Why Canucks love Obama
There was laughing, there was cheering and there were tears. American flags were stretched high into the air as the room fell silent and every student hung on to President Barack Obama’s every word at his inauguration ceremony.
For many, gathering on Jan. 20 meant they were part of history, yet most of these patriotic students didn’t vote for Obama. Being Canadian, they simply couldn’t cast their vote on Nov. 4. That, however, didn’t hinder them from flocking to MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary to watch the event. However, when dealing with Canadian politics, such enthusiasm was destitute in the past, when students didn’t seem so eager to participate.
When Canadian issues and politics — including the candidates’ debates — were addressed in a similar fashion at the university, there was considerably less interest and a low turnout. Furthermore, fewer Canadians made their way to the polling station in last year’s general election, which saw voter participation decline to an all-time low of 59.1 per cent.
“The last election was submerged by some extent to the fact that there was so much more interest of what was happening within the United States and the Canadian campaign was very brief and it was very boring,” said Stephen Randall, director of the U of C’s Institute for United States Policy Research. “The debates, sitting around the CBC table were enough to cure anyone’s insomnia. They weren’t debates, they were people sitting having a cup of coffee with each other, so we need to liven things up a little.”
In 2003, an average of 58.4 per cent of students in Canada aged 18 to 25 considered their top reason for not voting to be lack of interest in Canadian politics. According to Randall, Canada needs to address issues relevant to the younger generations and present them in a way that will reach that audience.
“I think (Canadian politicians) need to address issues that are relevant to people of student age whether they’re students or not,” he said. “There has to be issues that are addressed and they have to be addressed in a way that is meaningful to a wide range of generations. Obama seems to have bridged that gap . . . which Canadian politicians have not done. There needs to be something inspirational, and I don’t see any of that. I don’t see anyone who is seemingly capable of communicating that message very effectively.”
Many students who attended the inauguration celebration in Calgary — and those who didn’t — had their own experiences with declining interest in Canadian politics, seeing fewer voters their age at the stations, and opinions on why their peers, friends and colleagues are choosing to pay attention to America’s politics over Canada’s.
When Melissa McGregor was 18 years old, she received a visit from a Conservative Party candidate during the provincial election looking for someone much older. After introducing herself the candidate asked for McGregor’s parents, without giving much response to McGregor’s questions about the cost of tuition or health care.
“I said, ‘I’m 18, I can vote, why don’t you want to talk to me?’ I mean that affected me a lot,” McGregor, 19, remembers. “Our political leaders, there isn’t the personality, they don’t have the charisma. Even myself when I’m voting, there is that fuzzy distinction between whether or not you’re voting for that party, the ideal, or the person. I think maybe in American politics, and I’m not saying that this is right or wrong, but people are voting for the person, and everybody is invested in this person not just in this individual party or