This is the 16th in a series of opinion columns on the 2021 Canadian federal election, written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN—you can find more in our section called Perspectives.
Outsiders—meaning Americans, primarily, but travelling politicos from all nations too—don’t understand Canadian politics. They’re always trying to look at us through their own lenses, trying to use Canada as a sort of laboratory for their own political theories they’ve developed back home.
It may surprise you to learn that our major campaigns are frequently staffed by people who’ve never set foot in Canada. When I was a fresh faced intern, Ottawa was practically colonized by Australians—operatives affiliated with John Howard’s Liberal Party. German, Irish, Israeli, Japanese… even a few mysterious British political consultants were rumoured to be advising on Erin O’Toole’s campaign this time around.
Wherever they come from, they always leave the same way. Slightly befuddled, maybe a little less sure of themselves, eager to return back through the looking glass from whence they came.
In America, where elections are consequential affairs, they believe that culture influences politics. Groups of people get some money together and decide they’re going to change the way politics is done in the good ol’ U.S.A. of their own accord.
The Brits believe that politicians should be charismatic, witty, and above all, exceptionally skilled in the art of off-the-cuff debate. When MPs go at one another in the Commons, it’s like watching expert fencers trying to score points on one another. And our friends the Israelis? For them, an election is a matter of life and death. Nothing is off limits. Displays of chutzpah are shocking, outrageous, and in some ways admirable.
So imagine visiting here from any of those places and being told, “Oh no, here we wait for Central Party to tell us what to say!” Or: “In our Parliament, MPs read off pieces of paper!” Or: “In Canada, the voters expect the politicians to get along with one another!”
And so, to everyone disappointed by the fact that this election produced the least consequential result in Canadian history, I say: Honestly, what did you expect? Did you really want to see some wide-ranging change in the way things are done in Ottawa? Did you want to wake up to find that suddenly, the actions of our elected members have consequence?
No, you didn’t. You didn’t want Erin O’Toole to radically transform the Conservatives into a blue-collar party. You didn’t want Jagmeet Singh to become some avatar of the youth vote. You didn’t want Justin Trudeau to conduct himself as though he was the elected King of Canada. And most of all, you didn’t want Max Bernier’s travelling clown show to enact some sort of revolution. Maybe you entertained delusions of one or all the above, but in the end, you all settled for the status quo. Because that’s what Canada is all about.
The best thing about this election is that everyone can find a way to justify their priors. Oh look, an anti-Israel Green MP was defeated in B.C., thus leaving the Jewish party leader in a worse position than when she started! How about the fact that the Liberals have lost the popular vote two elections running, thus fuelling speculation about Trudeau taking a walk in the snow just like his dad despite there being no evidence of that actually happening? Or, if you’re a frustrated “true blue” conservative or a “democratic socialist” NDPer, the solution to your party’s electoral woes is: more true blue conservatism/democratic socialism!
You want an exciting election, where history is made? There’s plenty of places around the globe where you can find those. Here at home, our political operatives will keep on trying to make a difference, struggling and striving behind closed doors, and the voters will keep on saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.
HEAR more weekly election thoughts from Josh on Bonjour Chai