Canada

The pandemic has Americans eager to vote. Canadians not so much

WASHINGTON—It seemed like no one in Canada wanted an election right now. But Canadians almost got one anyway this week, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau forced a high-stakes confidence vote over a Conservative motion to investigate alleged corruption in the WE Charity scandal.

Bruce Anderson of Abacus Data told the Star his polling suggested Canadians wanted no part of a snap campaign, as they “seem a lot more preoccupied with the pandemic, the economy, climate change or a host of other issues.”

A day later as the U.S. election campaign entered its final stretch, the two candidates for president debated the pandemic, the economy, climate change, and a host of other issues — but much of their early back-and-forth was concerned with trading allegations of corruption. In our live panel while the candidates were bickering, my colleague Susan Delacourt noted, “It makes this Ottawa-based correspondent reflect on why Conservatives in Canada were trying to set up an ‘anti-corruption committee’ on Parliament Hill this week — a dispute that almost tilted us into an election. Basically, whether it’s Canada or the U.S., 2020 is the year, unfortunately, when our politics is veering from COVID-19 to corruption, without a middle ground in between.”

Well, in the U.S., there’s also been race relations — at the debate and in the streets. But the point is well taken.

2020 in the U.S. started seeming to be a year that would be dominated by news of an anti-corruption impeachment trial. The U.S. election closes, 10 months later, with President Donald Trump trying to make it about the same Hunter Biden corruption theory he was focused on when he took the actions that led to that trial. One person’s anti-corruption investigation is another’s partisan witch hunt. Given the cynical bad faith of many of the actors, many everyday people come to think that even the anti-corruption investigations are corrupt.

In between those campaign bookends in the U.S., 223,000 Americans died of COVID-19. 8.5 million Americans, including the president, contracted the virus. Millions lost their jobs. Eight million were pushed into poverty.

And the imminence of the U.S. election has provided a glimpse into how voting-booth strategy can corrupt legislative priorities. The Senate, making electoral calculations and trying to game plan a potential Biden-administration austerity opposition, has resisted an economic bailout package for Americans desperate for a lifeline, even as Trump publicly orders them to deliver one. Until recently, they were basically ignoring the idea, as they focused instead on packing courts with conservative judges while they still can, including the Supreme Court where they’ve single-mindedly pushed beyond their own stated principles and the quorum rules of the Senate to get it done before voters can weigh in.

Watching all this as COVID-19 again rears up to claim more lives in Canada and the U.S., it’s worthwhile for Canadians to remind themselves that earlier this year, their politicians were trying to provide a model of working together — at least sort of — to address an actual crisis. As the Star’s Heather Scoffield wrote, seeing Doug Ford and Chrystia Freeland present a united front was an inspiration to exhausted American politicians. And for voters at home. “Amid a profound health and economic crisis, Canadians want seriousness from their leaders; they want aid and guidance. After decades of declining trust and growing disinterest in government, politicians have a chance to prove their worth. Or they can play games, score inside-the-political-bubble points and confirm Canadians’ worst suspicions.”

Whatever parallels you can draw, Americans certainly don’t share an aversion to an election right now. They seem positively desperate for one. Fifty million have already voted in early voting, in what appears to be a trajectory towards a record-shattering turnout. Americans don’t have a choice about when elections take place, of course, they come on a regular schedule, crisis or no. But this year, as a host of issues make the stakes apparent and the election-year actions of officials provide a metric of judgment, Americans seem especially eager to cast a ballot.

Is corruption a concern? Always. But there are other, huge, and more obvious and immediate concerns, too, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods. Everyone would prefer to focus on that. Canadians want to avoid an election to make sure governments do focus on those things. Many Americans are voting in hopes a result will mean the government will.

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