The Canadian federal election was held on Monday. For most Americans, the response was: Who knew?
Unlike our federal elections, Canadian elections are not held on regular two, four or six-year cycles. Once elected, Parliament members can stay in office – barring an event triggering an election – for four years. The three men running for prime minister were Stephen Harper, a Conservative; Justin Trudeau, a Liberal; and the New Democratic Party candidate, Tom Mulcair.
Trudeau and the Liberals prevailed, winning 184 seats, entitling the Liberals to form a majority government.
The Canadian approach to elections at every level is for a shorter, less expensive, and certainly less boisterous, campaign season. The entire 2015 campaign, from beginning to end, was 11 weeks – the longest in modern history. Canadians spent approximately $128 million (in Canadian dollars) on this election. Most Americans would accept this alternative to federal elections in the U.S. without even a thought.
The U.S. government has had a rocky relationship with our Canadian brethren over the last several years, largely highlighted by the issue of the Keystone pipeline, but also lesser-known issues, such as the new Detroit/Windsor bridge, country of origin labeling, softwood lumber and Buy America provisions, all of which have put something of a pall on our relationship, at least at the political level.
That dynamic is off to a lighthearted start, as President Barack Obama is reported to have teased Trudeau about his lack of gray hair. (Maybe we should have a pool on how long it will be before the gray hair appears.) Trudeau is in favor of the Keystone pipeline, but may pull the plug on Canadian participation in the fight against ISIS. Many suspect the two leaders’ views on the environment will overlap. Where Trudeau stands on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an intriguing question, but he does fully support the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The level of trade between Canada and the U.S. is exactly why New Yorkers should care about Canadian politics. Trade between Canada and the U.S. totals more than $700 billion per year, including $34.2 billion per year between Canada and New York state, which supports over 680,000 jobs. New York’s trade with the province of Ontario is $22 billion and with the province of Quebec it is $7.5 billion. Tourism accounts for almost 7 million visitors per year, and $1.7 billion in spending that benefits Buffalo, New York City, the North Country and all points in between. The array of products going north and coming south is astonishing – from perfumes and compressor pumps to natural gas, electricity, precious metals and animal meats (including Montreal smoked meat, a personal favorite).
Trudeau has expressed support for increased infrastructure expenditures, including border crossing, and bolstering the economy through deficit spending. These priorities will create opportunities to strengthen trade with our partners in Ontario and Quebec, and will hopefully bring the Canadian dollar close to par (it is now worth about 78 cents on the dollar), which will enhance investment and travel in New York state.
Will Trudeau’s leadership impact issues like the Keystone pipeline, country of origin labeling or Buy America? I doubt it. As co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus in Congress from 2011-2015, and an active participant in the Canada/U.S. Intra-Parliamentary Group, we saw increasing trade and cooperation between the two countries. In my view, as someone who has lived and worked along the Canadian border and has appreciated its tremendous, positive impact on my community, as both a member of Congress and my post-congressional life as a lawyer involved in cross border trade, this is important. It is in our collective best interest to focus on issues that will continue to be fostered irrespective of which party, or parties, holds power. This includes the Beyond the Border Agreement, the Regulatory Cooperation Council and the Pre-clearance Agreement, all of which are incredibly positive, despite the fact that they are not the focus of public attention or scrutiny. Focusing on these three issues will help facilitate trade and therefore create a better economic outcome for the U.S. and Canada.
There is little reason 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.
If called upon to prognosticate, I would anticipate that trade between New York and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario will increase, with more emphasis on the movement of people and goods between our great state and our friends to the north.
Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing New York’s 23rd District, and is a strategic advisor at Dentons out of its Washington, D.C., office.