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Canada: Not quite the conservative paradise Republicans think it is

A Canadian Maple Leaf flag flies near the Peace tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb.15, 2012.


Chatting on the way into Tampa's arena, a pleasant sixty-something woman advised me that I really should watch 2016: Obama's America, a favourite of delegates here that darkly warns of what will result from four more years of a President whose ideological roots are supposedly in Africa. She also wanted me to know how much she likes Canada.

She and her husband live in upstate New York, so they're well-acquainted with Montreal's charms. If Barack Obama wins re-election in November, she said half-jokingly, maybe they'll move there.

It didn't seem worth it to point out that Canada - let alone Montreal - is not quite the conservative paradise she seemed to think. Besides, if I went down that road with her, I'd have to go down it with a lot of other Republicans here as well.

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Given U.S. conservatives' previous views of Canada - what with its socialized medicine and its social liberalism and its peacenikiness - it's been a surprise to get almost unfailingly warm responses when I tell people where I'm from. And when they're listening to Republicans speaking to one another, a striking number of sentences begin with "You know, up in Canada..." (Or, slightly less kindly, "Even the Canadians...")

David Wilkins, the South Carolina Republican who served as George W. Bush's ambassador to Canada and was tasked with improving what were then tense relations, has noticed this change as well. "Bask in the glory of it," he suggests. "You don't get credit much."

A confluence of factors seems to have prompted the love-in, among them our role in Afghanistan (which if nothing dulled memories of staying out of Iraq, which in retrospect even some of the folks here wouldn't disagree with anymore) and our oil sands.

More than anything, though, there's our economic success - and the vague knowledge that a conservative prime minister is seen to be responsible for it.

Even if they may be giving Prime Minister Stephen Harper a little too much credit for economic stewardship and overestimating the conservatism of his policies, this storyline fits in some small way into the Republicans' script.

The theme of this week, and presumably of the campaign to follow, is that a leftward shift under Mr. Obama has made it harder to find work or run a business in the United States. If it can simultaneously be argued that amid a rightward shift everything is going swimmingly next door, so much the better.

If Mr. Obama gets re-elected this fall, and Mr. Harper continues to preside over relative economic stability, it's a theme we can expect for years to come. Just so long as Republicans don't actually move north and shatter any illusions.

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