Election fever & rightly so

On Tuesday, Americans turned out in near-record numbers to elect Barack Obama as their next president.

My quick rundown of Facebook status updates Tuesday night showed a few (read: many) Canadians noticed—and were inspired by—Obama’s victory.

Some Canadians criticized their fellow citizens for immersing themselves more in the U.S. election than their own last month; but who can blame them?

The Canadian election was unnecessary, expensive, didn’t change much and was among the most negative campaigns in our history. It featured uninspiring leaders, most of the ads were attack-oriented and there were acts of vandalism against one party in Toronto and elsewhere. The campaign quickly became a contest of which party leader was the least unlikeable candidate.

The electorate’s exasperation with the atmosphere of negativity was reflected in voter turnout, the lowest in Canadian history at 59.1 per cent. For those who did vote, nearly seven out of 10 voted against the incumbent party which, thanks to our current system, was rewarded with a slightly larger minority than before.

For the first time in at least eight years, Canadians can take political cues from our neighbours to the south. American politics, often decried as a shallow, image-based and polarizing affair, took a turn for the better on Tuesday. Although it took an economic crisis, an inspiring candidate and a scarily unqualified vice-presidential opponent to do so, Americans have turned the page on the politics of divisive rhetoric.

In the last few months of campaigning, John McCain’s campaign increasingly relied on desperately attacking Obama’s character.

Smear campaigning worked against John Kerry in 2004, but the Republicans’ vicious attacks didn’t resonate with voters this time around. Even McCain himself never seemed quite comfortable with the overtly negative tone his campaign took.

Tuesday’s result should inspire Canadians because it shows that even the vilest political tactics can be overcome with a clear message of hope and unity. With our recent undistinguished campaign of petty potshots, it’s something we can take to heart the next time we go to the polls.

The U.S. election had everything Canada’s lacked—a transformational figure, the promise of a new direction with both candidates and even an engaged student population.

Pierre Trudeau once said Canada’s border with the U.S. is like sleeping with an elephant. It stands to reason that when the elephant gets a makeover, Canadians should at least show interest and shouldn’t be discouraged from passionately observing or campaigning if they please.

When Barack Obama stood in front of more than 100,000 people Tuesday night and triumphantly proclaimed, “Change has come to America,” many Americans and Canadians heaved a sigh of relief. As we dread the same old dysfunctional minority government here, let’s take a moment to share in the renewed optimism of our southern friends.

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