Is Québec an Issue in the 2014 U.S. Elections?

September 24, 2014     
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QuĂ©bec Premier Philippe Couillard took part in the United Nations Climate Summit in New York earlier this week. At a press conference aired on RDI (QuĂ©bec’s francophone equivalent of CNN), he stated that the QuĂ©bec Government will pay close attention to the November 4, 2014 U.S. elections because key partners of QuĂ©bec are up for reelection. Couillard’s recognition of the importance of U.S. congressional and gubernatorial races probably took many Quebecers by surprise. After all, isn’t the President of the United States the most powerful actor of the U.S. political system ?

As we know, the answer to this question is “not always.” The U.S. Founding Fathers created a federal system in which political authority is shared between Washington and state governments, but also between executive, legislative and judicial branches at both the federal and state levels. Electorally speaking, what this means is that Barack Obama is not up for reelection this year. However, hundreds of elected officials accross the country must convince Americans to vote for them in a few weeks. In the U.S. Congress, all 435 seats of the House of Representatives in addition to 36 seats of the Senate are at stake. At the state level, 36 gubernatorial seats are disputed in states like Vermont, New York, Maine and New Hampshire. This is why Philippe Couillard stressed the importance of November 2014.

But does QuĂ©bec matter in these races ? As former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson often writes, Americans don’t think much about Canada or QuĂ©bec when they vote. However, I am working on a Fulbright Canada research project this Fall (residence at the Institute on Quebec Studies @ SUNY Plattsburgh) aimed at showing that we often underestimate the impact of QuĂ©bec/Canada on U.S. electoral debates. In the last few weeks, I have been visiting numerous campaign offices of candidates running in the State of New York. So far, interviews with campaign staffs of Republican and Democratic congressional candidates in the 21st, 19th and 18th districts of New York show that Canada/QuĂ©bec matter more than we think.

The campaign teams of Aaron Woolf (21st district), Elise Stefanik (21st district) and Chris Gibson (19th district) were particularly generous of their time. When I asked if “Canada/QuĂ©bec is an issue this Fall ?”, I often got “No” as an answer. However, narrower questions showed that Canada and QuĂ©bec are on the radar of most candidates. I, for instance, was told that the 2013 Lac-MĂ©gantic train derailment matters in the 21st district of New York, where candidates want to make sure a similar tragedy does not happen in cities like Plattsburgh or Willsboro. For Elise Stefanik, Lac-MĂ©gantic even proves that one needs safer ways to move oil on the U.S. territory, the Keystone XL pipeline for example. I also learned that trade/border security between QuĂ©bec and New York remains a priority this year : most candidates named this the most important issue of Canada-U.S. relations and stated that one should find ways to protect U.S. security without hurting jobs and tourism. Another issue that was cited is Burger King’s recent decision to move its headquarters to Canada. According to the staffs I interviewed, some candidates want to find solutions to prevent such moves in the future. I was surprised to see that QuĂ©bec’s project to export more hydroelectricity to New York was little-noticed among the staffs I met. However, I was told that this will be discussed when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Republican challenger Rob Astorino debate their energy plans.

In the weeks to come, I will be visiting other states for my project. One of my stops will be New Hamsphire, where the Northern Pass, a $1,4 billion transmission infrastructure plan to bring more hydroelectricy from Québec to New Hampshire and New England, is another top issue this Fall.

Do Americans think about Québec when they vote ? Some do a lot.

Les opinions exprimĂ©es dans ce blogue sont strictement personnelles et ne reflĂštent pas nĂ©cessairement celles de Global Brief ou de l’École des affaires publiques et internationales de Glendon.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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