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Campaign buttons for Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney along with his running mate Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Campaign buttons for Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney along with his running mate Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

POLITICS

For Republicans, Canada is a convenient truth Add to ...

Guess what? Canada is completely different from just two years ago.

As recently as 2010, this country was a socialist gulag where death panels decided who lived and who died. Today, we are a model of low taxes, balanced budgets and responsible energy development.

What happened? Nothing, of course. The country hasn’t changed at all. What has changed are conservative talking points in the United States.

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Then, they needed Canada to be a model of failure. Now, they need Canada to be a model of success.

It isn’t rational, but then we are talking about the Republican Party.

Weather permitting, the GOP will formally choose Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as presidential and vice-presidential candidates in Tampa this week.

The example of Canada will be invoked at this convention, just as it was four years ago in Minneapolis. Keith Banting, a political scientist at Queen’s University, insightfully observed at a conference last week that the party has pivoted 180 degrees in how it views its northern neighbour.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s plan to reform health care had Republican candidate John McCain warning of socialized medicine.

“If you like that, go to Canada and go to England and see what kind of health-care system they have,” he warned.

After Mr. Obama became President and the Democrats introduced their health-care legislation, things became ridiculous.

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned that Obamacare would lead to “death panels” that would decide whether elderly patients received care or were just left to die.

Shona Holmes, who claimed she had to travel to the United States for surgery to remove a brain tumour after being refused care in Canada, appeared in a television ad claiming: “If I’d relied on my government for health care, I’d be dead.”

It turned out she had a non-life-threatening cyst, but conservatives leapt on her tale just the same.

Health care is also an issue this year. But the Republicans are focusing primarily on the troubled American economy. And in that narrative, Soviet Canuckistan, as American conservatives once liked to call us, is a huge success story.

“How does a steel manufacturer in Pittsburgh compete with Canadians who are taxed at less than half the tax rate?” Mr. Ryan lamented last week.

The Republicans point with envy to the Conservative government’s plans to balance the budget by 2015. And Mr. Romney has vowed to reverse Mr. Obama’s decision not to approve the the Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s not just the politicians. Neil Cavuto, a commentator on Fox News, recently bemoaned that “the average Canadian household [is] now worth more than the average American household. ... This is awful. Our neighbours to the north are showing us up.”

Much of this is, of course, wild exaggeration. While Canadian federal corporate taxes are lower than in the United States, personal taxes south of the border are generally lower, especially for upper-income earners. There is also no federal sales tax.

While Mr. Romney is trying to turn the Keystone pipeline into a wedge issue, informed opinion expects Mr. Obama will approve the pipeline after the election.

And of course, the public health-care system in Canada is not nearly as bad as American critics make it out to be, nor nearly as good as its champions contend.

Overall, both countries muddle along. But in an election season, such bland realities don’t matter. Two years ago, as far as American conservatives were concerned, Canada was a Marxist wasteland. Today, it’s a paradise.

Go figure.

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