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Tories should be alert to spillover from GOP turmoil

Pollster Nik Nanos recently surveyed Canadians on their preferences in the U.S. presidential race. The result was an avalanche. From We the North, 63 per cent favoured the Democratic candidates and 17 per cent favoured the Republicans. A 46-point spread.

Looking at individuals, Hillary Clinton had a 30-point lead over Donald Trump in the poll among Canadian voters. In the United States, most surveys show a close race between them.

Measuring Canadian political attitudes through a U.S. lens might not be the best way, but it has some merit. It's an indicator of values. It points to the strong Canadian lean to the progressive side. It shows that in a U.S. context, we are unmistakably Democrats. It suggests that Conservatives here might want to run and hide – for fear of guilt by association – at any mention of today's Republican Party.

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While there probably isn't much cross-border spillover from the Grand Old Party's madness, it hardly helps the conservative brand. For Canadian Tories, it would be best if the Republican Party just went away.

It's especially the case now, but it has been this way for a long time. Going all the way back to the Eisenhower era, the Republican Party, with one big exception, has served to hinder the interests of Canadian Conservatives. By contrast over the same period, the Democratic Party has served Canadian Liberals well, the latest example being the hug-in between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama last week.

Before the GOP descended into the Trump trough, it served up the troglodytes of the Tea Party, a source of ridicule. In presidential sweepstakes, Canadians have favoured Mr. Obama by a wide margin over George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and John McCain. In the 1990s, the Newt Gingrich brand of Republicans found little favour here.

In 1982, when Ronald Reagan visited Ottawa, he was booed while speaking on Parliament Hill, so much so that Pierre Trudeau intervened, grabbing the mic to ask the audience to show the president more respect. Initially, Brian Mulroney's close relations with the Gipper didn't help him politically; Mr. Mulroney was tagged for many years as being too pro-American, but to his credit he held firm and made his warm relationship with the Republicans pay off with the free-trade agreement.

Richard Nixon's presidency served as a thorn to Tory interests. When he visited Ottawa in 1972, officials took hot-water hoses to the snow on Parliament Hill for fear he would be pelted with snowballs.

Dwight Eisenhower was the exception to the rule: Canadians liked Ike because he was a war hero and a moderate.

What a difference on the Democrat-Liberal ledger. Franklin Roosevelt aided Mackenzie King greatly. The Kennedy Democrats played a big role in the sinking of the John Diefenbaker government. Pierre Trudeau benefited from the animosity directed toward Mr. Nixon. Jean Chrétien formed a good alliance with the Clinton administration. And now Justin Trudeau is in lockstep with Mr. Obama.

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The reasons why Canadians favour Democrats, as pollsters such as Mr. Nanos and Frank Graves attest, is because they see Republicans as considerably more distant from Canadian values. That's particularly true as the GOP has moved further right. Republicans like guns, they like war, they're retrograde on the environment, they're more inclined to survival of the fittest, they're more xenophobic.

Canadian conservatives are a far cry from the demagogic excesses of Mr. Trump and Ted Cruz. But one of the reasons the Tories lost the most recent federal election was their display of intolerance as reflected in their attitudes toward the niqab, on promoting a snitch line, on being seen on board with former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Instead of bringing together Canadians, the Tories pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy.

They are entering a leadership race and the convulsions in the GOP are likely to have an impact. The warning signals are out. Candidates here will be striving to avoid comparisons to leading candidates there. The effect of the Republican race may be to moderate the Conservative Party.

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About the Author
Public affairs columnist

Lawrence Martin is an Ottawa-based public affairs columnist and the author of ten books, including six national best sellers. More


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