Canada and the 2004 United States presidential election

Canada and the 2004 United States presidential election

While the entire world paid close attention to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, few countries were doing so more than Canada. Decisions of foreign policy and trade made in the United States affect Canada more than those made in almost any other country due to the close economic relationship between the two nations. Over eighty percent of Canadian trade is with the United States, and there are close cultural and personal links as well. Moreover, since almost all Canadians have access to and regularly watch American television, they are easily exposed to both election coverage and advertisements. Members of Parliament also monitored the election through Foreign Affairs, which had established links with the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., for up-to-the-minute information on the election.

About half a million people living in Canada were eligible to vote in the American election (either Canadians with dual citizenships or Americans living in Canada). This exceeds the number of eligible voters in several American states. Both parties, but mainly the Democrats, made efforts to win these voters and ensure that they cast ballots. Most notably, John Kerry's sister Diana Kerry visited a number of Canadian cities to bring out the vote.

Canada was overwhelmingly pro-Kerry. A July 2004 poll by Ipsos-Reid found that 60% of Canadians favoured Kerry and only 22% of them George W. Bush. The remainder were either undecided or supporters of third-party candidates. In the winter of 2004 another poll found that only 15% of Canadians felt that Bush was doing a good job as president. Even Canada's most conservative province, Alberta, was 60% in favour of Kerry. The area with the strongest support for Bush were the Atlantic provinces, which only broke 51% for Kerry. Kerry's strongest support was in Quebec where from 69 to 71% of the population picked him over Bush. Only in New Brunswick did Bush lead, with 51%. An international poll of ten nations conducted in September and October again found 60% of Canadians would vote for Kerry with 20% backing Bush. This was the third-highest level of support for John Kerry, behind only France and South Korea.

Explanations of Canadian support for John Kerry

Canadian support for Kerry was a product of numerous factors. Since the Second World War, Canadian political culture, government policies and public opinion has moved further to the leftwing of the political spectrum supporting more social programs, stronger social justice, and a multilateral foreign policy, thus creating similarities with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The Canadian Christian Right, while influential in some rural areas (mostly western Canada), is nowhere near as strong as its American counterpart which provides a significant portion of Bush's support, and which is centred in the American South, geographically distant from Canada.

Personally, Kerry also had features that drew parallels with stereotypic Canadian culture. He plays hockey, speaks French, and is a north-easterner with international experience. Bush is an evangelical, speaks rudimentary Spanish, and is more bellicose, traits that are less stereotypically Canadian.

Under George W. Bush, Canadian-American relations had reached their lowest point in decades. Many analysts credited this to an "ideological clash" between the two nation's governments, because two ideologically different parties were in power in the two nations. Such an occurrence has been fairly rare in contemporary Canadian-US history, especially in the last 20 years. During the administration of President Ronald Reagan the American government enjoyed close relations with the administration of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, with both men being conservatives with similar political philosophies. Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chrétien likewise enjoyed a close relationship with Democratic President Bill Clinton, again largely due to ideological similarities between the two men. The election of George W. Bush in 2000, during the continued administration of the Liberal Chrétien, thus marked the first time Canadian and American governments had been ideologically different since the early 1980s, when Liberal Pierre Trudeau co-existed with Reagan.

Ideological differences between Bush and the Liberal Party of Canada quickly became apparent when Canada refused to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, raise military spending, and follow the Bush administration's lead on drug laws and gay marriage. These factors, and especially the Iraq war, eventually helped turn much of the Canadian population against Bush. There were a number of trade disputes ongoing between the two nations, most notably over softwood lumber and cattle. While neither American party had an official position on these disputes, the Bush administration was seen as being singularly unhelpful, although critics have argued that this is somewhat of a false perception, as the problem lay more within the jurisdiction of the United States Congress than the President himself. Regardless, there was a strong perception in Canada that in regards to trade matters the Bush administration was more concerned with its relationship with Mexico, while Canada was comparatively ignored. When a deal breaking the US - Canada softwood lumber dispute was finally reached, most Canadians were angered that the U.S. government was not forced to repay all of the tarrifs it levied against Canadian companies, despite numerous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) court rulings that it do so.

