Why it’s a dumb idea to interfere in another country’s election (hint: it has nothing to do with abortion)

I see that people are up in arms over the cancellation of a field trip by students from my old neighbourhood in Ottawa. Students were supposed to go to Ohio – the state that will likely deliver Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election to the Democrats or Republicans – in part to participate in U.S. President Barack Obama’s get-out-the-vote campaign.

The trip, reports CTV and others, was cancelled

after a number of negative comments on anti-abortion site Life Site News, which published an article quoting a parent saying it was a partisan effort to support U.S. president Barack Obama and his pro-abortion agenda.

“This trip is wrong because we have a Catholic school sending Catholic students to campaign on behalf of the most radical, pro-abortion president in U.S. history,” said John Jalsevac, who wrote the article.

Distasteful? Sure. Once again, the Catholic Church has made another good argument for getting rid of Ontario’s unfairly privileged Catholic school system. (Disclosure: I attended Catholic school until Grade 10. One of the reasons I switched was because we were required to take a useless religion credit every year, time I could’ve spent taking useful classes and earning credits that would count toward university admission.)

But here’s the thing. These anti-abortion activists are right: the trip was an incredibly stupid idea, but not because Obama is some kind of baby-killing monster.

Nope, it’s because you don’t get involved in foreign elections. Period.

Seriously: what kind of civics teacher – which is what Scott Searle is reported to be – would assume that it would be a good idea to get Canadian students to actively participate, in a partisan manner in a foreign election? And, for the love of (St.) Pete(r): why, why, why would you bring your foreign students to Ohio, which will likely be where the U.S. presidential election will be won or lost?

Just imagine the outcry if American students were bussed into a critical riding in to get out the vote in a tight Canadian riding? We Canadians, ever-sensitive to perceptions of American influence, would be freaking out. Just imagine the anger if it turned out that that seat meant the difference between a majority or a minority government. That’s not a far-fetched scenario: in 2004 the NDP missed holding the balance of power by one seat.

Or imagine if, during a federal election, an enterprising civics teacher decided to get his students involved in getting out the vote for the Liberals (or whoever – bonus points if he were to bus them across the river to Gatineau to help the Bloc Québécois). You think partisans would be up in arms? Damn straight, and they’d be 100% in the right.

I get it: U.S. presidential elections are exciting. The outcome will (as the cliché goes) have an effect on Canada. And more Canadians should be aware of the differences between our two systems of government. If they were, maybe John Baird and Stephen Harper would not have been able to blackmail former Governor General Michaëlle Jean into proroguing Parliament in December 2008, robbing Canadians of the right to decide for themselves in an election whether or not the Dion-Layton-Duceppe coalition was legitimate.*

But you can study the U.S. political process as easily from a classroom in Ottawa – teh Internets are a wonderful thing – as you can by bringing a bunch of foreign students into a battleground state to interfere in another country’s election.

Obama’s (or Mitt Romney’s) fight is not our fight, and for all the big talk about how U.S. elections matter for the whole world, they matter a hell of a lot more to actual Americans.

Teaching students that it’s OK to get involved in an election campaign in another country (or province, for that matter) sends a counterproductive message that fundamentally disrespects the very foundations of a democracy: that people have the right to decide their own fate without outsiders telling them what to do.

Too bad this message will be drowned out by the anti-abortion din: it would’ve made for a heck of a teachable moment.



* Why I use the word “blackmail”: Constitutional lawyer Peter Russell:

“People hate me for saying this but a ‘no’ to Mr. Harper would also have got the publicity machine of the government saying there had been a coup d’état. Mr. (John) Baird said that’s what they would do — that the (coalition) government would be illegitimate — and we would have had people around the world saying ‘holy smoke’ [they’re] talking about a coup in Canada.”

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