have only affected about 100,000 people) and subsidized daycare. A handful of their other promises, like a national pharmacare strategy, never had quite the same sizzle as some of their bigger, bolder and sometimes crazy ideas of decades prior, like free post-secondary education or creating a federal Department of Peace.
So Mulcair's star began to burn a bit less brightly as people failed to get excited about his lackluster campaign, just as Justin Trudeau's giant wall of lightbulbs got switched on. Trudeau is the 43-year-old son of Canada's former pirouetting prime minister, and the leader of the Liberal Party.His party has historically been a big tent for self-styled centrists, money types from Bay Street (which is our quaint answer to Wall Street), and English Quebecers who are terrified of separatists.
Conventional wisdom was that Canadians didn't trust Trudeau, seeing as the scion has virtually no experience doing anything except for politics, and a habit for saying moronic things that made him look like a rube—like that he admires China because they have the luxury of a dictatorship and that Vladimir Putin invaded the Ukraine because of hockey.
But somewhere along the way, Trudeau started talking about all these crazy ideas, like raising taxes on the wealthiest one-percent, and spending money on paving roads, like a goddamn socialist. And it resonated with people. If the most recent polls are correct, Trudeau is on track to win big—maybe even a majority—with Harper a distant second, and the NDP in a even-more-distant third.
WATCH: VICE Meets Tom Mulcair
Okay, but what does it mean for America?
While Canada is generally irrelevant, the next government will make a big difference on three fronts: the fight against the Islamic State, the environment, and moving oil around.
When it comes to fighting the crazed terrorists in Syria and Iraq, only Harper supports military intervention. He's been sending Canada's rapidly-aging fighter jets to occasionally rain hell down on ISIS, and he's kicked in roughly 70 special forces guys to train Kurdish fighters. If either Mulcair or Trudeau get elected, they say the bombing is going to stop immediately—because reasons, or something. Trudeau and Mulcair both want Canada to take in tens of thousands of additional Syrian refugees, however. Harper is promising to let in just 20,000.
On the environment, Harper's re-election would basically mean that Canada goes to the Paris climate conference next month and is a useless prick. Thus far under the Conservative administration, Canada has actively tried to torpedo any CO2-emission reduction deal, because it doesn't want to have slap any regulations on oil producers in Alberta. The NDP and Liberals both want to head to ink a deal in Paris and then figure out how to implement it later. Specifically, the NDP wants to set up a federal cap-and-trade system that could be configured to work alongside American carbon markets, like the one in California, while the Liberals want to leave it up to the provinces to figure out.
On energy, both Trudeau and Harper support Keystone XL, while Mulcair opposes it. Harper's lobbying efforts, obviously, have gone pretty badly thus far, so he's hoping that Trump gets elected and approves the deal. Trudeau, on the other hand, is convinced that he could convince Barack Obama to approve the deal. Mulcair is deadset against it, and would rather refine more oil at home.
Right, so who is going to win?
While Trudeau is riding high in the polls, it's going to depend on a lot of things. Low voter turnout helps Harper, so if Canadians can't pull themselves away from Degrassi reruns long enough to vote, you might see him eke out a victory. If the Liberals win a minority government—less than half of the 338 seats in the House of Commons—they're going to need to rely on the opposition parties to actually govern. Otherwise, we're going to have another election sooner, rather than later, like some sort of boring, cold version of Greece.
The most interesting scenario will be if Harper manages to bang out a minority government. Both opposition leaders have basically committed to forming a coalition and ousting Harper, if that happens. And while people are almost always full of shit when they tell you that this arcane Parliamentary process will be "super interesting," this arcane Parliamentary process will be super interesting.
The last time the opposition parties tried to form a coalition, Harper basically locked the doors to Parliament and trolled the Liberals until they backed down from the plan. Conceivably, he could do the same this time around, meaning boring old Canada might just have a badass constitutional crisis on its hands.
If you want to follow along, we here at VICE Canada are holding an election night live special featuring a dunk tank. Because, in the end, we're still Canada.
Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.