NEWS
10/20/2015 12:51 EDT | Updated 10/20/2016 01:12 EDT

In D.C. bar, Canadians in international affairs cheer end of the Harper era

WASHINGTON — At the watering hole where Canadian expats gather in the U.S. capital, a group of boisterous Canucks involved in international affairs came not to praise the Conservative government — but to bury it.

It was a Monday evening scene of cheers, high-fives and sighs of relief about the demise of a Harper-era foreign policy they'd disdained for a decade, often in silence.

The sudden explosion of hoots and hollers at every bad bit of Conservative news spoke to the sentiments in this crowd of consultants, workers from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank and Canadians who work in American politics.

Some Canadian diplomats dropped in. But this wasn't the official gathering at the embassy. This was at O'Sullivan's, an Irish pub just outside Washington where Canadians get together for events such as hockey games — or in this case, a change in government.

The mood was jubilant from the start of the evening when some TV screens showed the Toronto Blue Jays dismantling the Kansas City Royals, as election results rolled in from Atlantic Canada.

"You could go around this room and not find a single Conservative supporter," one attendee warned early in the evening.

He was right.

There are Tory crowds. And then there's this — their antithesis. This was full of the multilateral-institution-championing, mythical latte-sipping purveyors of foreign-policy nuance who cringed for a decade at the bullhorn diplomacy and worldview of their government back home.

Making matters more personal, some recently had their right to vote stripped away by Conservative legislation. Voting rights were taken from people living abroad for more than five years. That affected many of the 120 or so people crowded into this pub.

One woman explained how she had to call Elections Canada 15 times, contact the Canadian embassy and get work supervisors involved before she finally received a mail-in ballot.

Krista Lucenti managed to vote in Ontario after lots of time on the phone, and plenty of help, convincing the elections watchdog that her organization fell under an exemption to the new rules. She doesn't know how many colleagues simply gave up on voting.

"It felt personal," she said.

"I don't think this government had an incentive to invite votes from Canadians living abroad, because they tend to vote centre, centre-left ... The positions this government has taken are antithetical to the positions of most people working in international organizations and diplomacy."

She's been away from Canada for most of the last 16 years. She conceded she no longer feels very informed about provincial and municipal issues.

But federal issues? As a trade economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, she's extremely well-versed on key federal responsibilities having to do with foreign policy, development and commerce — such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which she supports.

But she disagrees with the government on a number of other issues, including climate change.

"Every person I've talked to is very excited about what's happening tonight," she said, over the noisy bar chatter. "We're proud of the legacy of our country and we don't see that legacy reflected in the current government."

There were cheers at news of a Liberal minority. More cheers for a majority.

Groans rose when Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre held his seat and there were delighted screams when Tory MP Paul Calandra lost. When Immigration Minister Chris Alexander went down, there was hooting that verged on barnyard sounds. One person explained the particular animus for Alexander: "The Syria refugee thing? Hugely unpopular."

Political consultant Cloe Bilodeau wondered whether this might be her last federal vote. She moved from Canada just over two years ago and voted in the Northwest Territories.

She wondered whether she'll vote in Canada again, barring a return home or a policy change. She said people took the voting change personally.

"On a personal level it's pretty hard," said the Quebec native. "It's hurtful."

She said she didn't care who people voted for — blue, red, orange. But she added: "People want change after nine years. ... People want a government with a different style."

Morgan Graham voted easily, because she's only been gone from Canada for two years while completing a master's degree and then moving on to a Washington multilateral.

She was diplomatic about the feelings in the crowd: "People in this room are very excited about the possibility of change."

Only a handful stuck around to watch the next prime minister deliver his victory speech. As with all wakes, this Irish pub get-together was mainly about saying goodbye.

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press