By Suresh Jaura
Any student of world affairs may know the phrase “when America sneezes, the world catches a cold.” What the phrase means, of course, is that what happens in America affects the rest of the world, be it for good or bad.
It is no surprise, therefore, that citizens and the media in Canada are interested in the US Presidential election.
In fact, in Canada, there was more news coverage of the nomination of Harris by the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden than Leslyn Lewis’ bid for the 2020 Conservative Party of Canada leadership election, in which she finished third.
To put it into historical context, no Black woman had run for major party leadership in Canada in the last 45 years. Rosemary Brown was the last to do so, in 1975, when she ran against Ed Broadbent.
Also, Annamie Paul has not drawn as much attention as the nomination of Harris. Paul who has many “firsts” as a Jewish woman, as a woman of colour, and as a Black woman, is seeking federal party leadership of the Green Party of Canada.
Harris is the first woman of colour to compete on a major party’s vice presidential ticket in the US. Windsorite Dilraj Gill, youth president of Windsor’s South Asian Centre Gill said on CBC News she finally feels like women in Black and South Asian communities are being represented. “This is such a major step for women and especially women of colour … it’s basically revolutionary for South Asians and especially women all around the world.”
It is interesting to note that Canada ranked 56 while the US ranked 83 in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures or parliaments, according to the Catalyst research as of July 1, 2020.
Canadian politician, diplomat, lawyer and writer Avril Phaedra Douglas “Kim” Campbell, born March 10, 1947, is the first and only woman who served as the 19th prime minister of Canada from June 25 to November 4, 1993.
In 2007, Nancy Pelosi was the first woman elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. In 2019, she was elected to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives for a second time.
In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman nominated by a major party for President of the United States.
In 2020, Kamala Harris became the first Black woman and person of Indian descent nominated by a major party for Vice President of the United States. She will be the first woman to serve as Vice President if elected.
Reporting on Joe Biden pick of ‘former Montrealer’ Kamala Harris as the choice for vice-president, Frederic Tomesco asked in Montreal Gazette: “Could a former Montrealer be on her way to the White House?”
The news did not go unnoticed among Montreal citizens. Mayor Valérie Plante offered her congratulations in a tweet, underlining Harris’s status as the first Black woman in US history to be on a major party presidential ticket.
Harris was born in Oakland, California. Her father, Donald Harris, was born in Jamaica and is a retired Stanford University economics professor, with a long list of honours. He had also been an economics fellow at Cambridge University in England.
Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer specialist, was born in Chennai, India. Her parents divorced when Kamala was 7.
The move to Montreal from California with her sister and mother at age 12, was precipitated when her mother, landed research work at the Jewish General Hospital and a teaching job at McGill University for 16 years.
Harris returned to the US after graduating from Westmount High School in 1981.
Harris’s 336-page memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, doesn’t shed much light on her Montreal years — devoting only two pages to that period of her life.
Some observers, such as former Canadian diplomat and newspaper columnist Norman Spector, wonder what Harris really made of the experience.
“What we need to know now is what memories — good and/or bad — Kamala Harris harbours of Montréal, Québec and Canada having lived among us and having attended Westmount High School,” Spector wrote on Twitter.
It’s not a secret that Canadians love to identify other Canadians who made it big in America. This national pastime of Canadian-spotting is that its focus extends far beyond spotting actual Canadians.
“A lot of ink has been spilled to relay about Harris’s schooling in Montreal. Canadian media reiterated several times and I suspect will continue to reiterate until election day in the United States, at the expense of more relevant information such as: who is Harris and what exactly does she stand for?,” Emma Teitel National Columnist of The Star wrote in an article titled, Kamala Harris, is not Canadian no matter how badly we want her to be .
“I am over the moon, I really don’t think that there could have been a better pick,” said former Ontario Liberal MPP candidate for Windsor-Tecumseh Remy Boulbol as reported in CBC.ca report.
“She is the one who has stood up for people that don’t have voices and that is always my kind of a candidate.”
Boulbol said women and women of colour are rarely represented in politics, specifically at more national levels. Harris’s Blackness, her Asian-ness, her Canadian-ness, her female gender and status as a child of immigrants is unique and her nomination “says a lot to women across the world”.
“If Kamala Harris fails in her bid to become vice-president of the United States, maybe she could run for leader of Canada’s Conservative Party,” wrote Don Pittis in CBC News Analysis.
While the Trump campaign lost no time declaring her an ally of “the radical left” following her selection as running mate by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, by Canadian standards, that would be a stretch.
Tugged by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Party may have moved to the left, but with such radical policies as more accessible health care and a slight amount of wealth distribution from the very rich to the poorest, middle-of-the-road party members like Harris could easily fit into the political spectrum of moderate conservatives in Canada or Europe.