Early this morning, Senator Ted Cruz became the first politician to announce his candidacy for president in 2016. If he somehow manages to win, he'd also be the first U.S. president who was born in Canada (unless you believe the rumors about Chester Alan Arthur).
But Ted Cruz, who renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014, is unlikely to face the sort of birtherist conspiracy theories that have dogged President Barack Obama. To those of xenophobic disposition, Cruz’s hometown of Calgary, Alberta, is less exotically threatening than the fancied Kenyan birthplace of Obama. And if Cruz’s opponents do get desperate enough to play the Canuck card against him—an attack ad from equal-opportunity birther Donald Trump, perhaps—Cruz has a ready retort: Calgary is a fair approximation of a Red State American city, a frigid Dallas. If you can’t be born in conservative America, Calgary is about as close to second best as the world has to offer.
Cruz’s American-born mother and Cuban-born father moved to Calgary from Houston in the late 1960s, drawn by one of the region's periodic oil booms. Cruz was born there in 1970, and the family returned to the United States in 1974 when the oil boom went bust, a roller-coaster ride familiar to Alberta’s resource-extraction economy.
The Cruz clan were far from the first reverse carpetbaggers who had sought riches in the far north. For most of the last century, Alberta has been uniquely receptive to American migrants. The Canadian West, which required genetically modified wheat that could survive the cold, only opened up to mass settlement after the American frontier had closed, shifting migration northward. Nearly a third of homestead applications in Alberta in 1919 went to Americans, who quickly outnumbered the more traditional British-born immigrants who populated most of Canada. A posh suburb of Calgary was known as American Hill (later renamed the more conventionally monarchist Mount Royal). Today, by some accounts, Calgary has the largest per capita population of Americans living in a non-American city.
These American immigrants, many of them evangelical Christians, have been credited (or blamed) with infusing Alberta with the right-wing populism that distinguishes it from Canadian liberal norms. William “Bible Bill” Aberhart, perhaps the foundational Alberta provincial leader, governed the province during the Great Depression with a mixture Baptist Bible-thumping and right-wing economics (albeit with a tinge of eccentric Social Credit rhetoric). Aberhart’s Social Credit party ruled Alberta from 1935 to 1971, when it was replaced by another right-of-center formation, the Progressive Conservative Party, which has enjoyed uninterrupted power to this day.
Eighty years of governance by two conservative parties has left its mark on Alberta, making it the home of a kind of fire-breathing conservatism more familiar to America than Canada. A prime example is Rob Anders, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Calgary West, notable for his homophobia and for his undying hatred of Nelson Mandela, whom he continues to label a communist and terrorist.
Not least, Calgary is the heartland of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative Party, which has many ideological affinities with Cruz’s conservatism, particularly on issues like the oil sands, green house emissions, and foreign policy.
Yet if Calgary is conservative by Canadian standards, Cruz’s GOP opponents might find a few weak spots in armour by pointing out how far it falls short of Republican ideals.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is a left-leaning Muslim, born in Toronto and, like Cruz, Harvard-educated. Nenshi has pursued a vigorous program of public transit construction. As indicated by its almost oxymoronic name, the Progressive Conservative party does have a liberal side, often spending on social services in way that would garner cries of “socialism” in the United States. A robust single-payer health care system remains as popular in Alberta as elsewhere in the country. And even under Harper, the Conservative Party has made no effort to challenge either Canada’s very liberal abortion laws or court-mandated marriage equality.
A previous version of this article stated that Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was an immigrant born in Tanzania. He was born in Toronto.