• Marc Johnson

Oh, Canada…

     “When the time for change strikes, it’s lethal. I ran and was successful because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau. Justin is successful because he isn’t Stephen Harper.”                                        – former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney

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We Americans don’t generally pay much attention to The Great North. Canada is only on the mind when the Blue Jays are in the playoffs, when we laugh at the late, great John Candy (a Canadian, eh) in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or when we long for a doughnut and a Moosehead. You hockey fans are an exception.

Del Griffith (John Candy), the shower ring salesman, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.


Here’s some of what you may have missed, while wondering when Trump will finally go too far.

Campaigns Need Not Be So Darn Long…

Canada just completed one of its longest election campaigns in its history – a whopping 79 days! What, you say, they ran a national campaign in…what, less time than it takes Joe Biden to decide to run in a national campaign. You can do this political business in an intelligent and competent manner and not spend two full years doing it. Really, you can.

I was in the Great North in September, while the candidates were in the hustings and while one of the nationally televised debates took place. The campaign was sharply focused, but in a remarkably civil manner, perhaps thanks to the “sunny ways” of Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party who will now become the new U.S.-friendly prime minister.

Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Trudeau


I read the papers while in Canada and have followed the campaign since then, and with full respect to the many U.S. news organizations I respect and follow regularly, the broad and deep coverage of the Canadian national election was also sharply focused – much more on issues that personalities – and remarkably civil. Yeah, I know, this is Canada where niceness is embedded in the national DNA, but what a refreshing thing to see the three principle leaders of the national parties acting, mostly, like serious adults going about serious business.

Serious Campaigns Make for Serious Voters…

If anything Canadian politics is more complicated than ours. National elections are three or four-way affairs, so Trudeau, the left-of-center Liberal, was not merely trying to oust Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but also triangulating with the also left-of-center New Democrats who might well have, had they run a better campaign, replaced the Liberals as the liberal party in Canada. Got that?

Canadians had enough of their prime minister as this “modified” sign on Salt Spring Island indicated in September


More parties, more policy positions, more nuance, and real political strategy also seem to make for more engaged and smarter voters. For example, if you were among the 7 in 10 Canadians who were feeling than Stephen Harper, who had become a remarkably divisive figure, had run out his string as prime minister, what do you do at the polling place? You needed to make a choice: who has the best chance to dumping the prime minister? In Canada its called “strategic voting” and young Trudeau, the son of the flamboyant former Prime Minister Pierre, played the strategy perfectly.

I’m such a political junkie that I watched the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s election night coverage (thanks C-Span) and was tickled to learn that one of the most frequently used search terms on Canadian Goggle these last few days was “strategic voting.”

Other quick observations: as the polls closed across Canada Monday night, first in Atlantic Canada, then in Ontario and Quebec and on to the West, the CBC almost instantly reported the results from the various “ridings.” There was very little delay in reporting which candidate was winning and almost no backtracking by the CBC’s political analysts. Their first assessment was almost always spot on and it was fast and authoritative. It would appear the Canadians know how to run a national election and, like much else, we might learn a thing or two from our northern neighbors.

Positive and “Sunny” Always Beats the Alternative…

And consider this: young, optimistic, and telegenic Justin Trudeau – one wag said it was impossible for him to take a bad photograph – based his campaign on an idea that would never, ever be so clearly articulated in the United States. Trudeau told Canadians; in essence, we are going to run budget deficits for the next three years in order to undertake important investments in infrastructure that will also help grow the Canadian economy. The Liberal platform is classic Keynesian economic policy, government investment in critical projects even if the investments require borrowing the money.

The policy is not new, needless to say. Barack Obama and many other American politicians have or do embrace the same notion. It is the candor that is refreshing. Trudeau in clear, precise language laid out his deficit spending platform and Canadians basically said: “Yes, that sounds about right.”

Pierre Trudeau in 1973 with the new prime minister under his arm. Photo by Rod C. MacIvor


In contrast to the dour, nasty, often tasteless politics in our own country at the moment, Trudeau made a point of speaking compassionately about refugees, demanded that Canadian society embrace inclusion, and maintained a relentlessly upbeat campaign.

In his victory speech Monday night, Trudeau, a young man who grew up among politics and politicians and clearly learned a few lessons from his old man, again appropriated a great line from Canadian political history.

“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,” Trudeau said with a big smile, channeling the great Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. Canadians and their new prime minister remind us again that positive, candid, forward-looking, hopeful campaigns are almost always winners.

It’s a great country and soon, perhaps, we’ll know as much as Justin Trudeau as we do about Justin Bieber. It’s past time to pay attention to The Great North.

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©2019 by Marc C Johnson