The Canadian federal election was held yesterday. For most Americans, the response might be: Who knew? Led by Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauCanada's Trudeau apologizes for vacation on first Truth and Reconciliation Day Unvaccinated Canadian government workers to be placed on unpaid leave Canada marks first 'National Day of Truth and Reconciliation' MORE, the Liberal Party won 184 seats, entitling them 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. Under the Constitution Act of 1867, once elected, Parliament can stay in office — barring an event triggering an election — for five years. The three men running for prime minister were incumbent Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party; Trudeau; and Tom Mulcair of the New Democratic Party.
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 was 11 weeks, the longest in modern history. Canadians spent approximately $128 million (in Canadian dollars) on this election. (If you knew any of these facts, make sure to write a comment below.) Most Americans would accept this alternative without even a thought, since it's so reasonable.
What's the status of the U.S.-Canada relationship? We have had a rocky relationship over the last several years, largely highlighted by the Keystone XL pipeline, but 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 U.S.-Canada trade issues, largely due to the fact that, for decades, our relationship with Canada has been a strong and reliable one, 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, then 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 a 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 the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but we are hearing the same thing from our right and left in Congress. Will this have any impact on issues like Keystone, COOL or "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. Such a change 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 lives as a lawyer involved in cross-border trade.
It is in our collective best interest to focus on those things that will continue to be fostered irrespective of which party holds power. The Beyond the Border Agreement, the Regulatory Cooperation Council and the Preclearance 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 that do have a robust three-party trading alliance and continue to be strong allies in trade, security and peace.
Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. He is now a strategic adviser at Dentons out of its Washington office and a partner in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC.