Monday, September 26, 2016

Andrew Coyne in the National Post on the highly contingent successes of liberalism in Canada

I write from a Canadian perspective. Sometimes, it's important to remember that mine, too, is a pespective consequent to any number of highly contingent events. Andrew Coyne's recent article in the National Post "Canada’s openness a product of our history, geography more than a particular Liberal trait", is worth reading in full. He's entirely right to point out, of course, that the relative success of liberal themes in Canada is highly contingent on any number of factors. (Canada has no prospects for any substantial unauthorized cross-border migration, for instance.)

If Canadians are in a less belligerent mood than our American and European cousins, it may be because we have not endured anything like the series of calamities they have. In contrast to the United States, median incomes in Canada have grown steadily for most of the past 20 years; inequality, whether measured from the top or the bottom, is nothing like as bad. Our housing market did not collapse, nor did our banking sector.

We have no experience with terrorism on anything like the scale of recent attacks in the United States or Europe, let alone 9/11. Neither has immigration presented the kinds of challenges here that it has elsewhere. We have no counterpart to the 12 million illegal immigrants that are the source of so much controversy in the U.S. And while the 25,000 Syrian refugees we have admitted in the past year far exceed the American intake, it is a tiny fraction of the numbers that have arrived on Europe’s shores and borders. (People in other countries talk admiringly of the Canadian “points” system, but 3,000 miles of ocean and a cold climate are probably a more effective means of selection.)

And yet, even with all these advantages, we have had our brushes with nativism. It has become conventional wisdom that the Harper government lost the last election over it, but if you look at the polls two things jump out: the success of the anti-niqab campaign, especially in Quebec; and that Conservative support rose in the four weeks after the Syrian refugee crisis forced its way into the campaign. It was, not coincidentally, the Conservatives who, of the three parties, took the most cautious line on the crisis.

It is probably true that they overplayed their hand in the end: Canadians do not like to have their nativism rubbed in their faces. But if the Parti Québécois made the same mistake — the ban on religious wear in the civil service was also initially popular — it should not be forgotten that the McGuinty government in Ontario owed its re-election in 2007 to a similar calculated appeal to public fears. (We do not know how Kellie Leitch’s iteration will play out, but so far the polls are with her.)

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