Here’s What You Need to Know About the Major Issues in the U.S. Election

Plus, where things stand here in Canada

In the U.S., presidential elections are like marathons. Candidates can start campaigning up to a year before the February Iowa primary, and everyone is exhausted by the end. But while we’ve been hearing for months about the presidential race, election day is finally just around the corner. When Americans vote on November 3, the presidency, the balance of power in the Senate and Congress, and gubernatorial positions at state levels are all at stake. 

With looming issues like a Supreme Court vacancy (RIP RGB), COVID raging out of control in many states, the window to meaningfully combat climate change quickly closing, and growing calls for police abolition, this election could define America beyond the next generation, and affect all of our futures. 

And while many Canadians enjoy gawking at the whole process and believe Canada is superior to its southern neighbours, we actually struggle with many of the same issues and are simultaneously in danger of being influenced by trends in U.S. politics. It’s no coincidence, for example, that the Conservative party’s new slogan is “Take Back Canada”—eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s infamous 2016 campaign tagline, “Make America Great Again.” 

So, even though we won’t be going to the polls in a few weeks, it’s important we understand what’s at stake with the major issues in the U.S. election, and where things stand on those same issues here in Canada. Here, your U.S. election primer on the top issues we all need to pay attention to.

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Climate change

Republican stance

The prospect of a second Trump presidency scares climate scientists. The administration spent its first term weakening or reversing many environmental regulations, muzzling scientists at federal agencies and putting a former coal-industry lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. While Trump hasn’t officially denied climate change, he often rejects or downplays the ways climate change contributes to things like the recent California wildfires. A second term would likely bring more of the same inaction or active disregard for the urgent threat of climate change.

Democrat stance

Joe Biden sees climate change as “a global crisis that requires American leadership” and plans to create a national strategy on climate change that includes things like signing the Paris Agreement, an international climate change accord that aims to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius. However, many have criticized Biden in the past for not being aggressive enough in his plans to address climate change during his vice presidency. 

What’s happening in Canada?

Given that the United States is one of the worst global emitters of greenhouse gases, the upcoming election has a significant impact on our global future. But we also have work to do on our own climate inaction: While Canada is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, and Canadians like to believe we’re doing better than the U.S. on this issue, Trudeau purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2018 to help Alberta continue to extract bitumen from the tar sands—a crude oil that many believe should be left in the ground. Canada is also not doing nearly enough to combat CO2 emissions—in 2018 we were found to produce more greenhouse gases per person that any other G20 country, including the U.S. 

Public health

Republican stance

Under Trump’s leadership, there have been more than 7 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 200,000 people have died. While Trump is currently fighting with the FDA to fast track a vaccine for late October, he was recently exposed by Bob Woodward for knowingly downplaying the seriousness of the virus—which likely led to the country’s higher death rate. Even Trump’s recent diagnosis hasn’t changed his dismissive approach to COVID: He’s since tweeted several messages downplaying the severity of the virus. 

Trump would also like to limit or eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—which could affect many Americans’ access to health care. 

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Democrat stance

Biden has shared that his COVID response plan would be to mount a national emergency response to protect frontline workers and minimize the spread of the virus, to eliminate the cost barriers involved in prevention and care for COVID-19, and support those economically affected by the crisis. He would shift responsibility for the response to the federal government from the states. He supports the ACA and plans to build on it.  

What’s happening in Canada?

While Canada was initially hailed as doing a lot of things right in its fight against COVID-19, numbers are increasing across the country as schools and businesses have opened back up. With the expiration of the CERB benefit, people who were relying on it will transition to Employment Insurance and other benefits like the new Canada Recovery Benefit, which will provide $500 weekly for up to 26 weeks. 

Racial justice

Republican stance

Much of Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency was built on fear of racialized others—from supposed Mexican rapists and criminals, to Muslims travelling or living in the U.S. More recently, in the first presidential debate he refused to denounce white supremicist group the Proud Boys, and instead asked them to “stand back and stand by.” 

