Given our similarities, moving to Canada can seem like a reasonable action. We share time zones, the world’s longest unprotected border, and an interest in the same sports. Depending on where you live, it’s a short drive to Canada; you have to fly to any other English speaking country. In my home town, I used to get Canadian coins in change by accident.
But Canada is more foreign than it seems. They sell milk in bags. That’s weird. Their national animal is the beaver; hardly a majestic choice. More significantly, their politics are quite different from ours. They’re quite aware of this fact, but we don’t see much in the news about them. Given that politics is the impetus for so many Americans to (threaten to) move north, perhaps we should know what we’re getting into.
Canada, like many countries, has a Prime Minister rather than a President. There are differences between the two besides the title. First and foremost, people don’t vote directly for Prime Minister. Instead, the head of whichever party holds a majority of seats in Parliament is the Prime Minister. Parliament (which comes from a French word meaning discussion, a fact I think is worth noting) is by default always on the executive’s side. Straying from the party is rare, so there isn’t much in terms of governmental gridlock. It’s rare that one party holds a majority; coalitions are often required. Coalitions need compromise. But that’s not currently the case.
The Conservative Party, led by Stephen Harper, currently hold the majority of the seats in the House of Commons (163 of 308). Before Romney voters begin packing their bags, they should understand that “conservative” is relative. Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, and the party in power has no intention to change this. Medical marijuana is legal nationwide; Conservatives are okay with that. Canada has universal healthcare that isn’t threatened by any significant effort to eliminate it. In short, what Canada calls Conservatives are moderate Democrats.
Of course, liberal is relative, too. Canada has two other major parties besides the Conservatives, each of which veers to the left of what we consider mainstream politics. One of these proudly calls themselves the Liberal Party, and our more progressive Democrats might feel at home in their ranks. The other, which currently holds the second most seats, is the New Democratic Party, which leans further to the left. There is a branch of the NDP that considers themselves socialists and feels that the party is too far to the right. I imagine this reduces the amount of politicians who are wrongly accused of being radicals and socialists.
Back in April, I wrote about French politics, which are quite different from our own. I thought that was enlightening, but perhaps it hits closer to home to realize that the country next door does things differently too.