The year was 1980. I was seven. It was a Wednesday, I know now -- actually, a particular Wednesday, November 5, 1980 -- and as I bounded downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast, my brother stopped me at the door. "Who's the president of the United States?" he asked, testing me in that older brother way. "Jimmy Carter!" I shouted, in that smug younger-sister way. "WRONG!" he yelled, brandishing the front page of the Globe and Mail. "It's Ronald Reagan!"
Well I had never heard of Ronald Reagan and I didn't like being wrong. So that was the end of my interest in American politics, for about 25 years. I remember tuning into President Clinton's inauguration while I was at Western -- Barbra Streisand was singing, after all -- but for me, politics was local, like student council elections or whether my friends really "forgot" to call me before leaving for the party.
I went to law school. Clinton was still president. I moved to New York. Clinton was still president. I visited a boy in D.C. and met him for tea at the Mayflower Hotel, and a bunch of photographers started taking photos of me. Clinton was still president (but barely). I was definitely aware of "the news" but while I may have known who, say, Katherine Harris was (the scary lady on the TV stealing the election), that was pretty much my limit.
I'm pleased to report that all that has changed. In the intervening years, a few scary things happened, and it behooved me to start paying attention. I left law, I joined the media, and, eventually, started actually knowing what the heck was going on. Whoo hoo! I rode the wave of the 24 hour news cycle through the 2008 election -- working for this publication, actually! -- and, four years later, can proudly tell you the difference between a McConnell and a McDonnell, how to pronounce "Boehner" and spell "Reince Priebus," and why HRC is a BFD. I can also tell you why I'd vote for Barack Obama.
I can't actually vote for Barack Obama -- I'm from Canada and it's stamped on my passport as surely as on the way I say "out." But there is no being part of the great churning American media machine -- whether as a viewer, reader, listener, Tweeter, Instagrammer or random Canadian who somehow snuck her way on television -- without forming an opinion. Sometimes, it's even educated! As for me, the more educated I got, the more I came to realize that my support for the 44th President of the United States and his party actually has its roots well north of the border.
Really, every reason I can think of to vote for Barack Obama I learned from Canada. In the language of my people, et voila:
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Everyone Deserves Health Care
Yes, I'm starting with the obvious one. But COME ON. I can't even imagine how anyone who grew up in Canada could be a Republican. I've been in the US for over a decade and I still don't understand this system. HMO? PPO? Sorry for bleeding all over your emergency room, how many forms do I need to fill out?
I was immensely fortunate to grow up in a country where, when I hurt myself, I went to the hospital (and my father was a doctor, so going the hospital was never scary). There was no agonizing over bills, no worry over the cost of prescriptions, no "Well, I'm near my annual limit, maybe that gangrene will sort itself out" -- there was just health care. (And, if you had a pre-existing condition, you got more health care.) The Affordable Health Care Act -- Obamacare -- covers 50 million people who would otherwise have nothing. Youth coverage, preventative care for women, pre-existing conditions -- I cannot imagine supporting the candidate who would take this away from needy citizens. That would be so...un-Canadian.
Women Are Awesome -- And Deserve Equal Awesomeness
I grew up with a working mom -- a nurse-turned-lawyer who was frequently flying places to speak, had an important-looking briefcase and whom I would often call at the office, occasionally with my sister locked in the bathroom when our brother was terrorizing us. It did not occur to me that this was weird -- or that my mom's work might be worth 77 per cent of my dad's work.
I didn't really ask her about her family planning practices but, well, there were no kids after me. Which meant that she could continue to work, steadily and freely, and build her career. The first thing President Obama did when he took office was enact the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act, which was a huge step forward in fighting gender-based discrimination in wages (by making it much easier to launch a lawsuit, thereby actually getting a remedy and potentially discouraging the discrimination before it starts).
Mitt Romney? Notsomuch. Under President Obama, contraception for working women like my mom will be available and covered. Looking back on my first 25 years spent in Canada, I don't remember knowing a single person with an unwanted pregnancy, but I definitely knew a lot of people who were having sex. You can do the math -- but either way, that math would not consist of "Transvaginal ultrasound + Legitimate Rape + Personhood = Gift from God." Sheesh.
Women On The Supreme Court Are Awesome, Too
I went to law school (holla U of T!). Which means I read a lot of cases from the Canadian Supreme Court. Okay, fine: I read a lot of summaries of cases from the Canadian Supreme Court. But either way it was impossible to escape the incredible contribution women made to Canadian jurisprudence. (We also studied UK and US cases - if I were still in law school, I might make a "Learned Hand" joke, but I'm much too mature for that now.) It seemed absolutely normal that the Right Honourable Madam Justice Beverly McLachlin would be named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada - and my God, woe to anyone who would discriminate against women after meeting the Honourable Madam Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé. I have never met anyone as terrifyingly impressive as Justice L'Heureux-Dubé. And oh, her dissents! If anyone wonders why I think it's perfectly okay to send you a long email detailing exactly why I disagree with you, blame L'Heureux-Dubé. Never mind Honourable Madam Justice Rosalie Abella: Canada's youngest Judge, first Jewish judge, and first pregnant judge. Trifecta! Oh and she coined the phrase "employment equity" and the law around it, which was added to the Candian Constitution in 1982. [Brushes off Canadian-feminist-lawyer shoulders]
So - it really was no surprise to me that President Obama would use his two SCOTUS vacancies to appoint two incredible women, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. More importantly, it signals what kind of Supreme Court he envisions for this country - and the kind he will be appointing judges to over the next four years, should a vacancy come up. DID YOU CATCH THAT? THERE MAY BE SUPREME COURT VACANCIES IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS. I shudder at the thought of a Mitt "Corporations Are People!" Romney filling them. The balance of the court is perhaps the most vital long-term issue to be decided in this election. On that basis alone, President Obama would have my vote.
p.s. Since I left law school, the Canadian Supreme Court has added the Honorable Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis. Frankly, I'm not sure a dude of that name would make it past a Republican Congress.
