Two years ago, Canadians secretly found themselves envying Americans, who were lining up at polling stations to make history—while we watched. Today, we’re free of that. Through the dead of winter, many will be indulging in our safest sport: thrilling at the decadence of American democracy and purring about how we grew up so straight and sure.
After the mid-term congressional elections, Canadian border watchers and embattled American Democrats will titillate us with grim scenarios about our neighbour and pronouncements about the superior Canadian ways of doing politics. Other than silence and hockey, there are a few points that we could keep at hand to protect one’s sanity and hold up the case for change in Canada.
(1) American democracy is loud, expensive, and unpredictable. However, each American party is open. Their candidates and leaders must first win the votes of grassroots partisans and mediocre incumbents face their own parties as well as the electorate. Canadian parties don’t have primaries. (Our incumbent Liberal leader won his job at an uncontested leadership convention.)
(2) The constitutional checks and balances in the US legislative system lead to delay and compromise on major strategic issues. However, during the last two years, the US Congress passed a universal health care package far more expensive and intrusive than the Canada Health Care Act. And it launched a stimulus package that ensured the prompt end of the recession in the US and, to a great extent, its end in Canada and in other major American importing nations.
(3) American dominance of the world economy is over so Canada should chart its own course with those emerging powers that will drive the future. However, the United States is diversifying its exports as fast as we are and has the means to be a winning trader in the future. It is the home of three-quarters of the Nobel Prize winners in science. And its manufacturing sector remains nearly one-quarter more productive than ours. Americans are reluctant to pay higher taxes, but they do have the means—substantially higher incomes—to pay for new infrastructure and other national objectives, when they choose.
When our side wins, we celebrate the resiliency and idealism of American democracy. When our side loses, some of us wonder whether the paler democracies of Europe had it right. Whether Canadian democracy further evolves along more populist American lines or not, we should not delude ourselves about our neighbour: it will carry on arguing and engaging the future as a demanding, classical liberal, mass democracy.