U.S. Midterms good for Canada?
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|Sat, 09-18-2010 - 4:21pm|
Potter: Why the U.S. elections may be good for Canada
September 17, 2010
WASHINGTON—Take it with a grain a salt. Or perhaps more appropriately, a pinch of tea.
But as America roils toward “midterm” elections — which now have the entire Washington establishment quaking with fear — there is a school of thought that the political spasms south of the border might actually work out well for Canada.
There is no question that heads will roll on Nov. 2, as American anger over 10 per cent unemployment and the burgeoning Tea Party movement align to place Washington’s old guard in the crosshairs.
And President Barack Obama’s Democrats will pay an especially dear price, perhaps losing control of Congress as the political purge unfolds in the middle of Obama’s first term.
But the wave of here’s-your-hat, what’s-your-hurry fury is expected to wash away some of the Republican establishment as well.
Approaching so rare a winter of American political discontent, incumbency is apparently poison: nobody can be considered truly safe.
How could any of this possibly be good for Canada? When your neighbour’s political house is on fire, surely it is preposterous to see salvation in the glow?
Yet one highly placed source familiar with the finer points of Canada-U.S. relations told the Star that a Republican resurgence may very well ease Ottawa’s battles on two key fronts — trade and energy.
“The whole Buy American impulse could actually become less of a problem as Congress shifts to the right,” the source said, speaking on background. “If we see a critical mass of Republicans in the House, the conversation can shift away from the Democratic Rust Belt mantra of job protectionism to getting out of the way and letting business do its thing. That would make it much easier for Ottawa’s argument that our integrated economies create jobs on both sides of the border.”
On energy — which more than ever is the focus of Ottawa’s lobbying efforts in Washington as the anti-oil sands movement gathers momentum — it’s a foregone conclusion that Team Obama’s efforts toward a single epic climate bill now are dead.
And here again, Ottawa senses advantage in an electoral tilt away from the Democrats. Energy legislation, when — and if — it comes, is likely to be broken down into smaller, more digestible bills that could make it easier for Canada to make itself heard in Washington.
That’s good if you are a Canadian seeking unfettered expansion of Alberta’s vast and carbon-heavy tarsands; bad if you think the absence of American leadership on the file will leave the continent immobilized on the issue for the foreseeable future.
Yet all this talk is the sort one hears while whistling past the graveyard — cautious, uncertain, spoken with a hint of dread. As Tuesday’s final round of primaries so vividly demonstrated, the sheer volatility of American politics today makes a mockery of all predictions.
“If I were Canada I wouldn’t be feeling all good about what’s happening because the kind of people stirring the pot in America are not about ‘business as usual,’” said David Biette, director of the Canada Institute at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Centre.
“A lot of Americans are out of work and they do want jobs protected. The Tea Party is not personified by free-trade business people. It is all very new and too volatile to protect.”
Paul Frazer, the former Canadian diplomat turned Washington consultant, agrees with this much: Canada should not expect a fresh wave of anti-tarsands sentiment in the next Congress. But Ottawa should nevertheless be braced to expect the unexpected.
“The U.S. concerns today just are not related to the outside world. But the unpredictability means Canada will have to guard against complacency. Especially on the Buy American front, the best defence is going to be a good offence,” said Frazer. “We need to continue reminding Americans that they can talk about China all they want, but Canada buys three times as much from America as China does.”
The best prognostications today suggest the Democrats may lose control of the House, losing 39 or more seats to the Republicans, while clinging to a narrow majority in the Senate.
But with Tea Party-backed arch conservatives expected to take at least some seats in both chambers, the next Congress could emerge as the Bickersons on steroids: a house so divided it may be unable to pass anything.
The White House, meanwhile, is rapidly readying Team Obama 2.0, a bevy of new faces from the chief of staff on down, aimed at salvaging what it can of its legislative agenda against a more hostile legislature.
Looking past the short-term implications for Canada, even the Star’s senior source acknowledges the longer run looks grim.
“For Canada, nothing really changes. We still need to pound away on the key issues of borders, trade and energy. But at the same time, we know it is in our interests for America to keep moving forward and continue to be the leader it has been in the past.
“That’s the real worry. Will they show the leadership to actually pull themselves together? Or will the agenda be so inward-looking that they simply get stuck in gridlock.”