Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Why the Outcome of the US Presidential Race Matters to Canadians

(This article was originally written in 2000)

Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush agree on important things, chief among them their commitment to the economics of globalization. But their substantial disagreements make the race for the U.S. presidency a matter of considerable consequence to Canadians as they too prepare to go to the polls. Managing Canada’s most important external relationship won’t involve a basic rethink for Jean Chretien’s Liberals in the event that Mr. Gore is victorious. But if Texas Governor George W. Bush wins the election, Stockwell Day and the Canadian Alliance are sure to feel the wind in their sails as a regime that is on their wave length prepares to take office south of the border.

Victory for Mr. Gore would signal continuity with the ways of the Clinton administration. To bring more Americans into the circle of prosperity, Mr. Gore offers a sheaf of educational and health care programs targeted at middle income earners.

"I want to give every middle class family a ten thousand dollar a year tax deduction for college tuition," Mr. Gore proclaimed in the third televised presidential debate "so that middle class families will always be able to send their kids on to college." This proposal reflects the Clinton-Gore "third way" view that a first class education for middle class Americans is the key to ensuring social fairness in a harshly competitive global economy. Earlier this year, Jean Chretien declared that he too is an adherent of the third way, the much touted attempt on both sides of the Atlantic to find a course mid way between free enterprise and old fashioned social democracy.

To win the support of older voters, Mr. Gore constantly reiterates his proposal that a part of the budget surplus be used to offer a voluntary prescription drug benefit to seniors. Reducing the price of drugs to older Americans, some of whom make the trek to Canada or Mexico in search of lower prices, is popular politics in the U.S. The proposal has made Mr. Gore competitive in the crucial state of Florida despite the fact that Jeb Bush, George W’s brother, is the state’s governor.

The vice president insists that his targeted tax cuts, totaling $480 billion over ten years, would allow Washington to balance its budget every year and to completely pay off the national debt by 2012. In the current Canadian election campaign, in Gore-like fashion, the Liberals are trying to convince voters that theirs is a balanced approach, combining substantial tax cuts with strengthened social programs.

At home with Mr. Gore’s outlook, Jean Chretien’s Liberals would find things substantially different if George W. Bush wins the U.S. presidency, especially in the not unlikely event that a Bush win would be accompanied by the Republicans holding onto both houses of Congress. The pressures on a Bush administration would almost certainly come from the right, since most Congressional Republicans are more conservative than their party’s presidential candidate.

The centrepiece of the Texas Governor’s platform is a massive ten year, $1.3 trillion tax cut that would involve an overhaul of the current U.S. tax rate structure. In the third televised presidential debate, one of the most revealing moments came when moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS asked Governor Bush to answer Mr. Gore’s charge that "your tax cut benefits the top one per cent, the wealthiest Americans." Bush replied: "Of course it does, if you pay taxes you’re going to get a benefit." Mr. Bush claims that his tax cut would allow Washington to eliminate the national debt by 2016.

If Mr. Bush wins the election and succeeds in steering his tax cut through Congress, the tax gap between Canada and the United States, having recently been narrowed by the measures announced in Finance Minister Paul Martin’s pre-election mini-budget, would be widened anew. Pressures from business for a matching round of additional tax cuts, accompanied by warnings of a more serious "brain drain" from Canada to the United States, would be sure to follow.

In addition to the tax pressures, in policy areas from gun control to abortion, education and the role of religion in society, in the White House Mr. Bush would press for changes that would be bound, at the least, to provoke major debates on this side of the border. As governor of Texas, Mr. Bush signed a law that allows Texans with permits to carry concealed weapons. He is opposed to three day background checks on gun purchasers, agreeing with the National Rifle Association position that this would adversely affect gun shows. Instead, he favours instant background checks for gun buyers. A Bush victory would energize opponents of the Liberal government’s firearms registration policy.

As an opponent of abortion, the Texas governor initially took the moderate stand that as president he could not reverse the recent decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make the so-called abortion pill, RU 486, available to American women. He has since reversed his position and now says that if a bill reached his desk to overturn the decision to make RU 486 available, he would sign it.

In sharp contrast to Al Gore, George W. Bush favours the further development of charter schools in the United States. He would invest $300 million in a charter schools homestead fund to underwrite $3 billion in loan guarantees to 200 new charter schools. In cases where schools receiving federal funding had consistently poor test results, he would offer vouchers to parents to pay part of the cost of moving their children to alternative public or private schools.

Both candidates make far more references to scripture and the almighty than Canadians are used to hearing from their politicians. That said, Al Gore and his running mate Senator Joseph Lieberman----who drew some criticism when he proclaimed that "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world"---represent the secular face of American society. They would chastise Hollywood for selling sex and violence to kids, but they are not trying to alter the basic tone of American life.

Even though George W. Bush is no religious zealot, he sees a much larger role in American life for what he calls "faith based organizations" than do the Democrats. In Texas, he has encouraged experiments with boarding schools run by religious bodies that operate under standards drafted by these same "faith based organizations" to manage themselves.

Just as victory for Mr. Gore would encourage Jean Chretien’s Liberals that they are philosophically at one with our mighty neighbour, if Mr. Bush wins, Stockwell Day and his party will be buoyed by the thought that the United States has taken the kind of turn they would like to see Canada take.

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