Changing social norms is the key to addressing racism

Good piece by Michael Adams and Keith Neuman:

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in North America last March, it was hard to imagine anything else capturing a large share of public attention in the ensuing months. And then, in May, video footage of the horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police ignited a blaze of protest that spread across the United States and also Canada, a country with its own history of colonialism and racism. The depth of the reflection and conversation – public and private – provoked by the protests was unprecedented. For the first time, many of this country’s leaders unequivocally acknowledged the existence of systemic racism in Canada, and reflected the predominant public sentiment. Our own research shows that a significant majority of Canadians now recognize the reality of racial discrimination in this country, especially as it affects people who are Indigenous and Black.

Such recognition of racism in our society is a significant milestone, long in coming. Doing something about it becomes the next step, and represents an even greater challenge given how deeply such prejudice is embedded in Canada’s dominant culture and institutions. Evidence of its pervasiveness confronts us both in personal anecdotes and in hard data on racial disparities across many areas of society – from policing and health to education and social welfare.

It is commonly believed that the biggest obstacle to meaningful change is our inability to recognize our own racial prejudices. The prevalence of unconscious racism or “implicit bias” has been well documented by American social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt (in her seminal book, Biased) and others. Some have responded by taking steps to make the implicit explicit through education generally, and diversity and anti-racism training in particular. Governments and corporations have invested in programs to teach employees about bias and stereotypes, hoping that raising consciousness will change attitudes, assumptions and behaviour. But the evidence is emerging that this strategy is not effective in producing lasting change, as recently reported in a meta-analysis of close to 1,000 studies of anti-bias interventions.

Efforts to reduce bias through education and training may simply not work because it is impossible to change people’s ingrained mindsets and emotions, at least in the short term. A more promising avenue to consider is the social context in which people operate when they interact with others. Implicit in diversity training is the idea that racism is fuelled mainly by what people know and think, but what matters more is what people say and how they behave in the presence of others. Outward expressions of racism are governed in large part by collective social norms about acceptable behaviour. The term “norms” sometimes gets mentioned in the context of problematic content on social media, but what has yet to receive any serious attention is the concept of “social norms” as a fundamental aspect of society that contributes to the systemic nature of racism and where we might focus to address the problem.

Social norms are widely held expectations about what is, and is not, acceptable to say and do in particular situations. What is distinctive about such norms is that they are not defined by what people think is important to them personally, but by what they see as the social expectations of others whose opinions matter to them. As such, norms exert a powerful influence on how people act in public and social situations, quite apart from what they may think or feel inside.

These norms are typically well entrenched, but do change over time. The Holocaust led many people to decide it was no longer acceptable to articulate anti-Jewish stereotypes. The growing awareness of LGBTQ individuals in society and the legislative endorsement of same-sex marriage both improved attitudes and also made it no longer socially acceptable to trade in homophobic slurs. Many people may still harbour negative views about Jews and LGBTQ people, but most now understand it is no longer okay to express them.

Sometimes social norms change as a result of intentional efforts. Arguably the most striking example is the successful campaign to change norms around tobacco use in public. Just over a generation ago, smoking in public was common, even cool. Today, the behaviour has become effectively “denormalized” as inconsiderate and self-defeating, even as a significant proportion of the population continues to smoke in private. Regulatory measures that restrict smoking in public settings are also important, but it is the norms more than the laws that govern behaviour. By contrast, consider jaywalking, which is also legally forbidden but widely socially accepted.

Social norms play a key role in the dynamics of racism and prejudice because they establish the boundaries around which people act toward those they see as “other.” While internal attitudes and stereotypes are stubbornly resistant to short-term change, action and speech are more amenable to influence and normative pressures. This means that focusing on social norms can be an effective strategy for addressing racism in a meaningful way – especially if the collective norms against intolerance and discrimination are strengthening, which now appears to be happening. Evidence for this can be found in the recent public condemnation of wearing “blackface” in costume, which in a different era was considered by many to be harmless party attire.

