Nowhere to Run?

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LILLEY: Trudeau’s best poll numbers still have him losing the fall election (Toronto Sun)
Koch Brothers, Tea Party Billionaires, Donated To Right-Wing Fraser Institute, Reports Show (Huffington Post Canada)

In the leadup to the 2004 presidential election, there were many people who stated that they would move to Canada if George W. Bush got reelected. A big part of me wanted to make the move, but I just couldn’t leave Mom that way (and since her husband died before the next presidential election, that was probably a good move on my part), and I’d just started graduate school that autumn, so my life was too topsy-turvy at that point to start with. My undergraduate degree in creative writing, as important as it was (and still is) for me, probably wouldn’t have helped me very much in terms of being able to support myself if I’d tried to make the move, and besides, even if the old stereotype is that Canadians are the friendliest people on earth, I knew that many of them wouldn’t take too kindly to all the Detroit Red Wings shirts I wore back then.

A lot of people laugh when their fellow Americans say that they’re going to move to Canada because an election didn’t go their way, but I think those kinds of statements should be taken a lot more seriously than they usually are. Abandoning not just a national identity, but also the familiarity of a home country, is no small thing to do, and for all the people I know who have made such claims — including at least one who actually did move to Canada as a result of the 2004 election, and still lives there now — none of them did so with anything less than total and complete sincerity.

I can only speak for myself, but self-identifying as an American has been problematic for me since I first gained the skills I needed to effectively parse American politics. I’m never going to agree with everything that happens in America, and I have no illusions of Canada — or any other country — being some kind of nirvana for people like me. Maybe I took my early school lessons to heart too much (at a time when I couldn’t think about them critically), but there’s still a part of me that believes in the idea of America, that there is a core of this country that, despite all the serious problems here, still makes it one of the best countries on the planet, if not the best.

The idea of America is one thing, but that idea is far removed from the reality of America for far too many people, and that gulf has grown wider and wider in my lifetime. If I hadn’t been in so much shock from Mom’s passing shortly before the 2016 election, I think there’s a good chance that I would’ve driven over the Ambassador Bridge the day after the election, hid out in a friend’s apartment in southern Ontario, and never stepped foot in this country again. Even with the personal improvements I’ve been able to make this past year, my life in America is still dangling by a thread in a lot of ways, and I’d be lying if I said that I still didn’t think every once in a while about how I’d get into Canada if I had to.

At the rate things are going right now, though, Canada may soon become as inhospitable to people like me as America is now.

Even though I can’t follow news from Canada as closely as I used to back when I lived in Toledo (where CBC’s television station in Windsor is available on cable), I still frequently read up on Canadian news online. A lot of Americans’ eyes were drawn to Rob Ford when he was mayor of Toronto, not just for all the scandals he was involved in, but also because his bombast and bluster broke that old stereotype of the “friendly Canadian” for many people. Although Rob Ford is dead now, his brother Doug became the premier of Ontario last year, and he and his right-wing allies in the provincial government are so similar to the modern-day conservative movement in America — from policies to personalities — that it’s nothing short of chilling.

Other provinces in Canada have also fallen to radical right-wingers since America installed its most recent president, but Canada is due for a federal election no later than October of this year, and their Conservative Party has a new leader, Andrew Scheer, who’s espousing the same kind of hatred and vitriol that’s become endemic in modern-day America thanks to our current president and his supporters, and may be getting financial assistance from the same ultra-right billionaires who funded the Tea Party era of Republican politics here. Even though Justin Trudeau took the world by storm four years ago when he became Canada’s current prime minister, with people going gaga over his youth and telegenic looks and tattoos and boxing prowess and all that, he and his Liberal Party have been mired in scandal for months now, and they’ve been steadily trailing the Conservatives in recent polls. If Scheer were to become prime minister after the next election, the kind of right-wing assaults currently happening in some Canadian provinces (and America) seem likely to expand to the whole of the country.

This would be bad enough on its own, but what makes it nauseatingly worse is the fact that Trudeau himself likely could have avoided such a fate if he’d simply kept one of his biggest campaign promises. When Trudeau’s predecessor, a Conservative named Stephen Harper, won his last federal election in 2011, his Conservative Party got 55% of the seats in Parliament (and darn near 100% of federal political power in the process) despite earning less than 40% of the popular vote nationwide. When Trudeau campaigned to be Harper’s successor in the 2015 federal election, he explicitly promised that if he and his Liberal Party formed the next government in Canada, then 2015 would be the last federal election contested under the First Past The Post voting system (whichever candidate gets the most votes wins, even if they only get a small plurality) that had allowed the Conservative Party to form a majority government despite not even getting 40% of the popular vote total.

In 2015, though, the Liberal Party also got 55% of the seats in the Canadian Parliament despite getting 39% of the national vote. At first, Trudeau went ahead and formed a commission to study alternatives to First Past The Post that would produce a parliament which would more closely echo the popular vote total, but after the commission produced its report and recommendations, Trudeau decided on his own to stick with First Past The Post, breaking one of his key campaign promises and dulling his lustre in a lot of people’s eyes. The Conservative Party hasn’t come close to polling at 50% in this election cycle, so any of the alternative voting systems that had been proposed, if they’d been implemented for this year’s election, would have greatly reduced the possibility of a Conservative majority government coming out of the next parliament. Instead of agreeing to share power with the more left-wing parties in Canada, though, Trudeau and the Liberals decided it was more important to keep old, broken political systems in place so they could hoard power all to themselves.

As America’s next presidential election cycle seems likely to be headed to the same fucking scenario again, it would at least be tolerable if there was a possibility that after the election, if I decided that I just couldn’t handle four more years of right-wing devastation and hatred, I could try escaping to Canada where, even if things weren’t perfect, they’d be worlds better for people like me. Now, though, it feels more and more likely that Canada’s going to get its own ultra-conservative head of state, with his own hate-filled agenda to inflict on his country, and I’d be no safer there than I am right now in America. Unless something happens to reverse what’s been happening in Canada, there may truly be nowhere for people like me to go to any longer, and we won’t even have the idea of America to hold on to as the reality of America becomes even more oppressive and toxic.

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