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An optimistic end to 2017

The Hill
An optimistic end to 2017
When 2017 got under way, Canadian politics-watchers were keen to see how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would find common ground with President Donald Trump.

When 2017 got under way, Canadian politics-watchers were keen to see how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would find common ground with President Donald Trump. 

How could they work together?

As this year draws to a close, however, all eyes are on the differences between Trump and Trudeau — especially their diverging paths on everything from free trade to taxation to immigration.

While sharper differences may make for headaches in the corridors of power, many Canadians may take some comfort that this country is turning out to be so un-Trump-like.

But, could that change?

With so many developments in Canada that start in the United States, is it inevitable that Canada will one day have its own brand of Trumpism?
Michael Adams, a founder of the Environics polling firm with a specialty in looking at Canada-U.S. differences, has two basic answers to that question.

He has written a book called Could it Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit.

First, he says, Canada has already had outbreaks of populist politics.

“We’ve had our flings with polarizing politics, but when the buzz wears off, we always seem to muddle our way back to the middle,” Adams writes.

For example, he points to the Reform Party, the “Common Sense Revolution” by former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
Even the 2015 federal election featured elements of the politics that fuelled Trump’s rise in the United States — debates over immigration and religious clothing, for instance.

But why do we keep muddling back to the middle?
That’s the second answer Adams provides, and it is particularly interesting with regard to some significant differences between Canada and the United States.
Here are some notable ones:

• Canadians are more fond of compromise in politics. According to Environics’ research, nearly 60 per cent of Canadians said they valued political compromise, while only 40 per cent of Americans did. That same, 60:40 ratio also applied (in reverse) when people were asked about politicians sticking to their positions. About 60 per cent of Americans said that was important, while only 38 per cent of Canadians said they wanted politicians to stick to their views.

• Americans are far more patriarchal. In 2016, a whopping 50 per cent of U.S. poll respondents agreed with the idea that  “the father must be the master in his own house.” In Canada, only 23 per cent agreed with that statement. Adams says he loves the cultural differences exposed by this simple question. Looking for why our country seems more feminist than the one in the White House? It’s not just Trudeau versus Trump.

• Newcomers to Canada are a bigger part of the democratic culture, Adams argues, both inside and outside the corridors of power. A full 13 per cent of the current members of Parliament in Ottawa were born in other countries, while the same could be said for only a couple of dozen elected folks in the current U.S. Congress.

Adams admits he’s upbeat about Canada. Ever since writing his previous book, Fire and Ice: The United States Canada And The Myth Of Converging Values, more than a decade ago, he’s been convinced that political cultures in Canada and the United States are actually diverging — not unlike Trump and Trudeau themselves.

Fundamentally, he says, Canadians still have enough faith in the idea of government, rule of law and each other to withstand Trump’s shock-politics approach to democracy.

So that’s an optimistic note on which to end the year and fodder, perhaps, for some interesting discussions around the holiday dinner tables later this month.
Perhaps we’ll remember 2017 as the year that we went looking for how to get along with Trump until we recognized it was maybe better to celebrate Canada’s differences with that brand of politics.

Susan Delacourt is an Ottawa-based political author and columnist who has been working on Parliament Hill for nearly 30 years. She is a frequent political panellist on national television and author of four books. She can be reached at sdelacourt@bell.net.


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