There is nothing new about the concept of social norms, which social scientists have studied in academic settings and applied to public health challenges in developing countries. What has been missing is the practical application of this science to important societal problems such as racism, as well as other pressing challenges such as promoting physical distancing during a pandemic. The essential starting point is to first properly define and measure specific social norms about race-related actions and speech in order to determine their breadth and strength across the population (a type of research our institute now plans to undertake). Such information can then point to where interventions might be directed – to reinforce “positive norms” that are currently prevalent in society (no wearing of blackface) and de-normalizing “negative norms” (e.g., telling jokes that demean the “other”). This might take the form of public awareness campaigns (as was done to de-normalize public smoking) or employee-directed programs. Government and corporate leaders might be effective communicators of appropriate normative behaviour, to the extent they are credible and can exert influence over relevant audiences (which research might confirm).

Today in Canada, our understanding of the current reality of racial injustice is at odds with our stated aspirations of justice and inclusion. This tension provides us with a valuable opportunity to create a more just society by developing new strategies that effectively apply normative pressures on each other to do a better job of treating each other as we ourselves expect to be treated.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-changing-social-norms-is-the-key-to-addressing-racism/

Yes Canada, we too have an anti-Black racism problem

Good reminder of the insights from the Black Experience Project:

The anguish and confrontations spreading across the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer have captured the attention of news audiences in that country and around the world. We are transfixed by images of shocking police brutality and the widespread community resistance they have inspired.

But Canadians should challenge themselves to look past the deeply disturbing American news clips and reflect on the situation here at home, including the recent death in Toronto of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29 year-old Black woman. If we do, we will learn there is no room for complacency in this country.

When we look in the mirror, we see a society in which Black people are regularly treated unfairly because of their race. The Black Experience Project, which focused on the Greater Toronto Area, found that two-thirds of the region’s Black residents report being treated unfairly on a continuing basis. The forms that this treatment takes are specific, varied and tragic.

Three in five young Black men say they are frequently or occasionally accused of something or treated suspiciously because of their race, and a similar proportion report being observed or followed while in public places. Three in four say that others frequently or occasionally are afraid of them or intimidated because of their race.

In the case of young Black women, more than 60 per cent say that others frequently or occasionally expect their work to be inferior because of their race, and that they are treated rudely or disrespectfully because of the colour of their skin.

When it comes to dealings with police – the focal point for the current wave of protests – things only get worse. One in two Black Torontonians and a staggering 80 per cent of Black men between the ages of 25 and 44 report that they have been stopped in a public place by the police. Two in five Black Torontonians and two in three Black men between 25 and 44 say they have been harassed or treated rudely by police.

In short, this unique survey research shows that Black youth in Canada’s largest city are growing up being observed, questioned, dismissed and belittled by their fellow citizens because of their race, and are routinely harassed by the very public institution that we should turn to for protection.

Yes Canada – we, too, have an anti-Black racism problem.

Racism doesn’t stop there. The recent Race Relations in Canada Survey found that Indigenous peoples in Canada are just as likely as Black people to experience unfair treatment because of their race. South Asian and Chinese Canadians also experience racism; fewer than one in five say this never happens to them.

If there is any good news to hold onto in these bleak times, it is that, on the whole, Canadians are not in denial about this reality. Three-quarters of white Canadians recognize that Black people in this country are either frequently or occasionally the subject of discrimination in Canadian society. Just a handful (3 per cent) said this never happens.

Yet this general recognition of the problem carries us only so far. Three in 10 non-Indigenous Canadians disagree with the statement that it is easy to understand the anger of Indigenous peoples, as do 39 per cent of non-Black people in the case of the anger of Black Canadians. Somehow, a significant number of Canadians seem to expect that people who experience racism should not get too upset about it.

That ship has sailed.

Will things change for the better? The survey research provides some grounds for optimism. Canadians from all racial groups are more likely to say that race relations in this country are getting better as opposed to getting worse. And, crucially, personal connections among racial groups in Canada are growing.

The majority of Canadians not only have regular contact with people from other races, but contact that is overwhelming described as friendly. These friendships can only deepen our understanding of each other’s experiences.