Peace, Order and Good Government
Coming from a background of Canadian jurisprudence means that at one time, the phrase "Peace Order and Good Government" was scraweled many, many times across my notes (or "POGG" for short). Basically this concept weighs in favor of the ability of the federal government to legislate in matters of the national interest. I'm not going to go ConLaw memory lane, mostly because I don't have a stock "Crown Zellerbach" joke. But more generally, "Peace, Order and Good Government" has always, to me, meant taking care of business.
I can already hear the purists howls from the "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" crowd. SETTLE DOWN. The liberty vs. order fight always seemed silly to me when across the legal systems that bestride our border there is always a balancing of interests. So please, no outraged comments about the War Measures Act of 1970. I have found myself thinking of "Peace, Order and Good Government" this past week or so in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and the debate over whether to fund FEMA or consign disaster relief to the states - or even better privatize it, as Romney has said. As a Canadian, I grew up with weather. We all had snowpants, great for playing in the huge piles at the end of the driveway from the snowplows. The governmentally-provided snowplows, that kept the streets clear so we could go about our business, unless you live in Winnipeg in which case why are you leaving the house??? It's freezing out there!!!! I know that snowplows and the like are a provincial matter but it's more the general ethos: Government is important. It does things for you. It provides the crucial infrastructure to help you get through life, do go and do and yes, build that. President Obama is the candidate who understands that. As president, he will be thinking of the country as a whole - and how that whole can make life better, collectively, for everyone who is part of it. Don't tell the Libertarians, but yep, that's POGG.
Diversity Makes Everything Better
I grew up in Ontario, took French as part of a full curriculum for 13 years of schooling. I remember Matt McFadzean at the front of Grade 4 French class flinging his leg up on the table as he said the word "chou." Three decades later, I still know that means "cabbage." I remember Mlle Leroux teaching us "Les Raftsmen" in Grade 8 and Madame Hornich in Grade 12 letting me give my Victor Hugo presentation in the form of a song written to the tune of "Master Of The House" from Lés Miserables ( ("Victor Hugo était un auteur qui/A vraiment incarné l'esprit de génie")). I know where to find the sortie, how to arrêter (even if I can't conjugate it), and when I don't know le mot approprié, how to crack a joke (hint: just say "Pamplemousse!" Everyone loves that word.) I grew up knowing I was part of a diverse country, and caring about that enough to paint my face with a giant flag on October 30, 1995 and rally at Nathan Philips Square for unity. My Canada included Quebec.
Guess what? That goes double for black people, gay people, poor people, women, Latinos, the 47 per cent, seniors, immigrants - the various oft-disenfranchised groups that President Obama has proven time and again to be looking out for. He supports gay marriage. He supports The Dream Act. He's the first black president, and coincidentally the one about whom the rallying cry of "We want our country back" was coined. Not entirely a stretch. It's become very clear over the course of this campaign that one candidate represents all Americans, and one candidate represents a more...select bunch. One candidate recognizes "E Pluribus Unum" because he's lived it. My vote would be for President Obama - the candidate of diversity, by diversity and for diversity.
Voting Should Be Easy
I remember elections growing up. I couldn't vote, of course, but my parents could. They'd leave the house, go vote, and come back, usually before I had time to pretend that I had practiced piano for the full half-hour. Why? Because there were no four-hour lineups at Banbury Community Center. If I may, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY??? I have been appalled by the systemic efforts toward voter suppression that have emerged in 2012. From Florida's Governor Rick Scott narrowing the early-voting window (and cutting off Sundays which could not be more clearly intended to impact black communities) to blatant attempts in Pennsylvania to roll back voter ID laws to "allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania" to systemic pushback across numerous states meant to disenfranchise students, veterans, old and poor people - voter suppression has become a looming national issue this election. It is a dirty, underhanded tactic - and it's coming from one side only. As someone living in the USA who can't vote, I definitely sympathize. My wholly ceremonial and totally imaginary Canadian vote is with President Obama, and the inalienable Constitutional rights that his side, at least, is striving to uphold.
There's more - oh, to have the time to figure out how to work in a "Bobcaygeon" reference! - but I'll stop there because really any of these reasons is enough. Today is a decisive day for my adopted country, where I live and work and care based on the values I grew up with in my home country. It doesn't feel that different for me, hopping between New York and Toronto - mostly I am struck by the sudden availability of butter tarts and Shreddies - and this is because both Canada and the U.S. are great nations built on democratic ideals and the notion of individual human rights intertwined with the power of the collective. The path forward is not always smooth - I also didn't vote in the Toronto mayoral election so don't look at me - but, to borrow a phrase, it arcs toward progress. Today, as my friends here on the southern side of the border vote, I will close my eyes and urge them on to choose a steward who can move deftly and confidently forward even where it seems shaky, eyes forward, sure-footed, stepping lightly.
He's easy for me to recognize. I met him decades ago, thanks to the National Film Board of Canada.