Canadian elections would be the first check of pandemic coverage
If you don’t look carefully, things seem to be back to normal at Old Orchard Beach, one of Maine’s most famous summer resorts. The pier is overcrowded, many motels have “No Free Spaces” signs, and masks are still optional.
But it’s not the same: there are almost no Canadians, especially the Quebecois, whose language is a distinctive spice, in a state where most French Americans – a quarter of the population – speak French only at home, if at all.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the border has been closed except for “necessary” trips. Canadians began re-admitting vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, resulting in seven-hour waiting times on opening day, including three-hour residue at border stations with Maine.
US restrictions on Canadian visitors will remain in place until at least August 21; At this point in time there is no indication of when that will change. It will be another lost summer for our northern neighbors, who have flocked south for vacation for a century.
Their absence was made up to some extent by Americans who may never have visited the Maine coast before. The entire northeast – mostly vaccinated and cautious – has become a safe haven, even as the Delta variant inundates hospitals in Florida and Texas.
However, Canada is even safer. Though it lacks its own vaccine manufacturing capabilities, it leads the world’s developed economies in vaccination rates, with few of the protests and opposition to mandates seen south of the border.
There was also little controversy there over Quebec’s move to build a power line to move electricity from Hydro Quebec, a public utility, via Maine to Massachusetts, where Central Maine Power has been competitive for more than a year.
It was a scream to hear lawmakers rail against “foreign influence” when they promoted a bill – vetoed Governor Mills – banning Hydro Quebec from spending money to fight the November referendum, while Texas Companies can freely spend fossil fuels in support.
After all, for those in the St. John Valley all the way down to Washington County – as for Maine Indian tribes like the Micmac (or Mi’kmaq) – family ties extend across the border. The long shutdown created real hardship and isolation.
Coincidentally, the first post-pandemic, or at least the late-pandemic, policy test will take place in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a “quick vote” on September 20th. Trudeau, who led the Liberal Party’s return to power in 2015, lost his parliamentary majority in 2019, but continued to rule in the minority.
Canada’s multi-party system includes at least three “opposition” parties with seats in parliament. Alongside the Conservatives, who are now the main challengers to Trudeau’s re-election, there is the New Democratic Party, which is strong in the western provinces, and the Quebecois bloc, which advocates a withdrawal from Canada but no longer promotes the issue; a fifth “big party”, the Greens, are usually no longer a factor.
Trudeau was not required to call elections before 2023, but he is counting on Canada’s vigorous and effective response to the coronavirus to resonate with voters.
He can win the game with the caution that federal politics in Canada is highly fragmented. Provincial governments and provincial parties are stronger than in American states, and fluctuations in one region are not always reflected elsewhere.
New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, elected last August, has struggled to define positions that the entire party can support. Trudeau has mandated masks and vaccinations for transport and health workers, in parallel with Maine’s policy, while O’Toole strongly supports but does not mandate vaccinations.
Climate change has become a rallying point for liberals who believe Canada can become a world leader. O’Toole, on the other hand, was unable to convince his party congress to declare “We recognize that climate change is real” in his election manifesto.
Though Americans – and even the Mainers – spend most of their intelligence gathering ignoring Canada, the September results could be more than the only two major U.S. contests this fall for the New Jersey and Virginia governors.
In New Jersey, Phil Murphy is on the run for re-election and would be the first consecutive Democrat since Brendan Byrne in the 1970s.
In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe is only a small lead over Republican, Trump enthusiast Glenn Youngkin, but that could be due to McAuliffe’s style developed as a political fixer by Bill Clinton and then chairman of the DNC.
McAuliffe, who also served from 2014-18 because Virginia only allows a single four-year term – is likely to still win, if only because Democrats have dominated the state for the past decade.
Pandemic policy is likely to be a minor factor in these two races. For a real look at the new dynamism, Mainers can – for a change – look north.
Douglas Rooks has been an editor, commentator, reporter, and writer based in Maine since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love”. The views expressed are those of the author. He welcomes comments at [email protected]