Most strikingly, six in 10 Canadians are optimistic there will be racial equality in Canada in their lifetime; just one in four are pessimistic. Pessimism, at 30 per cent, is higher for Black Canadians, but is not the majority view. When we ask non-white Canadians whether the next generation will experience more racism than today or less, they are much more likely to anticipate that racism will diminish.

These results were collected before George Floyd was killed. The optimism that shone a few months ago may well have diminished in recent days. It will not be rekindled by congratulating ourselves for doing better than our American cousins. The determination to do better needs to be reborn and sustained by our own actions to confront and eliminate racism in Canada, not just by institutions and authorities such as the police, but by each and every one of us.

Source: Yes Canada, we too have an anti-Black racism problem: Michael Adams and Marva Wisdom

Adams and Parkin: The coronavirus pandemic will not dent the trust Canadians have in each other

Of note. To be tested but does seem like the trust factor remains, both for individuals and organizations:

In just a few days, we went from wondering how COVID-19 would affect us to finding ourselves in the midst of a national emergency. Many expect major disruptions to expose the weak patches in our civic fabric, and there have been, and will continue to be, actions and episodes that have disappointed and shocked. Some people have hoarded and even resold supplies for a quick profit; some have refused to follow public-health directives; some have tried to collect payments from those thrown out of work.

Many Canadians have no doubt also seen a cascade of headlines in recent years announcing the decline of trust in Western societies. We have been told that “2019 had the ‘highest level of democratic discontent’ since detailed global recording began in 1995,” that the quality of democracy is declining, while “growing political polarization has made the day-to-day work of governance … more difficult,” and that a “majority worldwide say their society is broken,” to cite just a few examples.

Compounded together as this pandemic accelerates, these concerns have left Canadians wondering whether we have the cultural and institutional resilience to respond effectively. Do we trust each other, our institutions and our leadership to work together to defeat this virus?

Leaving aside the question of whether these reports accurately capture trends unfolding elsewhere, it would be a mistake to assume that they are reliable guides to trends in Canada. Our surveys have found that we remain one of the most trusting societies in the world when it comes to our institutions and values – and so, most Canadians will surely react to this crisis exactly as good neighbours, co-workers and citizens should.

Support for Canada’s democracy is high and has been slowly rising over the past decade, from 70 per cent in 2010 to 76 per cent in 2019. Satisfaction with public services such as health care also currently sits at 75 per cent, which is higher than the average among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The country has become less, not more, polarized; opinions among those on the left and right of the political spectrum (79 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively) have been converging in their satisfaction with our democracy.

Xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment has weakened, as suggested by our October, 2019, survey that found 50 per cent of Canadians felt “too many immigrants do not adopt Canadian values,” the lowest proportion expressing this view since Environics began asking the question in 1993 (when 72 per cent voiced such concerns).

And even in the midst of heated disputes on energy and climate policies and other issues, two-thirds of Canadians told us they have a great deal or some confidence in our ability to resolve our internal differences, reflecting a majority view in all 13 provinces and territories.

If attitudes to our political system seem a bit abstract, consider these more concrete findings from a study of social capital we conducted in Toronto in 2018. At that time, most residents of Canada’s biggest city agreed that people in their neighbourhood can be trusted and that people in their community are willing to help their neighbours. Nine in 10 said people working together as a group could make a difference in solving problems in their community. And most expressed high levels of trust, not only in members of their own family, but also in the people they work or go to school with.

Perhaps most remarkably, a comparison to earlier research shows no erosion in these measures of social capital over the past decade, even after the arrival of more than one million newcomers from around the world. They have quickly become our trusted neighbours, too.

Having a trusting society does not mean having an uncritical one, either. Where once we nearly automatically deferred to political, business and religious elites, Canadians now greet election promises and corporate advertising with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is not a sign that society is broken – rather, it shows that it has matured.

To suggest that trust is declining in Canada not only ignores the available research, but risks counterproductively sowing doubt in our own minds about our institutions, our capacity for responsible leadership, our will for collective action and our instinct for mutual support.

Of course, trust alone cannot protect us from COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging that we have a reservoir of trust to draw on as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances together. The wait for a vaccine may be long, but an extra dose of hope, courtesy of our fellow Canadians, will not hurt.

