Germany and Canada just held important elections in September. But why should you care? While German and Canadian students may actually have the opportunity to vote for candidates in these elections by absentee ballot, the results of the elections and what we can take away from the policies expressed by new governments and oppositions are vitally important to the global population — even our local politics here in Broome County.
In Canada, incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an early election by choice. The reason for this call is quite clear — he lost his majority control of parliament in 2019 and therefore is running the country with a minority of legislative seats. Trudeau chose to hold the election despite a majority of Canadians believing a fall election, with the rising COVID-19 Delta variant, was unimportant. The ruling Liberal Party believed high vaccination rates against the COVID-19 virus and a relatively strong economic rebound this year would help them to regain total power and majority status.
The two candidates running against Trudeau were Erin O’Toole of the Conservative Party and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Singh, son of migrants to Canada from the Indian state of Punjab, was running against Trudeau’s centrist approach to welfare from the left. He said in an interview before the election that “for years and years federal governments have been cutting health care … Conservatives cut health care, and then Trudeau kept in those same cuts.” Trudeau’s opponent from the right was Erin O’Toole, who was hoping to allow more “choice” in health care, whatever that means. The Globe and Mail writes that O’Toole promised not to “intervene in provinces that allow people to pay for faster access to some services after the Liberals pledged to claw back cash over privatized care,” which aligns with global right-wing parties seeking to privatize health care to satisfy high earners who don’t need to rely on a universal health care system.
In the end, basically nothing changed after the results were tallied. Trudeau’s Liberals went from 155 seats to 160, the Conservatives remained at 119 and the Bloc Quebecois and NDP remained in third and fourth place without any significant change. This outcome is undoubtedly not ideal for anyone, but even a stagnant result is significant to both Canadians and Americans.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, Germany held its normally scheduled Bundestag, or German parliament, elections for 2021. The incumbent coalition government was led by the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), which is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party. The CDU had served as the largest party in the Bundestag, Germany’s national legislature, since the 2005 election, where it won 180 out of 614 seats. Angela Merkel has been a core figure in European and global politics for longer than a decade, both in keeping the European Union unified against economic inequity and collapse and keeping Germany somewhat open to immigration from Africa and the Middle East. Her replacement, therefore, will have a great deal of influence on the global stage. The results of the election were a huge movement away from the conservative parties and toward the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green Party. Overall, the SPD won a plurality of seats for the first time since the 2002 election. The SPD and Greens went up a combined 11 percent in the popular vote, while the right-leaning CDU and AfD went down 11.2 percent altogether. It is likely at this point that the SPD will form a coalition with the Greens and the centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP), placing the CDU in opposition. This marks a major shift toward left-leaning politics in one of the world’s most powerful democracies.
In foreign policy, it’s very easy to focus on the negatives to our own domestic initiatives, such as the recent events in Afghanistan, and miss pivotal moments in foreign countries that will affect us directly. As students of the globe, not only the state where this university is located, I believe it’s our responsibility to understand current case studies of international democratic change, which can be witnessed in the results of these elections and their resounding effects. As I mentioned earlier, even a static election like in Canada is significant. What’s an example of how these election results can directly affect the United States and you directly through foreign policy? Well, China is emerging as a major rival to the United States, Canada and the European Union. China is increasingly autocratic, effectively governing by suppressing freedom among its people, as is the active case in Hong Kong. The intentions of German and Canadian political candidates to treat China more as an enemy, punish them for treatment of the Uyghurs or even to expand trading with China over the United States is extremely important to domestic politics and even the items we buy in daily life, and of course to German or Canadian people as well.
Additionally, there are many domestic and even Broome County-specific policy connections that are important to take away from these elections. For example, the current minimum wage in Broome County is $12.50 per hour. Both Binghamton University and the county itself are dealing with an ongoing homelessness and labor shortage crisis. Politicians in New York and across the United States have been advocating for raising the federal minimum wage, or even just New York’s minimum wage, to address this problem across the nation. In Germany, the SPD had promised that it would attempt to raise the minimum wage from €9.35 to €12, which roughly equates to $11 and $14, to address poverty and unstable working conditions as well.
By following the success of the party and what steps they take in the Bundestag to implement this action without hurting small businesses, we can learn how to better advocate for and work toward implementing a higher minimum wage. Canada is currently dealing with a large housing crisis, which can be similarly observed in Broome County. Both candidates for mayor of Binghamton have argued they would implement relatively progressive housing policies to address the crisis, especially targeted at building extremely affordable housing within the city of Binghamton and protecting citizens against landlords who try to squeeze money out of their pockets. In Canada, Trudeau has proposed both building 1.4 million new housing units across the country in the next four years and banning new foreign ownership of Canadian homes for two years. Similar to Germany, by following and learning about what a more socialized federal government does to improve housing in Canada, we can learn insightful ways of advocating for better housing in Broome County and in the state of New York.
Looking to Canada and Germany for guidance and example on policies such as health care and housing is really important. I recommend you do some research into these two fields, or another issue that is important to you, and compare what other social democracies are doing about it. I could only summarize some basic connections in this article, so I encourage you to investigate both these policy fields much further. As college students, we have an important say on policy for both the present and the future, and looking outside of our domestic borders can lend a hand in becoming active progressive citizens.
Sean Reichbach is a freshman double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law.