Canada’s Secret to Escaping the ‘Liberal Doom Loop’

This take in The Atlantic may be a bit too pollyannish, and would have benefitted from some critical voices being included, but nevertheless has the big picture largely right in terms of the reasons for Canada being comparably exceptional:

…In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current PM Justin Trudeau, offered an ingenious compromise to assuage all parties. Rather than say that Canada was unicultural or bicultural, he created a policy of multiculturalism. He announced that no one group defined Canada and that the government accepted “the contention of other cultural communities that they, too, are essential elements in Canada.” This had a three-part effect, according to Andrew Stark, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. It appealed to new immigrants by honoring their heritage; it accommodated Quebec by retaining French as an official language; and it placated the west by diluting French-Canadian influence.

One might have expected Canada’s equivalent of the Tea Party to have brewed in its western provinces. But the most successful Canadian populists today aren’t really anti-migrant or anti-globalism. Quite the opposite, Canadian conservatives have seen free trade and multiculturalism as a weapons to take on the political dominion and cultural elitism of the eastern provinces.

“When the right is leading the cause for immigration and saying to the left, you’re not doing enough to welcome immigrants into the country, it creates a competition to see who can do more,” Russell said. “This, of course, increases the size of the immigrant community and the immigrant vote, which becomes an unignorable political force.” In Canada, multiculturalism isn’t a kumbaya song. It’s hard-nosed politics.

Breaking the Doom Loop

Last year, as I saw right-wing populism sweeping the developing world, I offered a “liberal doom loop” theory to unite several trends in fertility, immigration, racism, and liberalism. In this theory, low fertility and the threat of stagnating populations would encourage some governments to accept more immigrants; this diverse influx of people would make certain groups (particularly white, older, and less educated) afraid of economic and cultural threats posed by other ethnicities; the anxious electorate would back illiberal populist movements to preserve whites’ economic and cultural authority; and these votes would ultimately threaten the liberal welfare state.

What lessons can the Canada example offer other countries? Some of its features defy imitation. The U.S. cannot instantly recreate 200 years of inter-state relations. Its legacy of slavery permanently poisons its relationship with race. White Americans still hold fast to old-fashioned, Westphalian notions that a nation-state ought to signify a sovereign monocultural identity—an idea Canada’s government rejected more than 40 years ago.

But there is a clear lesson worth importing from Canada: When a city or province passes a certain threshold of diversity, pro-immigration politics can become a self-sustaining virtuous cycle. International research on xenophobia has found that whites who don’t know many foreign-born people are more likely to fear their presence, while those who actually know immigrants are much more likely to have positive attitudes toward them. This is true even in the U.S., where, despite Trump’s election, immigration is more popular than any period in the last 30 years. A majority of babies born in the U.S. for the last four years have been non-white. Historic ethnic diversity is not a future the U.S. can choose to accept or reject; it’s the only future on its way. And it’s a world where Republicans might finally choose to imitate Canadian conservatives by looking to steal immigrants’ votes, rather than their children.

The physicist Max Planck once said that a new scientific truth doesn’t triumph through persuasion, but rather through attrition, as “its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” This generation of Canadians has grown up familiar with the idea that immigrants can be liberal or conservative, and now both liberals and conservatives are fighting for immigrants. If American conservatives recognize the political potential of appealing to the foreign-born, the United States will join Canada in the future that may be spreading, albeit fitfully, around the world. “Multinational, multicultural Canada might offer more useful guidance for what lies ahead for the peoples of this planet than the tidy model of the single-nation sovereign state,” Peter Russell writes. “Canada could replace empire and nation-state as the most attractive model in the 21st century.”

Source: Canada’s Secret to Escaping the ‘Liberal Doom Loop’

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: