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The Experience Advantage for Harper and Clinton

Canada is about to face an intense political season, with the general election slated for October 19, 2015.  Polls indicate the possibility of a minority government with the ruling Conservatives showing some momentum in recent surveys.

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented his 2015-2016 budget, with a lot of goodies for seniors, families, and business.  With security very much a concern, the Tories continued their discourse about making Canada safer.

Harper was first elected in 2006.  Normally, nine years in office results in a tendency towards incumbent fatigue.  Last summer, it seemed that the Harper government was facing the distinct possibility of losing its grip on power. 

Enter the debate on the ISIS (or ISIL) resolution to join the international coalition, add two homegrown terrorist incidents, and the game changed.  While the official opposition under Tom Mulcair has been effective, and the Liberals have been re-energized under new leader Justin Trudeau, it seems that the complexity of governing has given Harper a decidedly new life.   Experience may be his best trump card to overcome the fatigue. Mulcair and Trudeau promise change, but will it be enough?

In the meantime, the presidential election cycle has begun in earnest in the United States as Republican candidates—including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Kentucky—have formally declared their intention to run.  Expect former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to announce soon.  Other candidates—such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and possibly Ohio Governor John Kasich could join the race.  This promises to be a passionate race within an admittedly fractious party with a multitude of candidates. A great media spectacle is in the forecast.

The Democrats will not be presenting as exciting a race.  Hillary Clinton seems miles ahead despite some recent controversies, and unless some unforeseen event occurs, there appears to be no candidate with her experience, depth and popularity to prevent her nomination for the Democratic Party. She still leads GOP matchups in the polling.

The Republican picture includes candidates from a different generation—Cruz, Rubio and Paul are in their early 40s, while Bush and Huckabee qualify as baby boomers.  The problem with the Republicans seems to be their ideas, which show little potential to enlarge the Republican tent beyond their current base of supporters. So “change” may not be the expected advantage for a party that has been out of the White House since 2008.

Both Harper and Clinton are aware that generational politics can trump the experience card.  But they are also conscious that experienced leaders like Angela Merkel and Benjamin Netanyahu have also recently won elections largely propelled by their track record.  At this stage in the process, experience seems to favor both Harper and Clinton in their respective contests.  However, it is still early.  Stay tuned.

*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Stephen Harper, Hillary Clinton, Canada

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