Source: The coronavirus pandemic will not dent the trust Canadians have in each other Michael Adams and Andrew Parkin

The shifting lens through which Canadians see the Wet’suwet’en crisis

Interesting analysis by Michael Adams and Andrew Parkin:

Canadians have lived through many confrontations over Indigenous rights and resource development, but few have had such high stakes as the one that erupted last month and is still unfolding, with a proposed deal newly announced after weeks of rail blockades across the country as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have protested the Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through their territory in British Columbia. Hanging in the balance, depending on one’s perspective, are not only the rights of particular First Nations but the coastal environment, the livelihoods of people travelling or shipping by rail, Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner, the survival of the federal minority government and the future of reconciliation itself.

Also at stake are the hearts and minds of the Canadian public. Some worry that the prolonged blockades of roads and railways has put public buy-in to the reconciliation agenda at risk — and with good reason. A look back at survey data from 1990 shows that the Oka crisis did erode public support for Indigenous land claims. While few Canadians approved of how the federal and provincial governments handled the crisis, there was little sympathy for the Mohawk barricaders, either. Tellingly, the only actor in the Oka dispute whom the public did support was the army. Two-thirds of Canadians backed the decision to call the army in to deal with the situation.

But Canada is a very different country than it was 30 years ago. Using excessive force to bring down the barricades would likely have been seen by many Canadians as a strategy that is three decades out of date. It would also have set back the clock on years of slow but steady bridge-building.

One big change in the public’s mindset is the emergence of climate change as a major concern. At their heart, both the Oka crisis of 1990 and the current conflict are about Indigenous control over Indigenous lands. But the current conflict can also be framed as being about whether the need to move fossil fuels to market should continue to trump all other concerns. It comes at a time when more Canadians name climate change than name the economy as the most important issue facing the country. The interweaving of Indigenous self-determination with the fight against climate change has shifted the lens through which the public is gauging the federal government’s reaction to the crisis — and, as a result, has affected the government’s room to manoeuvre.

A second change has to do with the bumpy journey toward reconciliation. As distant as the end point of this journey may seem, it would be a mistake to think that the past several decades of public discussion has left Canadians no better informed than before. In fact, most Canadians now recognize the wrongs that Indigenous peoples have faced and support actions to redress those wrongs.

For instance, most Canadians believe that Indigenous peoples experience discrimination in our society and are disadvantaged in their standard of living. And overwhelming majorities support policies such as equalizing funding for Indigenous education and spending more to improve the quality of housing and drinking water in Indigenous communities.

More important, two in three Canadians believe that individuals like themselves have a role to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation. This points to a recognition that reconciliation is not just about what governments do; it is also about broadening understanding and promoting dialogue more widely across society.

Generational change will likely keep the momentum for reconciliation going. Almost two-thirds of non-Indigenous youth in Canada now have an awareness of the history of Indian residential schools. And young Canadians want to know more: over 80 percent agree that everyone will benefit from looking more closely at Indigenous perspectives on community, land and culture, and almost 90 percent agree that it is important to understand the true history of how Indigenous peoples have been treated by governments and society in this country.

None of this is to suggest that the public can be counted on to support those who disrupt the country’s transportation networks. There remains a gap between the public’s strong desire to see improvements in the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and its uncertainty about the nature and extent of Indigenous rights and what these mean in practice for resource development. And if the lines between peaceful protest, civil disobedience and resistance get more blurred, most may once again side in the short term with those entrusted to reimpose order.

But Canada has moved on from where it was in 1990 — before reconciliation entered the public’s lexicon. Canadians don’t just want things to get back to normal, they want things to get better. That is why the onus is on Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders alike to find a way out of this crisis that differs from what was done in the past.

Source: The shifting lens through which Canadians see the Wet’suwet’en crisis

Adams and Parkin: In Canada, education excellence is also about equity

More on education, equality and integration, and the overall strong Canadian reality:

Functional families celebrate their members’ achievements, be they graduations from school, promotions at work, or personal bests in weekend pursuits. The Canadian federal family is going through another dysfunctional phase, so it is no surprise that its achievements in education, documented last month by the OECD, went largely unnoticed. That’s too bad. We missed a chance not only to pat ourselves on the back, but to reflect on what it is that holds our family together.

Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a worldwide test of 15-year old students in reading, mathematics and science. This year, out of 36 OECD countries and 79 jurisdictions around the world, Canada finished third. Canadian students do a little better in science and reading than they do in math. But Canada was one of only five OECD countries that finished in the top five in two of the three subjects, and one of only four that finished in the top 10 in all three subjects. Only Estonia and Korea can boast that they did better.

Looking across all the jurisdictions that participated – including not only OECD countries but Asian megacities such as Singapore and Hong Kong – Canada stands out as the second-best Western country after Estonia, the top performing federation, and the top performing country where many students write the tests in their second (or third) language.

In a world where education underpins both individual and collective success, this strong showing is reassuring. But it should also serve as a reminder of some of the things that make this country tick.

One of these is how we share the country’s wealth. Three types of redistribution matter: between individuals, between neighbourhoods, and between provinces. Canada’s system of progressive taxation, and income supports like the Canada Child Benefit, mean that more children go to school ready to learn. Our strong provincial governments have the ability to move funding to where it is needed most, so that it matters less which side of the tracks your local school is located on. And equalization means that there is an evenness to the quality of public education provided across the country.

The net result of this redistribution is that Canada’s education systems are among the most equitable in the world. Countries like Germany and the United States are world leaders when it comes to their most affluent students but trail when it comes to their most disadvantaged. Canada, by contrast, performs well across the board.

Countries like Germany and the United States are world leaders when it comes to their most affluent students but trail when it comes to their most disadvantaged. Canada, by contrast, performs well across the board.

Canada’s other forté is its ability to bring significant numbers of students with immigrant backgrounds into its schools and ensure they succeed. More than one-third of Canada’s 15-year-old students are first- or second-generation immigrants. But while some countries struggle to ensure their immigrant students can keep up, Canada’s immigrant students propel us forward. In fact, in no other OECD country do second generation immigrant students score as high in reading as they do in Canada. No other OECD country does as good a job as Canada does at combining a high proportion of immigrant students with high achievement for those students.

Certainly, there is still room for improvement. Canada’s PISA scores have edged downward over time – a trend that needs to be addressed and reversed. While PISA does not report on the situation of Indigenous students, we know that this remains one area where our education systems are letting children down. Schools in Canada, as elsewhere, face the challenge of balancing the learning opportunities afforded by new communications technologies with the risks that they bring to students’ focus, civility and safety.

But overall, if PISA is a mirror held up to the societies that participate, the reflection that Canadians should see is that of a country offering an almost unparalleled combination of excellence and equity. That we have achieved this in our unique Canadian way – by combining decentralized governance, support for redistribution, and openness to others from around the world – should only serve to liven up our celebration.

Source: Adams and Parkin: In Canada, education excellence is also about equity

Adams and Parkin: Voters need to be suspicious of all the magical promises from politicians

Indeed:

Voters have changed. Deference to authority has diminished: People no longer respect political leaders’ ideas and judgment simply because of their status. Party loyalty, once an intergenerational commitment for many families, has waned. Increasingly, people shop around for appealing platforms and telegenic leaders, changing parties from election to election.

Little wonder, then, that politicians sometimes seem almost intimidated by these fickle voters. Almost no seat is truly safe; no segment of the electorate can be taken for granted. Each voter must be carefully wooed with tailored promises and inoffensive messages. This courting may be eminently democratic but there is a downside: Politicians have become even more shy about telling voters the hard truths they’d rather not hear.

Fewer than one-in-five Canadians favour a government that’s smaller and offers fewer services. So it’s not surprising that election campaigns focus on how to expand services such as child care, health care and pharmacare.

Meanwhile, many Canadians express concerns about the cost of living. A growing proportion say they’re dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing in their community, for instance. And so voters – especially those in the coveted and ill-defined “middle class” – are offered new tax credits to help them keep up with expenses.

More services and lower taxes. If you think this sounds too good to be true, you’re out of step with most Canadian voters, who seem to see no contradiction.

