Canada’s Secret to Resisting the West’s Populist Wave – The New York Times

Although I find Taub’s analysis superficial (and her understanding of multiculturalism’s history as being driven the Quebec narrative rather than the pressures by other groups such as Ukrainian Canadians that did not see themselves in a bicultural narrative), nevertheless she notes correctly that all political parties have to engage and court new Canadian voters:

As right-wing populism has roiled elections and upended politics across the West, there is one country where populists have largely failed to break through: Canada.

The raw ingredients are present. A white ethnic majority that is losing its demographic dominance. A sharp rise in immigration that is changing culture and communities. News media and political personalities who bet big on white backlash.

Yet Canada’s politics remain stable. Its centrist liberal establishment is popular. Not only have the politics of white backlash failed, but immigration and racial diversity are sources of national pride. And when anti-establishment outsiders have run the populist playbook, they have found defeat.

Outsiders might assume this is because Canada is simply more liberal, but they would be wrong. Rather, Canada has resisted the populist wave through a set of strategic decisions, powerful institutional incentives, strong minority coalitions and idiosyncratic circumstances.

While there is no magic answer to populism, Canada’s experience offers unexpected lessons for other nations.

A Different Kind of Identity

In other Western countries, right-wing populism has emerged as a politics of us-versus-them. It pits members of white majorities against immigrants and minorities, driven by a sense that cohesive national identities are under threat. In France, for instance, it is common to hear that immigration dilutes French identity, and that allowing minority groups to keep their own cultures erodes vital elements of Frenchness.

Identity works differently in Canada. Both whites and nonwhites see Canadian identity as something that not only can accommodate outsiders, but is enhanced by the inclusion of many different kinds of people.

Canada is a mosaic rather than a melting pot, several people told me — a place that celebrates different backgrounds rather than demanding assimilation.

“Lots of immigrants, they come with their culture, and Canadians like that,” said Ilya Bolotine, an information technology worker from Russia, whom I met at a large park on the Lake Ontario waterfront. “They like variety. They like diversity.”

Identity rarely works this way. Around the world, people tend to identify with their race, religion or at least language. Even in the United States, an immigrant nation, politics have long clustered around demographic in-groups.

Canada’s multicultural identity is largely the result of political maneuvering.

In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau faced a crisis amid the rise of French Canadian separatism in Quebec. His party was losing support, and his country seemed at risk of splitting in two.

Mr. Trudeau’s solution was a policy of official multiculturalism and widespread immigration. This would resolve the conflict over whether Canadian identity was more Anglophone or Francophone — it would be neither, with a range of diversity wide enough to trivialize the old divisions.

It would also provide a base of immigrant voters to shore up Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party.

Then, in the early 2000s, another politician’s shrewd calculation changed the dynamics of ethnic politics, cementing multiculturalism across all parties.

Jason Kenney, then a Conservative member of Parliament, convinced Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the party should court immigrants, who — thanks to Mr. Trudeau’s efforts — had long backed the Liberal Party.

“I said the only way we’d ever build a governing coalition was with the support of new Canadians, given changing demography,” Mr. Kenney said.

He succeeded. In the 2011 and 2015 elections, the Conservatives won a higher share of the vote among immigrants than it did among native-born citizens.

The result is a broad political consensus around immigrants’ place in Canada’s national identity.

That creates a virtuous cycle. All parties rely on and compete for minority voters, so none has an incentive to cater to anti-immigrant backlash. That, in turn, keeps anti-immigrant sentiment from becoming a point of political conflict, which makes it less important to voters.

In Britain, among white voters who say they want less immigration, about 40 percent also say that limiting immigration is the most important issue to them. In the United States, that figure is about 20 percent. In Canada, according to a 2011 study, it was only 0.34 percent.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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