In terms of actual policy, Trump has implemented immigration bans, deployed federal agents to “maintain law and order” at Black Lives Matters protests and spoken approvingly about violently repressing protesters, and expanded ICE in ways that have devastated migrant and refugee families. He is now weakening Fair Housing and HUD rules that support integrated suburbs in an apparent effort to play on white voters’ prejudice. 

Democrat stance

Biden’s platform represents no substantive structural reform of the systems that lead to racial injustice in the United States, despite the fact that he has frequently spoken out against racism during his campaign. His response to the Black Lives Matter protests is to reform police departments rather than divert funds to other community interventions and services, as many activists are calling for. While a Biden presidency could see policies put in place to reduce the abuses and human rights violations happening via ICE, he has no plans to abolish ICE

What’s happening in Canada?

Writers like Robyn Maynard and Desmond Cole have cast a spotlight on how Canada is built on colonialism and structural racism at all levels of government: From high rates of racialized police violence to racist and genocidal policies that harm Indigenous people and people of colour, Canada has a long way to go to achieve racial justice. Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair indicated in June that Canada was looking into reforms to our criminal justice system but didn’t give specifics. Meanwhile, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has repeatedly called on the Liberals to work on “reprioritizing” police funding. 

The economy

Republican stance

Across the U.S., the economy has lost 4.7 million jobs since Trump took office in 2016, although many of those losses are COVID-related. Trump has shared no plan to financially support those struggling to find work in the wake of the pandemic, other than the one-time $1,200 stimulus that was sent out earlier this year and the $600 per week unemployment benefit that expired on July 31. His broader economic plan includes a mix of things including renegotiating trade deals, a focus on energy and resource extraction, reducing the debt, repealing Obamacare and sending alleged illegal immigrants back to their home countries. 

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Democrat stance

According to economists, Biden’s economic plan is likely to create 7 million more jobs than Trump’s. A recent report suggested that Biden’s proposals would lead to 18.6 million jobs during his first term and an average increase in income of $4,800 per person. Meanwhile, it said Trump’s policies would lead to an increase in only 11.2 million jobs and no real income gains on an individual level. Biden would also support a January 2021 COVID stimulus and an increase of the minimum wage to $15

What’s happening in Canada?

Since the Canadian economy is so entangled with the U.S. economy, the stronger the U.S. economy is the better it will be for Canada. Canada is currently struggling with our own COVID-related economic recovery but Trudeau is looking at another wave of pandemic-related spending.

Reproductive Rights

Republican stance

According to activists and rights groups, a second Trump term could have devastating consequences for abortion rights in the U.S., because of his track record of supporting limitations on abortion. The appointment of a Republican Supreme Court justice could mean the overturning of Roe vs. Wade since Trump’s current nominee Amy Coney Barrett is “pro-life.” Even if Roe is upheld, many activists have noted the possibility of the passing of more TRAP laws that function as backdoor ways to limit abortion access in most of the country. 

Democrat stance

A Biden win could make room for a pro-choice Supreme Court justice, if Trump doesn’t manage to appoint Barrett before he leaves office. Biden plans to reinstate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, codify Roe vs. Wade by making the right to abortion access a federal law, and potentially repeal the Hyde Amendment, which does not allow federal dollars to go towards abortions. 

What’s happening in Canada?

Abortion isn’t as divisive in Canada—at least not politically—but many people still face barriers to abortion and reproductive health access. For example, abortions are hard to access in rural areas, or in places like New Brunswick where the government only funds them at hospitals. We also have limits on when you can get an abortion during your pregnancy that range from as few as 12 weeks to 24 weeks. 

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I can’t vote—what can I do? 

While the U.S. election will have a significant impact on Canadians, we don’t get a say in what happens. So, what can you do? You can work to encourage Americans in Canada to vote by mail. You can also work on these issues in Canada by writing your representatives, getting involved in activism or protests on the issues that matter to you, speaking out, and supporting mutual aid networks that help activists work on these issues internationally.