Graffiti by Gerik Asher. Photo by socraticgrant.
Canadians are just as obsessed with the face-off between Barack Obama and John McCain as their southern cousins, a fact that can be taken either as a sign of a healthy interest in foreign affairs or a sad indictment of the banality of our domestic politics. But while northern news watchers have spent the past ten months gorging themselves on a sweet bounty of American electoral information, many are not aware that the fistfight for control of the White House and Congress has been unfolding in our home and native land as well, with Republicans and Democrats battling to sign up U.S. citizens living in Canada and to make sure their votes are counted on election day.
According to Toby Condliffe, a Toronto resident and International Vice-Chair of Democrats Abroad, Canadian-based Dems have spent the past year making media appearances, placing advertisements, and appearing at speaking engagements, street fairs, and parades to seek out U.S. citizens and encourage them to cast absentee ballots in their home states. But although there is no shortage of potential American voters in the GTA, singling them out can be a real challenge.
“Americans in Canada look very much like Canadians,” said Condliffe. “If you’re in Austria and you hear someone in a coffee shop speaking English, you might well guess that they might be American, or English anyway, whereas in Canada most people speak English, so it’s harder to find Americans [here].”
While Democrats Abroad took to the streets, the organization representing the GOP in Canada followed a different path in their push for a McCain victory.
“We don’t do [public events] simply because it’s not the most efficient way to reach people,” explains Kelli Wight, who sits on the executive of Republicans Abroad Canada. “Our base of voters is all across the country, and there are a lot of people in rural areas, suburban areas, as opposed to downtown. It’s much more efficient to do it all online or by the phone.”
Although their focus is on American voters, both Wight and Condliffe expressed concern about the effect the U.S. election will have on their adoptive home.
If John McCain manages to eke out a win on November 4, Wight believes that the Republican’s “tougher foreign policy stance” will help protect Canada’s national security. “[Obama] wants to talk to people and be collaborative even if they’re dictators,” she said, “and there’s a very real possibility that that strategy may not work and that it might open up more opportunities for terrorist attacks on North American soil.” Wight also noted that McCain’s conservatism could help create a natural partnership between him and Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
But even though a Democratic White House might be at odds with the Conservative government in Ottawa, Condliffe believes that Canadians are right to hope for an Obama victory. “The Bush administration has taken a very ‘my way or the highway’ cowboy diplomacy approach to international affairs,” he said, “and that hasn’t been good for the world, it hasn’t been good for U.S.–Canada relations, and it hasn’t been good for the United States.”
Despite the fact that most polls predict a convincing Obama win on election day, Condliffe and Wight refuse to take anything for granted. “There’s no question that I’d rather be in the situation we’re in, where we’re fighting complacency, instead of fighting to come from behind,” said Condliffe. “But, sure, it makes us confident, and we have to be careful that we’re not over-confident, and we have to make sure that we don’t drop the ball. We’ve got to work as hard as if we were one point down.”
Although her candidate has been given up for dead by many observers, Wight insists that the race is not over yet. “It doesn’t look good, to be honest with you, but it’s not hard to imagine scenarios where McCain could pull through,” she said. “Certainly Obama’s ahead in every poll, so by all indications he should win, but you have to remember that John Kerry was ahead in the exit polls in 2004, and he ended up not winning. So it’s going to be close, and it does look like Obama’s going to squeak it out, but there is a very real possibility McCain will pull through in the end.”
John McCain could still manage a come-from-behind win in this bloody election year. But Canada is, in Condliffe’s words, “a very Democratic country, with a capital ‘D,'” and if things turn out as expected on Tuesday night, it will be a time of celebration not only for Barack Obama and his American supporters, but for all the Canadians who followed the Democratic campaign loyally along the way.
Photo of American and Canadian flags by David Herrera.