Our society has changed a lot since Jean Chrétien won re-election, even after breaking his 1993 promise to axe the hated goods and services tax. He kept the tax, brought the budget back to balance and remained prime minister. But since Stephen Harper reduced the GST to 5 per cent from 7 per cent after his victory in 2006, no politician has dared suggest it be restored to the previous level to pay for all the services and programs that people want.

Similarly, faced with the squeeze of public finances in the wake of the economic downturn in Alberta, the new premier of that province is more comfortable pointing the finger at Quebec than entertaining the prospect of a provincial sales tax at home.

Even in the face of what we are now rightly calling a climate emergency, the main leaders vying for the keys to 24 Sussex are promising all gain with no pain.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax comes with a promise to send out rebate cheques that will ensure most Canadians are no worse off. The Conservatives think even that is too risky. They would prefer to find ways to sell green technology to developing countries, so Canadians can actually profit from the hard work of global emissions reduction.

Either or both of these might be workable policies. Yet, it is still remarkable that in an election taking place in 2019, political parties feel compelled to reassure voters that they can save the planet at no net cost to people like themselves.

Politics have always involved a little magical thinking, with politicians using spending to attract new voters before the election, and only sheepishly getting around to dealing with the inevitable costs later on. Very often, the buy-now-pay-later approach is premised on the assumption that current levels of growth and tax revenues will continue into the foreseeable future.

“Elect me and I’ll make sure we’re well braced for an inevitable downturn,” a candidate might say, but this tends not to do well in focus groups as a campaign slogan. With deficit financing back in fashion, a more freewheeling approach to politics is easier than ever – at least until interest rates balloon debt servicing costs and bring us back to the budget shocks of the mid-1990s.

If there is any real difference between today and past eras of political overpromise, it’s perhaps the absence of a traditional left-right schism between the two main parties that can conceivably form government after this Oct. 21 election.

Voters are being asked to parse the different redistributive effects of competing tax credits, the different scale of investments in public services and the different timelines for returning the budget to balance. This leaves the economists with lots to argue about.

The average voter, however, is left feeling both flattered with all the attention, and a little suspicious. As the two most powerful parties promise that Canadians can have it all, without sacrifice, surely some voters have a sneaking feeling there’s something important they’re not being told.

Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

Good counterpoint to some of the narratives circulating:

While views on the economy are mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive.

There are few certainties heading into an election campaign; the outcome is up for grabs. The one thing many do feel certain of is that it is Canada’s turn to be buffeted by the winds of populism. As we prepare to cast our votes, we are feeling increasingly left behind economically, are becoming less welcoming of immigrants, and are losing confidence in our democracy.

The problem with this narrative is that it is, on the whole, not true. Consider how Canadians view their democracy. Three in four are currently satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, a figure slightly higher than earlier in the decade. Seven in 10 say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries. While confidence in elections has declined by 22 points since 2009 in the U.S., falling to 37 per cent, it has been holding steady in Canada.

When it comes to immigration, the trend is even more clear. While 35 per cent of Canadians say there are too many immigrants coming to Canada, far more – almost three in five – disagree. Most importantly, the proportion agreeing that there is too much immigration is close to the lowest figure ever. Twice as many felt that way 25 years ago.

Seven in 10 Canadians say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries.

It is no doubt true that many Canadians prefer highly skilled immigrants over refugees walking over the border, and that some worry about whether new immigrants are integrating quickly enough into the Canadian mainstream. But the proportion holding these views has been trending downwards over time. At no time in the past 25 years have fewer Canadians felt that too many refugees are not legitimate, or that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Earlier this year, a Gallup survey showed that immigration was the number one issue on the minds of our neighbours to the south.  At the same time, our Focus Canada survey showed that only three per cent of Canadians cited immigration as the biggest problem facing the country.

On the economy, the picture is more nuanced. Overall, Canadians are becoming more positive, with steady increases in the proportions saying that both the country’s economic situation and their own personal one is in good shape. The proportion saying that now is a good time to find a job is higher today than at any point since the recession hit in 2008.

