Bill Owens: Canadian Federal Election

Oct 27, 2015

The Canadian federal election was held Monday Oct 19. For most Americans, the response might be: who knew?

The Liberals and Justin Trudeau won 184 seats entitling the Liberals to form a majority government.

Let’s start with a primer. Canadian elections are not held on regular two, four, and six year cycles as are our federal elections. Once elected, Parliament can stay in office barring an event triggering an election for five (5) years under the Constitution Act of 1867. The three men running for Prime Minister were Stephen Harper, a Conservative, Justin Trudeau, a Liberal, and the New Democratic Party candidate Tom Mulcair.

The Canadian approach to elections at every level is for a shorter, less expensive and certainly less boisterous campaign season. The season for 2015 from beginning to end is 11 weeks, the longest in modern history. Canadians will spend approximately $128,000,000 Canadian on this election. If you knew any of these facts, make sure to send me a comment. Most Americans would accept this alternative without even a thought, it’s so reasonable.

What’s the status of the US/Canada relationship? We have had a rocky relationship over the last several years, largely highlighted by the Keystone Pipeline, but also the relationship has been impacted by lesser known issues such as the new Detroit/Windsor bridge, country of origin labeling (COOL), soft wood lumber and buy America provisions, all of which have put something of a pall on our relationship at least at the political level.

I have previously commented that Americans are not particularly focused on what is happening in Canada or on US/Canada trade issues largely due to the fact that, for decades, our relationship with Canada has been a strong and reliable one, and largely without controversy. In addition, few Americans live close enough to the border to actually receive Canadian media, particularly radio and television, so there is nothing subliminally penetrating our consciousness about Canadian politics or issues that impact our relationship with Canada.

The folks that I have had an opportunity to talk to, many of whom are experts in Canadian politics, initially believed that the Conservatives would prevail, at worst, with a minority government. The thought process was that if that did occur, that Mr. Harper’s tenure would be short lived. As the campaign played out however, the electorate moved toward the Liberals resulting in a resounding victory.

While all of this is very interesting for those who enjoy politics, what does it mean for America?

Will things change with Liberal government presiding in Canada, with an outright majority? There will certainly be changes in tone, and there have been some rumblings from the Liberal side that they have questions about TPP, but we are hearing the same thing from our right and left in Congress. Will this have any impact on issues like the Keystone pipeline, COOL, Buy America, I doubt it. We are not likely to see a change in policy until a new President is elected in 2016 and takes office in 2017. It is important, in my view, as someone who has lived and worked along the Canadian border and has appreciated its tremendous, positive impact on my community whether while serving as a member of Congress, or in my pre- and post-Congressional life as a lawyer involved in cross border trade. It is in our collective best interest to focus on those things which will continue to be fostered irrespective of which party(ies) hold power. The Beyond the Border Agreement, the Regulatory Cooperation Council, the Pre-clearance Agreement are the kinds of programs that have, in fact, been implemented in recent years , and are incredibly positive despite the fact that they are not the focus of public attention or scrutiny. There is little to believe that a Liberal government will change those policies, just as the Liberal government in Quebec has not altered its trading relationship with the United States, in fact it seeks to strengthen it.

Surely post-election, the Canadians will continue to focus on the trade relationship between the United States and Mexico as part of NAFTA, so we do have a robust three-party trading alliance and we will continue to be strong allies in trade, security and peace. This article was published in The Hill on October 20th, 2015.

This article was published in The Hill on October 20th, 2015.

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 23rd, a strategic advisor at Dentons out of its Washington, DC, office, and a partner in the firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC, in Plattsburgh, New York.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.