Saturday 26 May 2018

Book Review - Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit

Back in March my friend Malcolm and I went to a talk at the Toronto Reference Library called "Star Talks: Trump and Brexit: Could it Happen Here?" It was a very lively and enlightening look at the vast differences between American, British and Canadian societies, more so between Canada and the US. The talk even included a look at Provincial Conservative leader Doug Ford, who at the time had just been named to the leader of the party.

It was interesting enough that I bought Micheal Adams book Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

From award-winning author Michael Adams, Could It Happen Here? draws on groundbreaking new social research to show whether Canadian society is at risk of the populist forces afflicting other parts of the world.

Americans elected Donald Trump. Britons opted to leave the European Union. Far-right, populist politicians channeling anger at out-of-touch “elites” are gaining ground across Europe. In vote after shocking vote, citizens of Western democracies have pushed their anger to the top of their governments’ political agendas. The votes have varied in their particulars, but their unifying feature has been rejection of moderation, incrementalism, and the status quo.

Amid this roiling international scene, Canada appears placid, at least on the surface. As other societies retrench, the international media have taken notice of Canada’s welcome of Syrian refugees, its half-female federal cabinet, and its acceptance of climate science and mixed efforts to limit its emissions. After a year in power, the centrist federal government continues to enjoy majority approval, suggesting an electorate not as bitterly split as the ones to the south or in Europe.

As sceptics point out, however, Brexit and a Trump presidency were unthinkable until they happened. Could it be that Canada is not immune to the same forces of populism, social fracture, and backlash that have afflicted other parts of the world? Our largest and most cosmopolitan city elected Rob Ford. Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch proposes a Canadian values test for immigrants and has called the Trump victory “exciting.” Anti-tax demonstrators in Alberta chanted “lock her up” in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, an elected leader accused of no wrongdoing, only policy positions the protesters disliked.

Pollster and social values researcher Michael Adams takes Canadians into the examining room to see whether we are at risk of coming down with the malaise affecting other Western democracies. Drawing on major social values surveys of Canadians and Americans in 2016—as well as decades of tracking data in both countries—Adams examines our economy, institutions, and demographics to answer the question: could it happen here?

This book is full of telling and sometimes very surprising statistics, charts and explanations. One chart that jumped out at me (shown below) was a comparison between Canada and the US on how much of the population believes the father of the family should be the "master" of the house. During the talk the stats were also broken down by province. Even the most rural and rugged province in Canada, Alberta, which had the highest of all the provinces in the belief that the man should be, was far more liberal in this view, by almost half, than the least chauvinistic state in the US.

The chapter titles show how deep the research goes.

The Global Re-awakening of the Xenophobic populism
We've Been Here before
Canada and Immigration in the Era of Trump and Brexit
On Being Muslim in Canada - Optimism with Vigilance
The Taxi Driver with the PhD
Occupy This - The Politics of Inequality in Canada
Doing Democracy Differently

Adams book speaks not only of our different cultures but also happiness levels, economics, health systems, the political system of each country, acceptance of immigrants and refugees, immigrant views on their new countries, racism and even a look at the difference on how our leaders were raised as children and their respected countries views towards that.

In the end, yes, Canada as a whole, except of course for the few assholes that exist in any country, has a much greater acceptance and welcoming attitude when it comes to immigrants and diversity when compared to the US. I am very proud of that. That view and the set-up of our political system is one where we most likely will never fall to the current level of the US state of affairs.

But that's no reason to be smug. We can never be complacent and must always work to ensure that the levels of hate in Canada continue to fall and that we fight to keep our standard of living and the positive views the world has of us as a nation.

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