I am so glad that the U.S. elections are over. Was anyone else kept on edge and get sucked into this real-life soap opera? The last weeks leading up to November 6th were particularly brutal. That ridiculous offer from Donald Trump, Hurricane Sandy, the Nate Silver controversy — all this trashy political drama was so much better than the celebrity tabloids out there. (Ugh, just let Rihanna and Chris Brown recommence their horrible love affair already.)
And now: It is an Election Hangover. I suspect that this will go on for at least a couple more days with the left-wing reaffirming their positions and the right-wing wondering how the hell they lost. While Obama captured 332 electoral votes versus 206 by Romney, he was only approximately 2.5% higher than his opponent in the popular vote. That is quite a small margin, despite this number bringing in theoretically a maximum of 7.9 million more votes for Obama than Romney (out of the 2012 U.S. population of 314,686,189). Canada-wise, that number of extra votes would equal 22.8% of our total 2012 population. (Note that we are quite the sparsely populated country checking in only 34,482,779 people despite spreading 9,093,507 square kilometers versus a slightly higher 9,826,675 square kilometers for the U.S.)
So our southern neighbours have been chit-chatting away about what this election means for the most powerful nation in the world, and whether Republicans are losing grip on their citizens. And reading these essays and analyses have really hit me harder with the fact that I love being Canadian. Our politics are boring and maybe even lame compared to the crazy blue-white-and-red circus that is bestowed on the American population every four years. However, our societal normalities that I, and many other Canadians, take for granted are issues that cause protests and controversy for our southern neighbours.
Some of the topics that are inflammatory to many Americans often belong in the hotly debated category of Big Government. For many Americans, and specifically for those who identify themselves as libertarians, it is preferred to have as little government interference to their citizens as possible. However, my Canadian brain asks, Why is it OK for the American government to interfere with such societal issues as gay marriage and abortion, but it is not OK for the U.S. government to provide for health care to all its citizens, and impose regulations in the financial markets and greater taxes on corporations?
Many of the answers to these questions are placed squarely in the values of libertarians and the religious right, which make up the loudest voices from the Republican party. The former Vice President candidate Paul Ryan is a famous libertarian and Catholic (and not just an exercise fanatic) who, as per his philosophical world views, laid out a budget plan that slashed income taxes of those at the top of the marginal rates, as well as social and welfare programs such as approximately $100 billion dollars per year for food stamp and cash assistance plans. While balancing the budget is definitely a priority of any government, it is hard to imagine these kinds of budget plans passing anywhere north of the Detroit-Windsor border entry.
This said I will affirm that I, nor I am quite sure the Canadian government, hold the beliefs that individual responsibility and self-reliance are without importance. However, there is a balance between a government giving liberty to its citizens while taking care of us individually. That is why we allow Canadian citizens to find shelter at international Canadian embassies instead of deserting them in the midst of, say, a natural disaster or political upheaval in a foreign country. That is why the Canadian government provides health care to every single citizen. That is not to say our health care system or any other of our policies has its flaws, but to deny economic security to those in need of medical care is, to Canadians, a government and societal concern.
Additionally, Canadians are taxed at higher marginal income tax rates than Americans. This long and sustained Canadian tradition hardly squeaks out an annoyance or grievance expressed by Canadians regarding our rates of taxation. Why? Because, it seems that as a whole, Canadians are OK with being taxed at higher rates if in return we receive social and infrastructure benefits such as subsidized daycare and road maintenance. Canadians also do not buy that cutting taxes for the highest income earners will lead to growth. As CIBC economists recently noted on economic growth, “Spending and transfers or tax cuts to the poor have a greater bang-for-buck than tax cuts for higher-income earners.”
These quotes come from non-partisan, North American economists from one of the biggest banks in Canada. Why do we Canadians believe that this economic theory is true, despite the fact that Republicans have been pushing for these tax cuts for high income earners as a means of stimulating economic growth? Because Canadians, including the Canadian media, are much more science and data driven. Science and the scientific method of analysis is untainted by bias so its results are true and reliable. What other method of analysis would we rely on? Astrology? A “feeling”? This is why I saw the Nate Silver controversy as just another ridiculous component of the election circus — how dare a statistician using mathematical models, who possesses “thin and effeminate” features, make such bold predictions for the election! The Republicans did not want to hear it, but Silver’s predictions for each state came out 100% correct. This was an improvement from his 2008 election predictions, again drawn from his mathematical models, that correctly predicted the electoral vote outcome of 49 out of the 50 states.
This reliance on science is also a partial reason why, or perhaps the reason we rely on science, the Canadian nation is mostly a secular country. This country is the homeland of the Canadian Native population, some who remain devoted to their non-Christian religions, then settled by the Catholic French and the Protestant British. Canada is an immigrant country, one that is more of a cultural mosaic than the melting pot of the U.S.A. Therefore, while the country retains its Christian traditions such as Easter and Christmas, the government mainly retains non-secular policies. Some religious groups might argue that Canada should adopt Sharia Law into its judicial system or reaffirm that it is a Christian nation, but today the government remains unaffiliated to any religion and supports Freedom of Religion.
To that, my Canadian brain says, Of course it is. Why should the country promote one certain religion? Do we not want to allow each individual to follow whichever religion that is right for them, and not have a specific religion and its cultures imposed on them to a realistic degree? Do we not want medicine and health policies of all Canadians based on pure scientific facts and analysis? Is it not enough that scientific studies have found that children raised by homosexual parents are normal and successful, despite protests from some religious groups? That providing free birth control results in a fewer number of abortions, despite the Christian right’s disapproval of both birth control and abortion? That the female body does not “shut down” and prevent pregnancies in the case of “legitimate rape”, as per Missouri Republican’s Todd Akin’s assertions? (So glad that the voters agreed with science on this one.)
Why is America still grappling with these issues? America is part of North America–it shares it continent with Canada — but it still had a slew of candidates go on and on about outrageous and completely false claims about abortion, rape, and women. All by older white males whom, with such assertions that “Girls rape so easy” (thank you, Roger Rivard) running for the U.S. Senate to make supposedly informed and just policies for American women. Reading all these incendiary comments made me wonder when time stopped in the U.S. despite our countries sharing five time zones.
However, it is without saying that the U.S. is very different from Canada. Canada is no angel and of course has its own issues, but we definitely do not have someone like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly sigh on national television that “the white establishment is now the minority”, complaining that “it’s not a traditional American anymore.” O’Reilly went on to name Obama’s voters — the Hispanics, Blacks, and women — then comment that “People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?” There is such a small chance that someone, some Canadian on national television, would repeat such racist and hegemonic statements in an immigrant-friendly country like Canada without reaping the repercussions that O’Reilly will never get. O’Reilly’s statements caused a minor blip in the news media, but if he were Canadian he would have most likely been taken off air and shunned by any decent, warm blooded human being.
Canada, in contrast, is promotes inclusivity whichever political party that might reside as government. It is a country that works for the welfare, equality, justice, harmony and prosperity of its citizens without imposing a single religion, and by using science and realism behind its policies. I would have thought that every country would strive for these values, that every individual would want these rights and needs met for each of their neighbours. And while the U.S. seems to be striving and voting for such an America, it remains teetering on an edge. As a Canadian and its neighbour to its north, it is simultaneously a sad and entertaining spectacle. And it makes me damn proud to be Canadian.