What’s driving populism? It isn’t the economy, stupid – Bricker and Ibbitson

Bricker and Ibbitson further develop their 2013 thesis in The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics, Business, And Culture And What It Means For Our Future in which they argued that there was a permanent shift towards more conservative politics, particularly among immigrant groups. Two years later, the 2015 election largely proved them wrong, as immigrant-rich ridings largely shifted to the Liberals.

Even so, they still maintain Conservatives have an advantage over progressives.

However, while their diagnostic relies overly on Putman and Kaufman, along with US and European examples, and less on understanding the significant differences with Canada (see Michael Adams, Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit), their key policy prescriptions – need for respect for immigration-related concerns, downplay grand theories about immigration advantages (Barton Commission and Century Initiative to note) – are sound.

The current Ontario PC leadership convention and subsequent June election will provide an early test in Canada’s largest and most diverse province:

…So what is a better approach than simply dismissing the cultural insecurities of voters? First, leaders in politics and journalism and the academy and other fields need to respect where people are coming from – even when they profoundly disagree with where people are coming from.

“If people have concerns, and their concerns are being expressed in anti-immigration sentiment, then you’ve got to ask: Are these people just straight-out opposed to immigrants or do they have something else they’re fearful of or concerned about?” Prof. Loewen said. “And you’ve got to speak to those concerns in an even-handed and honest fashion.”

Second, play down the grand theories about the advantages of immigration, globalization and economic diversification. It’ll all be labelled fake news. And do not appeal to people’s compassion. There is little of it about. Instead, show – don’t tell, show – how immigration is making things better on your street, in your neighbourhood. Make it positive and make it personal. Micromessage.

In these conversations, conservatives have one advantage over progressives. Conservatives share the same attitude toward economic issues as most middle-class immigrants from places such as the Philippines, India and China, Canada’s three top source countries.

Conservatives and many immigrants favour business over government, the private sector over the public sector. They want fewer regulations and less bureaucracy, more freedom and greater personal responsibility, including responsibility for protecting the family and community.

Stephen Harper’s decade-long tenure as a Conservative prime minister depended in part on his party’s ability to coalesce immigrant voters in suburban ridings in greater Toronto and Vancouver with traditional rural and Prairie conservatives.

Not only can that coalition be politically advantageous, it creates a space where people who might be tempted to embrace nativist sentiments can find themselves talking and agreeing with like-minded new arrivals. For social cohesion, such conversations are precious.

Some would say the best way to address concerns over immigration would be to scale back the number of people coming in, especially from countries whose cultures are far removed from Canada’s Christian, European settler heritage. We can’t endorse that view. We know how important immigration is to smoothing the curve of an aging society with low fertility rates. And personally, we adore the multicultural ferment of our big cities.

But we must understand and accept that cultural insecurity affects millions of our fellow citizens. We must address those concerns by celebrating the best of what they cherish and by showing how immigrants cherish the same things – perhaps even more than some of the more progressive of their fellow citizens.

We need to remind ourselves that we are all in this together, old stock as well as new, and we all need to listen to each other with respect.

Otherwise, the next Donald Trump, the next noxious referendum, the next wall of exclusion await us all.

via What’s driving populism? It isn’t the economy, stupid – The Globe and Mail

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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