- - Monday, August 10, 2015

Poor Mexico, as the Mexicans used to say of their country: “So far from God, so close to the United States.” Now all the Mexicans are up here, no closer to God but pouring across the border, anyway. Now the aphorism could apply to Canada, often ignored by American newspapers and television networks. The Canadians just had the first debate of their national election, and it went almost unnoticed.

Many of the 35 million Canadians no doubt welcome Americans not taking more interest in their affairs, preferring to be left alone as the good neighbors they are. They’re entitled to think a little more good neighborliness from Washington, however, would be a good thing. The endless delay and obfuscation over the Keystone XL pipeline is an example of how something good for both the United States and Canada is held hostage by American politics.

Some of the basic points in the Canadian debate were similar to the American debate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is under siege, as President Obama is, as the economy sags. The North American Free Trade Agreement, tying together trade of the United States, Canada and Mexico, has ignited the largest trading relationship in the world. With one in every seven jobs in Canada depending on U.S. trade, the ups, downs, fits and starts of the U.S. economy have immediate impact north of the border.

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Mr. Harper, running for another four-year term, subject to parliamentary support, is criticized for pushing up the national debt by $150 billion and the fact that despite tax cuts the private-sector investment founders. Mr. Harper says the opposition wants to raise taxes and create bigger deficits, and that would make things worse. Sound familiar?

He hints that he won’t seek another term after this one. Subject to one of the world’s most complicated parliamentary systems, he could drop through an unforeseen parliamentary trap door at almost any time. Canada has peculiar longer-term national issues, and they’re tangled in the works of four different political parties, each with strong regional interests and support. Mr. Harper’s three parliamentary opponents are Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party, Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party, and Elizabeth May of the Green Party. All stand left of Mr. Harper’s steadfast prairie conservatism. Canadian politics, particularly in French-speaking Quebec, are often more conflicted by provincial allegiances than our own contradictions between the 50 states and the federal government. The socialist Canadian Democratic Party quarrels with French-speaking separatists and retains a loud voice, and the vast Canadian west retains the maverick populism which Mr. Harper often exemplifies.

The biggest question in the Oct. 19 election is how successfully Justin Trudeau, 44, trades on his father’s oft-spectacular popularity as an earlier prime minister. His father, Pierre Trudeau, was often compared to John F. Kennedy in his two administrations totaling 15 years, and the son is sometimes cited as a look-alike of Barack Obama, who is more popular in Canada than in the United States.

Mr. Harper has taken Canada out of the shadow of the colossus of the south, particularly in the wake of Mr. Obama’s weak and vacillating leadership of America and the West. He has been forthright about pushing the Keystone pipeline project, hinting that Canada could send Canada’s oil to China and other growing Asian markets with a pipeline to the Pacific instead of the Keystone to the Gulf of Mexico. His care in balancing China against the West as a major trading partner could be a model for Washington, which may be far from God, but is certainly close to Canada.

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