Business·Analysis

By Canadian standards, Kamala Harris could run for the Conservatives: Don Pittis

The Trump campaign lost no time branding Kamala Harris an ally of "the radical left," but with policies such as more accessible health care and a vote of confidence from Wall Street, Joe Biden's new running mate could easily fit into the political spectrum of moderate conservatives in Canada or Europe.

Trump campaign branded Biden running mate an ally of 'radical left,' but her background tells different story

A woman of the people? Kamala Harris, announced as Joe Biden's vice-presidential running mate on Tuesday, flips pork chops on a grill at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in August 2019. She was running to be the Democratic presidential candidate at the time but eventually dropped out, citing insufficient funds to keep her campaign going. Biden is expected to be confirmed as the Democratic presidential candidate at the party's national convention next week. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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.

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.

"She's very big into raising taxes," U.S. President Donald Trump said shortly after Biden announced Harris would be his running mate, beginning the process of framing the California senator as an enemy of business and the better-off.

Headlines proclaiming her Blackness, her Asian-ness, her Canadian-ness, her female gender and status as a child of immigrants might seem to confirm Trump's portrayal of some sort of proletarian upstart, but the facts tell a different story.

Not a story of coming up from underclass

The hurdles for someone who is a woman and a person of colour fighting her way to the top of the heap should not be minimized. A glance at Twitter will leave you creeped out by sexual comments directed at Harris that male politicians never have to face. But Harris's economic perspective is by no means one of looking up from an underclass.

Harris spent five years in Montreal, graduating from Westmount High School in 1981. Her mother, a cancer researcher, was a faculty member at McGill University for 16 years. (Kamala Harris Campaign/Handout via Reuters)

Opponents from the U.S. right may see her as being fanaticized by the five years she spent in school in Montreal, inculcated by what — Westmount radicalism? Westmount, for those not familiar with it, is a traditional enclave of the Quebec Anglo elite where socialism — on rare occasions when it raises its head — is usually taken with Champagne. Harris graduated from Westmount High School in 1981.

While indeed a child of immigrants, both of Harris's parents were scholars. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who was born in India, was a cancer researcher and worked as a faculty member at Montreal's McGill University for 16 years. Her father, Donald Harris, born in Jamaica, is a retired economics professor who taught at Stanford University in California, with a long list of honours. He had also been an economics fellow at Cambridge University in England.

Harris, far left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, outside their apartment in Berkeley, Calif., in 1970. (Kamala Harris campaign/The Associated Press)

Harris studied political science and economics at Howard University in Washington, D.C., heading up the economics club and the debating team at university before becoming a lawyer and prosecutor in California.

For the Trump team trying to expand on the president's favourite anti-woman epithet "nasty" and his tired-sounding "phony" that he has rolled out so far, its challenge will be whether to castigate the potential VP to his more extreme supporters as a member of the establishment or as an usurping outsider. Watch for creative attempts to combine the two.

VP doesn't need an economic policy 

As many have noted, Harris and her economic and political perspectives are getting considerably more attention than many previous vice-presidential candidates, who were arguably less qualified. No doubt it is partly due to the fact that Biden, at 77 years old, occasionally seems vulnerable to teetering off his perch.

But unless or until that happens, Harris will not be announcing policy of her own. Despite that, she got a vote of confidence from Wall Street on Tuesday after Biden announced she would be his running mate.

Under the U.S. system, the VP's job is to offer quiet support for the administration, only stepping forward if the president is incapacitated. The position, offering profile without culpability for presidential mistakes, is also a well-known stepping stone for those hoping to run for the top job.

Harris speaks at her first joint appearance with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday. (Carlos Barria
/Reuters)

It means that for now, and unlike when she was running to be the Democrats' presidential nominee in her own right, Harris won't have to develop an economic policy — one that might offend people on the left or right of her own party. In the event the other job comes her way, her jumping-off point will be Biden's economic policy, which she will fine-tune as seems appropriate at that time.

For all the talk of her being anti-business, if Harris could bring California levels of entrepreneurial success and well-being to the rest of the country, a certain amount of Californian-style environmentalism or Canadian-style socialism might be overlooked.

For Canadians, most of whom have grown tired of Trump's disrespect for Canada, his wild accusations of unfair trade, his off-the-cuff comments that so often seem disconnected from the real world, Harris's race and gender will likely be of the least concern.

Whether through her influence as vice-president if she wins in November or her potential, eventual role as president and commander-in-chief, for many of us, it will be a relief to have someone near the seat of power who not only seems to actually understand how economics works but also knows firsthand what Canada is and what it is not.

If the Biden-Harris ticket is successful, many Canadians will be relieved to have someone near the seat of power in the U.S. who understand economics and has firsthand knowledge of Canada. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

About the Author

Don Pittis

Business columnist

Don Pittis was a forest firefighter, and a ranger in Canada's High Arctic islands. After moving into journalism, he was principal business reporter for Radio Television Hong Kong before the handover to China. He has produced and reported for the CBC in Saskatchewan and Toronto and the BBC in London. He is currently senior producer at CBC's business unit.

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