'Politics on Tap' Starts Up North -- Way Up North

Jun 29, 2016

He's baaack -- with a beer in one hand and an iPhone in the other, getting an earful of political opinions.

You might remember Dan Libman's last Politics on Tap when he -- and his recording app -- interviewed voters in their favorite bars during the 2014 election cycle.

This Summer, Dan again will stumble into -- er, visit -- bars throughout the WNIJ area to interview voters deciding between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and on other races down the ballot.

But first, Dan began during a recent vacation in another country...

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In Canada a waste-basket is a "litter-barrel," a U.S. buck is actually a dollar twenty-eight cents, and ruffled potato chips are called a “Wavy Andulees.” Because everyone in Canada is so polite and nice, I was pretty sure I couldn’t get strangers to talk about politics, let alone say anything interesting:

“If Bernie Sanders was Jesus Christ, they wouldn’t recognize him in the United States. I want them to build a wall--I’d like to keep you Americans out.”

That’s one of my new drinking buddies: Clive, a lawyer in Calgary. And, like Clive, every single person I spoke with -- bar none -- loved Bernie Sanders. But their second choice, Trump or Clinton ... here’s where things got complicated.

To kick off the 2016 "Politics on Tap" series, WNIJ thought it might be interesting to start north, way north. Like Calgary in Alberta Canada north -- a town where worrying about south of the border doesn’t mean jobs and Mexico; it means guns and the United States.

One of my favorite spots was the first place I found -- a convivial outdoor space, sandwiched between buildings, called the Container Bar. Just large enough for two rows of picnic tables, the coziness all but begs for conversation. And it’s where I started asking people if they were following the American election. I asked Lindsey if she’d been following the elections in America.

“A fair bit,” she said. “It’s one of the more interesting elections.”

In fact, everyone I spoke to in Canada had an excruciatingly well-informed opinion on what was happening south of their border. And, like Lindsey, they all had strong opinions.

“I would rather see someone vote for, like, extending Obama’s time, staying as president in the U.S.”

At the Container bar, the local beer is served in mason jars; and the tapas -- or, as they call it, “small plates to share” -- includes fried chicken skin in some kind of proprietary red chili paste which was so delicious no one would tell me what was in it. Donald Trump, however, my Canadian friends were more than happy to discuss.

“If you ignore all the dumb s**t he says to get elected, his policies are actually not that right wing. They’re very, very centered.”

That is Steven's opinion.  He and Andrew and Tristan -- all three well-dressed young men with great haircuts -- were having a beer after classes. Two of them are political science majors. All three took the standard Canadian position that Bernie Sanders was far and away the best choice. The better second choice was where they differed. Andrew thought Hillary Clinton was best.

“I get how she’s unlikable," he said, "but it’s basically the difference between not wanting to eat your vegetables or wanting to eat broken glass. That’s the difference.”

Steven, who, let’s face it, had the nicer hair and slicker tie, thought Trump was a better second choice.

"He has some smart policies," Steven said of his preference, "like he recently released a paper saying he would support taxing the rich more, and not taxing the poor." Tristan however was actually concerned about some of the specifics in all that “dumb s**t” Trump’s been saying. Particularly about the much-vaunted wall.

“Mexico is going to develop as a country, and there will be a lot of assets there that can be utilized for developing the American economy," Tristan said, "and I don’t think that broadly blocking that out is good. I don’t think that does an honest job to the duty the president has to the citizens of the United States.”

Down the block from the Container Bar is Kensington Pub, a British bar whose shingle is a wood carving of a bulldog in a red bowler. The inside sprawls with narrow rooms of tables and drinkers, and the walls are festooned with British and Canadian flags. This is where I met Rowan, a young man with tri-citizenship in America, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I asked him, from his unique perspective, if he thought Canadians were getting nervous about what was happening south.

“I feel like most of Canada might be the same as like we’re a little scared aboot Trump specifically along with the rest of the world as well," Rowan declared. "And, like, I’m not convinced by Hillary, but I feel like she would be safe.”

Rowan explained that Canadians feel the Bern so badly because the Canadian right-wing party would still be to the left of the American Democrats. He said Canadians are generally baffled by the difference between Trump’s reported weakness as a candidate and his success in the polls.

Paul, working a local brew from nearby Big Rock brewery, put it this way: “They just poop on Trump supporters. There’s so many powerful people that are against Trump, yet Americans are somehow voting for him," he said. "There’s this disconnect that I don’t understand where that’s happening.”

Of course, Canadians hear in this echoes of their own recent political shake-up. Stephen Harper recently lost Prime Ministership to Justin Trudeau when it was felt that Harper had gone too far to the right, that he had lost touch with his Canadian-ness.

“He stopped being Canadian," Clive said. "We stopped being proud of ourselves because we became intolerant. And that’s not who we are. We’re the most tolerant—aside from Norway—country in the world.”

Clive is that uniquely Canadian character, the well-informed citizen of the world with strong opinions and a big heart. He told me he thought Americans in New England and the Midwest have much more in common with Canadians than those same Americans have with Americans who live in the south.

“The only way to get Detroit back to work is to stop free trade and insist on tariffs and getting people working in the United States,” he said.

Which is why he was persuaded by Trump’s anti-free trade rhetoric and felt that, if Bernie Sanders couldn’t win, then Americans might as well have Trump, who would at least shake things up. He felt Americans had bigger problems than one rogue politician.

“I’m more nervous about your gun laws, your 'three strikes and you’re out' laws, your weird sexual laws, your weird marijuana laws, you don’t have health care,” Clive enumerated.

“We have it," I explained. "It’s just expensive.”

“I got to tell you I’m more nervous about the United States than I am about any other country in the world,” Clive responded.

Know, what? Me too, Clive. Fortunately if things get too crazy down here, there’s a place up north with loads of land and not very many people. Yet.

-- Dan Libman

  • Dan Libman is a regular "Perspectives" contributor to WNIJ. He is also the author of the story collection Married But Looking.