Many prominent conservatives in Canada, including Andrew Coyne, the "National Post" and others, explained Bush's unpopularity in Canada on different grounds. Such conservatives blamed the Liberal Party, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Canadian media in general for perpetuating negative images of Bush, and using him as a target to rile Canadian anti-Americanism and ultranationalism. They argued Bush was being exaggerated as caricature for partisan purposes, in order to portray all conservative politicians as "scary extremists" and thus hurt the electoral future of Conservative Party of Canada by associating them with Bush. Likewise, conservative critics argued that left-wing Canadian critics of the President were attempting to exaggerate Canadian perceptions of a "values gap" between the two countries, and thus foster a belief that it was somehow "wrong" or "un-Canadian" to support Bush.

Campaign issues directly affecting Canadians

There were few campaign issues that directly affect Canadians. Kerry advocated a program of buying prescription drugs from Canada. This could make Canadian companies a great deal of money, but it could also lower supply and increase prices in Canada. Kerry has advocated more a protectionist trade stance, something that could have hurt Canada. However, by tradition and because of NAFTA, Canada is rarely affected by such moves.

Canada was mentioned three times in the presidential debates. John Edwards first mentioned Canada towards the end of the Vice-Presidential debate saying that the Bush administration "blocked allowing prescription drugs into this country from Canada. We're going to allow it." In the second town meeting debate between Bush and Kerry, Bush was directly asked about why he was blocking the importation of Canadian drugs. He responded that "I haven't yet. Just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you... and what my worry is that, you know, it looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a third world." In the final debate the issue was again drugs from Canada, but in a different context with Bush discussing going to Canada for help to aid with the shortage of influenza vaccine in the United States.

Position of the Canadian government and major political parties

The Canadian government had no official position, as is standard protocol. However, it is widely believed that the governing Liberals would have preferred a Kerry victory. The Liberals are far more ideologically similar to the Democrats than to the Republicans. In August 2004, Carolyn Parrish, a Liberal Member of Parliament, referred to the United States and its allies as the "Coalition of Idiots," she later appeared in a television comedic skit stomping on a George Bush doll in parody of her own position. While she was censured for the remarks, her decision to publicly denounce her own political party and Prime Minister Paul Martin over his supposed rightwing agenda and to a much lesser extent her constant insults towards the Americans eventually played a role in her being expelled from the party. Her views on the Bush Administration were widely seen as expressing the beliefs of a portion of the Liberal Party. Most cabinet ministers refused to disclose their preferences, but there were some exceptions. Joe Volpe said that "intellectually, I'm attracted to Kerry." Environment Minister and future party leader Stéphane Dion stated his clear support for Kerry, as did former cabinet minister Denis Coderre.

One important reason for the Liberals to have hoped for a Bush victory is the issue of missile defense. Previously Paul Martin had voiced vague support for missile defense, but a concentrated effort by the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois by the Canadian public made that position politically untenable. Missile defense was an important priority for the Bush administration and they would bring pressure to bear to convince Martin to support it. The Liberals were concerned that a victorious Kerry would ask for Canada's help in Iraq, though there were not any voices in the Liberal Party advocating Canadian military involvement in Iraq at that time and practically no support from the Canadian public, due largely on Canada's leading military role in Afghanistan and disapproval of the U.S. unilateral invasion.


Only weeks after Bush's reelection, on November 30 and December 1, he made an official visit to Canada. Bush's first official visit to the country was seen as an effort to mend relations. On December 5, as announced by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) two days earlier, [] Paul Martin appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer on his Sunday talk show, "Late Edition". [] []

In the wake of Bush's reelection some Americans looked to Canada as a more liberal alternative to the United States under the Bush administration. "The New York Times" reported that the number of Americans seeking to move to Canada tripled after the election [] , however, these threats were not carried out, as official statistics show fewer people applying to move to Canada in the six months following the 2004 election than before it. A number of people also suggested that the northern blue states should secede and join Canada, mostly in jest. The Jesusland map showing this new geography became widely circulated on the Internet.

ee also

*Politics of Canada and the United States compared
*Canada and the United States presidential elections


* [ Democrats Abroad Canada]
* [ Republicans Abroad Canada]
* [ No contest in Canada: Kerry by a landslide - "The Globe and Mail"] (Must pay to see this article)
*Lawrence Martin "Chatty Liberal ministers prefer - drum roll- Kerry" "The Globe and Mail" October 21, 2004.

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