Charlie Angus is no Bernie Sanders

No Comments 28 December 2016

Charlie Angus has a formidable challenge. He was quoted last week as saying he wants to build a bridge between the dreamers and the doers in his party. That will be no mean feat because the hard-core NDP membership is bound together by the ideology of socialism.


Published in The Hill Times on Monday, November 28, 2016.

OTTAWA—Charlie Angus is being heralded as the Canadian Bernie Sanders.

His decision to resign as chair of the New Democratic Party caucus to explore his leadership ambitions was wise and welcome.

Angus is a solid parliamentary performer who is well-respected for his understanding of rural, northern and aboriginal issues. He stands up for the marginalized, which puts him in sync with Sanders’ Democratic primary campaign message, but the comparison stops there.

There are two key reasons why the political gulf between Sanders and Angus is so wide.

First, the urban-rural split in the United States is quite different, and the bizarre electoral college system proffers disproportionate influence to certain states, which happen to have more small town voters.

Canada is a more urban country. In the most recent Statistics Canada data, more than 80 per cent lived in urban centres. Similar American statistics put the number of their urban dwellers at 70 per cent. Ten per cent doesn’t seem like a lot but a comparison of the two systems of voting will yield more clues as to why the Sanders-Angus comparison will not fly.

In Senator Sanders home state of Vermont, the capital city boasts a population of 7,855 which swells to 21000 during the day because of an influx of government workers from neighbouring bedroom communities.

Angus lives in Cobalt, Ontario’s most historic town, with a population of 1,133.

His Timmins-James Bay riding includes 83,104 people. The riding represents one seat in a House of Commons with 338 members.

Sanders’ state of Vermont has a population of 626,042, the second smallest in the union, and get three electoral college votes. With only 278 electoral college votes determining the presidency, the relative importance of Vermont voting patterns looms much larger in the race for the presidency.

The United States has more rural and small town voters, but most important, the electoral college system skews the influence of votes disproportionately toward those voters.

The second major difference between Angus and Sanders is that Sanders voting base exists within a party that has formed government. During the primary, Sanders’ message appealed directly to disaffected Democrats who felt they were being left behind by globalization and international trade deals.
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© 2018 Sheila Copps.