Canada Kicks Ass
Book Review: "Could It Happen Here? Canada, Trump And Brexit


JaredMilne @ Mon Nov 08, 2021 8:33 pm

ne of the main political topics over the last few years has been the rise of populism, particularly alt-right populism, in many North American and European countries. In the United States, that populism played an important role in bringing Donald Trump into the White House. In the United Kingdom, the populism is considered to be one of the biggest causes of the ‘Leave’ side winning the Brexit referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union. Alt-right governments and political parties have gained significant ground in many parts of Europe. The right-wing populist Jair Bolsinaro recently got elected President of Brazil.

Here in Canada, there’s a significant rift on the political right between the Conservative Party and the breakaway People’s Party of Canada (PPC). The PPC was founded by former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier after his failed run at the Conservative leadership, seemingly as a libertarian-leaning party. When the party contested its first federal election in 2019, many of the libertarians Bernier originally attracted quit the party in disgust over Bernier’s courting more of the fringe alt-right to the party. Now, as frustrations and anger over COVID restrictions and the impact on peoples’ livelihoods boil over, people opposing vaccination mandates and efforts have been [url]protesting hospitals[/url]=, barged into schools to threaten students in B.C. and even harassed public health officials at their own homes in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, being widely condemned not just by politicians but also by other citizens. It’s gotten so bad that several provinces are now considering ‘bubble zones’ around schools and hospitals that would disallow protesters. Protesters also harassed Justin Trudeau during the 2021 federal election campaign, throwing debris at himand yelling insulting slurs about his wife. Bernier and the PPC have benefited heavily from this populist surge, raising questions about what role the PPC will play going forward in Canadian politics.

In his 2017 book Could It Happen Here? Canada In The Age Of Trump And Brexit, veteran pollster Michael Adams tries to answer these questions by analyzing numerous survey results and political events and comparing Canadians’ and Americans’ responses to them. Adams returns to a theme he’s touched on in his previous book, 2003’s Fire And Ice: The United States, Canada And The Myth Of Converging Values. In Fire And Ice, Adams analyzed poll data to compare Canadians’ and Americans’ social values. He showed how many Canadians were drifting away from ‘traditional’ social conservative values on things like gay marriage, gun ownership and family structures, while many Americans were doubling down on them. This was the case even in Alberta, showing how Wild Rose Country’s always been more like the rest of Canada than most of its critics or its admirers will admit.

The short answer to the book’s title question is that yes, that kind of angry populist backlash can happen here in Canada, but it’s less likely than it‘s been south of the border.

Adams traces the current populist backlash to a rise of anger against the general consensus on ‘globalization’, or the move towards open borders, free trade and cosmopolitanism among many of the business, political and academic elite in Western countries. People who supported the likes of Brexit, Donald Trump and the far-right parties in continental Europe were more likely to see themselves as citizens of their countries rather than ‘citizens of the world’, see their identities as being threatened by overwhelming waves of migration, and resent what they view as the arrogance of elitists who look down their noses at them. Many of these same people were also the ones more likely to be left behind by globalization and the rising income inequality that resulted. Much of that elite became complacent, thinking that nothing could or would change. They were caught completely off guard by the results of things like the Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Some of that populist backlash did take place in Canada, such as with the rise of the PPC, Rob Ford’s election as Toronto’s Mayor and the Stephen Harper Conservatives’ trying to create a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. However, Adams notes how even Canadian conservatives differ from Republicans on everything from abortion restrictions to the death penalty. Citing polling data from 2016–17, Adams notes that support for immigration in Canada was generally positive even on the Prairies, arguably Canada’s most conservative region. There’s also less concern about immigrants not fitting into Canadian society or committing crimes. Even those backlashes that did exist, such as among some of the Reform Party or the Quebec separatist movement in the 1990s, did little to slow the pace of immigration here.

To Adams, this came from Canadian and American values sharply diverging over the last two decades. While the U.S. was more religious, money-focused, individualist and less likely to support immigration, Canada generally drifted towards support for a stronger welfare stateand activist government, and remained open to immigration. Adams cites examples such as the backlash against the barbaric practices hotline and the support for Muslim women like Zunera Ishaq who wanted to wear their niqab veils across their faces when taking their Canadian citizenship oaths. In return, many Muslims are proudly Canadian and optimistic about the direction the country’s taking. He also discusses how Canada generally has less income inequality and more class mobility than the U.S.

To Adams, alt-right populism is a lot less likely to happen in Canada for a few different reasons-stronger support for a social safety net in Canada, greater acceptance of cultural diversity and a rejection of what Adams called the ‘retributive Protestant moralism’ that implies that poverty and addiction are one’s own fault and supports things like harsh criminal punishments and the ‘war on drugs’. While there have been backlashes to Canada’s growing diversity, we’ve been more likely to find the centre than our southern neighbours.

