After Election, Canadian Students Look at Country’s Future


By Jessica Sullivan

The day after Canada’s October 21 federal election, Canadian Duke students discussed why the country returned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to office and why the results were unsurprising but still leaves political divisions within the country.

Three Canadian panelists — third-year law student Melinda Melvin, PhD student Evan Pebesma, and first-year undergrad Eli Levine – said the results were predictable. Pebesma put the party positions of this election in context with previous elections. Levine said that he was not shocked by the election results, but was surprised by the regional divide.

“If you look at a map of the results,” Levine said, “you can kind of see where how the issues people campaign on affect the way parties won.” He added that this regional divide was reflective of regional echo chambers.

The event began with a clip from re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s victory speech, in which he claimed Canadians “rejected division and negativity” and highlighted economic issues, gun control, and action on climate change as priorities of his second term.

But Melvin said there wasn’t one issue that drove the election, and other panelists found it difficult to describe the central issues. Pebesma mentioned how climate change tied together several issues and contributed to some of the regional divides. Levine added that each party tried to create a central issue based on their priorities.

While panelists agreed that domestic policy was more important than foreign policy, there were points of contention during the election, including the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with the US, but was not as important in this election. Immigration was also a political factor, Melvin said.

“Canadians tend to think of immigration as a very positive thing, as central to the identity of the country,” she said.

Even with the recent release of photographs of Trudeau dressed in brownface, the panelists agreed that scandals did not affect the election too much. They mentioned a handful of scandals for candidates from various parties, but as Levine pointed out, “Canadian scandals are typically more like minor gaffes.” Pebesma explained the lack of effect, offering, “Maybe it’s a choice of personal failings versus policy failings.”

The panelists answered audience questions on indigenous issues, Canada’s relations with China, the role of partisan media in Canada, the campaign tactics used, Quebec sovereignty, and whether they preferred the Canadian parliamentary system or the American two-party system.

The talk was part of as part the “Global Political Perspectives” series, created in 2017 by POLIS (Duke’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service), International House, and the Duke Center for International & Global Studies (DUCIGS). DUCIGS Director Giovanni Zanalda moderated the discussion.

The program highlights and celebrates the wisdom of students with international political perspectives, previous featuring first-hand accounts of campaigns and elections in Argentina, Egypt, Brazil, and India. The Sanford School of Public Policy cosponsors each talk.

The next Global Political Perspectives panel will take place in March 2020.

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