What the U.S. midterm elections could mean for Ontario

Americans head to the polls on November 6 — and how they cast their ballots will have ramifications for this province’s economy, culture, and environment
By H.G. Watson - Published on November 5, 2018
U.S. midterm election buttons
Ontario shares a border with five U.S. states, and our economies are inextricably linked. (adamkaz/iStock.com)

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On November 6, the United States will find out whether voters want to change the political landscape or endorse Donald Trump’s agenda. All seats in the House of Representatives and 35 Senate seats will be up for grabs, as will 36 state governorships, three territorial governorships, and various other state and local seats.

Ontarians will also be watching the midterm results. We share a border with five U.S. states; our economies are inextricably linked. So what will the election outcome mean for Ontarians?

Jacob A.C. Remes is a labour historian and professor at New York University who teaches courses on Canadian history and Canada-U.S. relations. TVO.org spoke with him about what Ontarians should be paying attention to as Americans head to the polls.

Why should Ontarians care about the midterm-election results?

One of the things that's really stressful about living in the United States right now is the constant barrage of news. If I didn't have to follow it, or if I didn't swim in it, I wouldn't follow it as carefully. And so I guess one of the things I would say to Ontarians is: use your privilege not to focus on our politics as much as a lot of the Canadians I know do.

There are also serious reasons that American politics matters to Canadians — perhaps especially to Ontarians. The obvious one is geography. Most Ontarians live really close to the U.S. and are affected by it in all sorts of ways. You get American television, many people shop in the U.S., the economies are clearly very linked. Americans and American problems have a way of crossing the border. And, of course, Canada is deeply embedded in the American sort of geopolitical system. There are very clear ways in which American policy affects Canadians.

In Canada, the big story has obviously been the USMCA deal. How could the outcome of the election affect its prospects?

I don't know how hard a push it's going to be to get through Congress, but I do suspect that it will get through — because most of the time, such agreements do get through. I do think that the legislative battle will be different depending on who has power in Congress.

If the Democrats are more in control in Congress, the fight will be different. I don't know whether the outcome will be different, but the contours of the fight over the ratification of USMCA will be different.

If Canadians are going to pay attention at all, they should pay attention to the state elections, too. Some of these questions about trade relationships and some questions related to the environment may or may not happen at the state level. And that could also affect Canada-U.S. relations, so it's kind of a side piece.

Have we entered a different period in Canada-U.S. relations — a new cross-border reality?

It is probably not a new era. The heart of the Canada-U.S. relationship has always been people crossing the border in both directions, both short term and long term. It's always been about Canadians moving to the U.S. and Americans moving to Canada. The movement of ideas and the movement of people’s lives and the movement of money go along with those people. And I think that is going to continue to be true. There have been moments in which the balance of that movement has been southbound, and there have been moments in which the balance of that movement has been northbound.

We see this now in particular ways. We see this in a concern that Canadians have been expressing over the last month or so about legal marijuana and how that will affect people's ability to travel to the U.S. And we see that in an issue that I've been following closely about asylum applicants trying to leave the U.S. and go to Canada and having to cross irregularly because the Safe Third Country Agreement won't let them cross regularly. So the specifics of the concerns, those are new and different. But the centrality of people crossing the border remains constant.

One of the things that’s really been borderless is populist, alt-right rhetoric. We saw the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Almost two years ago, in Quebec City, there was an attack on a mosque. How does that affect the relationship between our two countries?

When I talk to my students about the things that make up Canada-U.S. relations, I always talk about how there are these five themes or five questions. There's trade, culture, migration, and security, and there is a sort of multilateralism. And I think the culture elements of that are to some extent what you're really talking about. Americans and Canadians largely consume the same media; they are having the same conversations. You see American right-wing ideas flowing north and right-wing ideas flowing south — Jordan Peterson, for example, influences American political discourse. I think that has been true for a long time. The content has changed because the content always changes.

In terms of the midterms, I say as an American, I am really afraid of what will happen if Democrats are not seen to do really well this week. If the midterms are understood to be an endorsement of Donald Trump and his agenda, I worry that that means there will be increased right-wing activity.

I think part of what the mosque shooting suggests is that Canadians are not insulated from that, because the Canadian right is influenced by the American right — and also because Canadians can't be insulated, because there's so much mixing of the populations. There are a lot of people in the U.S. who are Canadian.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that all Senate seats would be up for grabs in the November 6 midterm elections. In, fact, 35 will be contested. TVO.org regrets the error.

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