One of the most understated points Adams makes is how much commonality there is on this in Canada even among conservative politicians and the regions considered most right-wing. Adams cites conservatives who describe themselves as ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ as well as the lack of support even in stereotypically conservative regions like Alberta for dismantling the public healthcare system or the idea that the father is always ‘head of the household’. I could also point out the number of immigrants and people of colour who’ve run for office under the Conservative banner, to the point that the Harper Conservatives had the most ethnically diverse caucus in Parliament at one point, as well as several people of colour serving in Harper’s Cabinet.

While Adams’ points are mostly sound, probably the book’s biggest weakness is the number of points he touches on but doesn’t really develop. One is how Canada supposedly rejected the idea of Protestant retribution that’s played such a role in American culture. That’s true, but Adams doesn’t really touch on why Canada’s supposedly more comfortable with cultural diversity. Part of it likely comes from the fact that diversity’s been a factor in Canadian public life for a lot longer, namely with trying to accommodate both Francophone and Anglophone populations. One of the Fathers of Confederation’s biggest challenges was determining how exactly the French language and Francophone people would fit into a polity that was otherwise mostly Anglophone. Canada’s also always been much more comfortable with the idea of a government hand in the economy. The Canadian Pacific Railway that physically tied Canada together was mostly funded by Ottawa.

That Canadian diversity still only restricted itself to people of European descent, not caring at all about Indigenous people or people of colour. While Adams makes a point of emphasizing how racist populist incidents can still happen here, and politicians who bet too heavily on it tend to lose, he doesn’t really mention how Canadian bigotry is often much more subtle than its American counterpart. While Americans like Phillip Sheridan and Teddy Roosevelt claimed that ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’, Canadians often depicted Indigenous people as ‘doomed’ to disappear and needing to be ‘civilized’ to survive. That was the justification for the residential school systems, whose consequences are still being felt today.

Adams and I both agree that Canadian politics tends to muddle back towards the center. One of his book’s biggest strengths is the evidence he cites to prove his points. But that raises a question as to what finding the centre will look like in trying to accommodate both native-borne people’s concerns about their identities and the rights and perspectives of new immigrants. Adams shows that we have the capacity to do so and in many ways we’ve succeeded, but that still leaves the question of how to do it.


Scape @ Mon Nov 08, 2021 9:14 pm

Read the book and I am not totally on board with his conclusions. Simply put the PPC is the high water mark for that form of Trumpism. True, half or more of the CPC harbors serious sympathetic sediments towards the dogma but the kindling is very much wet after Covid and a Post-Trump Presidency.

Simply put not our circus, not our monkees. The book was clickbait at the time and I haven't moved away from POV no matter how bad Ford or Kennedy are. Sloppy knuckle-dragging idiots are not exclusive to one side of the isle either and this stinks of trying to hard to categorize that type of political movement and prescribing a label to it in the name of fear-mongering. It doesn't hold up to scrutiny thou, our closest cross over was that Drangon's den judge Kevin O'Leary who run at the CPC leadership imploded so fast it's a good thing he wasn't fissionable material.

Anyway, my .02$. I could be off the beaten track here and call me out if I am but Trumpism in Canada isn't a problem here it's disenfranchisement which has always been a problem and if it ever gets a champion we are all screwed.


xerxes @ Mon Nov 08, 2021 9:22 pm

If Brexit and Trump have proven anything, it's that anything is possible. Never say never after all.

But a real scumbag fascist like Trump seems unlikely to happen up here. Bernier and the PPC barely poll outside the margin of error and with the plurality of political parties, it's highly unlikely that a populist party, especially a neo-fascist Canadian version of the Republican party, could gain traction in Canada.


Sunnyways @ Wed Nov 10, 2021 8:40 pm

We’re safe for maybe a decade more but after that who knows. Many of the same forces powering the alt-right are at work in Canada as the US.


Thanos @ Wed Nov 10, 2021 9:21 pm

Poland and Hungary are lost, because their innate nasty nationalism is too strong for democracy to counter. And it will always be a crap shoot in the US going forward after Trump. With that kind of genuine hatred Americans now have for each other it would be unwise to bet on a good ending.

The other countries though? I think the Trump experience was enough, just from watching it, to make it less likely to happen in western Europe or Canada. It was a nauseating enough spectacle to have to witness, and might have been sufficient to convince enough people that they don't want anything to do with that kind of thing in our own countries. The goof-off Maverick Party in western Canada was a complete non-factor in the election. The assholes in the PPC are irrelevant too and I would wager that they'll never sit a single party member in Parliament as a MP. And their only real effect on Canada will be to drain enough of the genuine assholes out of the Conservative party that the Tories will be stuck with a permanent vote-split that prevents them from becoming a government any time soon.

It's not sunshine & roses out there. But it's not doom & gloom either, not when over 81 million US citizens got out to vote one year ago just put an end to Trump. So, right now, I'll say with some sort of confidence that it won't happen here. Canadians were already hardwired against the extremism of the American variety before Trump. And that conditioning is probably even stronger now after watching the Trump goon show up close for four interminable years. I think we're safe overall from that rotten idiocy happening here within any of our lifetimes.