Douglas Todd: Why populism hasn’t come to (English) Canada. Yet

Eric Kaufmann’s work continues to strike a chord among those with concerns about immigration levels and populism (see for example Margaret Wente’s Can Canada avoid a populist revolt?).

Kaufmann’s explanation of “Canadian exceptionalism” – the English-French divide, a high-percentage of foreign-born, the lack of a Conservative tabloid press (Toronto Sun?), and labelling as racist those who question current immigration levels – tend to leave out some of the early fundamentals that shaped Canada:

  • a culture of accommodation, often imperfect, between English and French Canada, less so with Indigenous peoples, that required recognition and compromise as basic to Canada;
  • a multiculturalism that developed in response to earlier waves of mainly white and Christian immigration;
  • an approach based on integration, as distinct from assimilation, articulated by the 19 Bi & Bi Commission report on the “other groups.”

And if identity has become the “battle front of the 21st century,” does this not reflect in part the fact solutions to economic issues – precarity, inequality – remain elusive.

I also find tiresome the refrain against “cosmopolitan imperialists” and elites. Most of the people engaged in these debates, including Kaufmann, are by definition part of elites in terms of education, income levels, public profiles and the like:

Populism has arisen virtually everywhere in the West, but remains weak in English Canada.

The election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, resistance to high immigration in Australia, mounting European nativism and last year’s Quebec election are strong signs that growing centre-right white populism will be tenacious.

It’s often said that people in the U.S. display “American exceptionalism,” the belief they’re uniquely committed to freedom. But there is also a “Canadian exceptionalism,” a deep belief among English Canadians they are uncommonly tolerant and will make a success of multiculturalism when others will not.

A ground-breaking new book by Vancouver-raised political scientist Eric Kaufmann peels back the layers of Canadian exceptionalism while detailing the increasingly tense decline of white populations in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. It places an extra focus on big cosmopolitan cities in which whites are no longer the majority, such as Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

Even though Whiteshift: Population, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities delves into race, culture and identity in ways some will find uncomfortable, the book has attracted supportive reviews across Britain’s vigorous press. It’s being called “insightful,” “valuable,” ”substantial,” “brilliant,” “extraordinarily deep and wide” and far ahead on the immigration discussion.

Whiteshift is bursting with ideas, which synthesize old theories into something altogether novel. They include Kaufmann’s positive argument that declining white populations in the West, to avoid extreme nationalism, will need to embrace what he calls “whiteshift.”

He defines the term as “the turbulent journey from a world of racially homogeneous white majorities to one of racially hybrid majorities.” In other words, Whiteshift envisions a Western world a century from now of predominantly intermarried people who are beige in colour.

But Kaufmann – who is of mixed Latino, Chinese and Jewish ancestry while regularly viewed as white – is not a one-world globalist dreamer, as many say is the case with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Identity has largely replaced economics as the battle front of the 21st century, Kaufmann says. And he understands how many conservative whites are losing confidence in their identity; leading to “a growing unwillingness to indulge the anti-white ideology of the cultural left.”

The Economist agrees, remarking in its review of Whiteshift that nativism is rising because free-market globalism and high immigration have disrupted Western economies and the “culture is dominated by preening elites who not only think they are cleverer than the average person but also that they are more virtuous.”

It is virtually only in the West, says the professor at the University of London, Birkbeck, that the educated feel it necessary to oppose their own culture and celebrate its decline. Although some consider it radical, Kaufmann makes the point that white majorities are an ethnic group whose conservative members have the same normal attachments to group as minority ethnic groups.

Many white people in Europe, of both the right and welfare-state-supporting left, have started resisting the “cosmopolitan imperialists,” he says. Virtually no European politician has dared use the word “multiculturalism” since the 1990s.

But the term still has traction in Canada, where Vancouver pollster Mario Canseco found this month that 62 per cent of Canadians think multiculturalism has been good for the country, while 33% believe it’s been bad.

Because of Canadian exceptionalism, Kaufmann says, English Canada is perhaps the only place left in the Western world where almost all right-wing politicians fear being accused of racism for suggesting immigration levels decline. That’s despite Canadian polls consistently showing roughly four in 10 Canadians think immigration has been a mostly negative force.

French-speaking Quebeckers don’t adhere to the same prohibitions. They recently elected Premier Francois Legault, who this year reduced his province’s immigration rates by 20 per cent in the name of improving integration. Legault even managed to get public support from Trudeau, who has to go along because he can’t afford to alienate francophone voters.

Four of five voters for Brexit ranked immigration as their top concern.

Why has white popularism not taken hold in English Canada, at least not yet?

There are at least three reasons, and one is the English-French language divide. Kaufmann takes seriously the notion that the Conservative party is hemmed in on immigration.

English Canadians who want to reduce immigration, and thus slow the expansion of Asian and other cultures, would normally hope to be supported by the Conservatives. But the party is incapable of allying with like-minded French populists in Quebec, who instead vote for the Bloc Quebecois and Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec.

A second reason Kaufmann believes most Canadians quietly accept rapid ethnic change, which comes from having a population that is 21 per cent foreign born, is that “Anglo-Canadians share the relatively pro-immigration outlook common to all Anglo settler societies.”

Given this outlook, he said, English Canada, unlike Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Britain, “lacks a conservative tabloid press” ready to poke holes in immigration policy.

Kaufmann finds it significant that the highest-profile critics of immigration and multiculturalism in Canada have been people of colour: Writer Neil Bissoondath, academic Salim Mansur and environmentalist David Suzuki. Their minority status, he said, has made it possible for them to “withstand the charge of racism.”

In a revealing chapter, titled Canadian Exceptionalism: Right-wing Populism in the Anglosphere, Kaufmann zeroes in  the battle over foreign capital fueling the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver, where he grew up after being raised in Hong Kong and Japan.

Kaufmann cites how prominent visible minorities, such as Andy Yan, Albert Lo and Ujjal Dosanjh, were able to fight back against claims made by white real-estate developers and politicians that it is “racist” to say that foreign capital, especially from China, has been exacerbating high housing prices.

The Vancouver example leads Kaufmann to the novel idea that, since the Canadian elite generally supports pro-growth, high-immigration thinking, one of the few ways a populist party could emerge in Canada is “if there were a substantial non-white anti-immigration vote or a minority anti-immigration candidate.”

Since that may not happen, Kaufmann predicts the white population of Canada will be in the minority by 2050. Whereas whites in Montreal will account for about seven in 10 people by that date, the proportion will drop to about three in 10 in Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

It could work out, Kaufmann suggests, particularly if immigration policy is changed. But only if English Canadians avoid the kind of hostilities linked with extreme white nationalism. Peace and prosperity will also require people accept that the definition of white is blurring, to include people of mixed races.

Even though regions in which one ethnic group predominates generally experience more unity than those with highly multi-racial societies (such as in Guyana or Belize), Kaufmann foresees a decent chance much of English Canada could end up somewhat like Canada’s largest city.

He envisions a kind of “Toronto-writ-large” across all of English Canada: “A dynamic, low-cohesion, future-oriented society with an attenuated connection to its British and European past.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Why populism hasn’t come to (English) Canada. Yet

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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