OTTAWA – Canadian politicians watching the outcome of the U.S. presidential election came together across party lines Tuesday as they denounced the record $6 billion US spent in the bitterly divisive political race south of the border.
The sentiment permeated a returns-watching party hosted by the U.S. embassy in Ottawa at an historic downtown hotel, just steps from Parliament Hill.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird praised the U.S. as Canada’s best friend and closest ally, saying the Harper government would work well with a Democrat or a Republican administration.
But when pressed on the long, expensive U.S. campaign, Baird said: “The one thing I’m tremendously pleased with in Canada is that fact that Stephen Harper and our government have taken the influence of big money out of politics. That’s something we should take great pride in, in Canada.”
The Center for Responsive Politics has estimated this week that the 2012 fight between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will likely cost $6 billion, shattering previous records.
The American political spending floodgates were opened by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that removed previous spending limits on business and labour unions.
Baird touted Canada’s Federal Accountability Act, which among other things banned contributions by corporations, unions and organizations, and lowered the individual annual limit of donation to a political party to $1,000 from $5,000.
“Through the Federal Accountability Act, we’ve taken the influence of big money out of politics. The Canadian people are very fortunate to have that,” he said.
The NDP and Liberal MPs were scathing by comparison in their condemnation of U.S. election spending.
“Big money has bastardized democracy in the United States,” said New Democrat MP Pat Martin.
“It’s only a mere shadow of democracy. They’ve let it get away from them to the point where, it’s just an illusion of democracy, really.”
Asked for his view on the record U.S. campaign spending, Liberal MP John McKay said: “Obscene. Obscene.”
Martin and McKay agreed the more modest spending limits for Canadian MPs prevent lawmakers from becoming beholden to special interests.
“I thank God every day that we live in this egalitarian society where a guy like me, a carpenter, can aspire to be a member of Parliament because our spending limits are $70,000,” said Martin.
“If I was in the United States, I’d have to raise a million and I’d be beholden to some big special interest.”
McKay said he doesn’t feel hampered by campaign spending limits.
“To think that money doesn’t influence politics is naive in the extreme,” he said. “Some people will give you a cheque for $10,000, they’re not really expecting anything. But most people, they have a quid pro quo in mind.”
David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, has criticized the fallout of the Citizens United ruling in recent public appearances.
And for months on end, during the grinding presidential race, Jacobson stuck steadfastly to his current job description — as the ambassador for all Americans, be they Democrat or Republican.
“Even Sarah Palin,” the U.S. envoy to Canada once quipped.
But as Jacobson — also a close friend of Obama — welcomed a few hundred politicos, diplomats, business people and politicians to Tuesday’s returns-watching party, that neutrality fell to the side.
“I hope, quite honestly, that the American people give my boss — and me — the opportunity to continue to serve,” Jacobson told the packed room before the polls began closing.
“And I hope we have that opportunity because there really is so much left to do.”
Jacobson predicted that his country’s presidential election likely won’t be decided until the wee hours of Wednesday.
Regardless of who wins, Jacobson told the crowd relations between Canada would remain strong for generations to come.
Jacobson, a Chicago lawyer, became Obama’s chief of appointments after his historic 2008 win. He assigned himself to the Canadian ambassador’s post, a political appointment that would come to an end if Romney were to win the White House.
In a quieter moment earlier, before the throngs started pouring into the Drawing Room of the historic Chateau Laurier hotel, Jacobson fondly recalled the historic events of four years ago.
Jacobson was in a Chicago hotel with Obama, “and we were making calls to voters because everyone was too nervous to do anything else.
“Then we went out to Grant Park with 200,000 people, and it was really one of the most moving and exciting nights I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Jacobson said he believed Obama has enough of a lead in this race to capture key swing states and win a second term, but not before a nail-biting finish.
“I think it’s going to be close,” he said against a backdrop of red, white and blue balloons, four large flat screen televisions, as two disembodied cardboard cutouts of the two grinning candidates.
“I wouldn’t make any plans for early tomorrow morning. This election was going to be close from the start.”