The pattern, however, differs across the country, with dramatic improvements in Quebec’s economic outlook masking growing concerns in Alberta. And a generally more positive take on the economy is also combined with a weakening in satisfaction with our standard of living, particularly among younger Canadians (although satisfaction still remains high). The proportion of younger Canadians dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing has doubled since the beginning of the decade.

While the messages on the economy are more mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive. This is hardly an excuse to paper over other problems, for problems are it not hard to find. A growing number of Canadians are worried about climate change, and large majorities support action on reconciliation, including finally ensuring Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water, adequate housing and quality education.

The purpose of questioning the narrative that Canada is getting sucked into the populist sinkhole is not to deflect attention from such issues, but precisely the opposite. It will be easier to devote the necessary energy to tackling the problems that we face if we remind ourselves of our strengths as a society and the civic resources we have at our disposal.

An election is the time for citizens, parties and leaders to set their sights on challenges, old and new.  We should be approaching this election more with confidence in ourselves as a civic society than with trepidation that we are losing faith in our democracy.

Source: Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

The authoritarian reflex: Will it manifest in Canada? Adams

More insights on populism and authoritarianism, comparing USA and Canada, from Michael Adams and his collaborators:

A wave of authoritarian populism has been evident in Europe, Britain and the United States over the past few decades. Many Canadians are wondering how these energies might manifest in their own country’s upcoming federal election.

Social scientists have observed that some people, when made insecure by extreme complexity and uncertainty, respond with an insistence on order and conformity. Researchers call this the “authoritarian reflex,” a reaction characterized by increased rejection of and hostility toward “the other,” be they “deviants” from within or foreigners from without. Different societies manifest the authoritarian reflex to different degrees.

Canada is not immune to the forces at work in other societies. But our history, institutions and public policies are distinct – and it would be a mistake to assume any authoritarian reflex here will be the same as in the United States or elsewhere. Our survey conducted recently in the U.S. and Canada shows remarkable differences between the two countries – not so much in the prevalence of authoritarian sentiments as in the presence of countervailing anti-authoritarian beliefs and values.

In both Canada and the U.S., for example, about a third of the population expresses conformist sentiments such as the belief that obedience and discipline are keys to the good life. But more Canadians embrace open, flexible sensibilities that may serve as a check on the political expression of authoritarian impulses.

For example, Canadians are considerably more likely to agree that atheists can be just as virtuous as those who attend church regularly, and that gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as others. In other words, Canadians are more inclined to believe that people outside of traditionally normative groups (religious believers, heterosexuals) are truly equal – that “they” are really part of “us,” or that “those people” count as “the people,” too.

People in democratic countries used to be divided politically based on religious and ethnic identity (in Canada, Catholic/Protestant and French/English), and subsequently by economic class (as urban/industrial interests contended with rural/agrarian interests). Big-tent liberal, conservative and socialist parties represented these groups in legislatures.

But in recent decades, values and identity have become more salient, with issues such as same-sex marriage and environmentalism joining economic interests as key factors shaping voters’ allegiances. Status anxiety is also a growing presence. Those who feel stripped of privilege by social change are gravitating to parties that channel their resentments against groups such as women, immigrants and sexual minorities that are, from their perspective, taking over.

Some of these new drivers of political affiliation are fed by authoritarian tendencies. For example, while some who object to gay rights have specific and deeply considered theological objections, others simply long for a return to “normal” or a “simpler” social order. Where are order-seeking voters with such sentiments concentrating in Canada? Our data indicate they’re migrating to the Conservative Party.

While seven in 10 NDP and Liberal supporters think homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy traditional family values, only a quarter of Conservative supporters agree. Similarly, while around six in 10 NDP and Liberal backers think it is wonderful that young people have the freedom to protest against things they don’t like, only a quarter of Conservatives relish this youthful defiance.

Conservative supporters are more likely to agree with statements strongly hostile to immigration. For example, 50 per cent of Conservatives strongly or somewhat agree that “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.” Fewer than a third of New Democrats (31 per cent) and Liberal supporters (24 per cent) share this belief. This relative concentration of xenophobic sentiment in one party is a new phenomenon in Canada. Twenty years ago, more anti-immigrant sentiment existed in society over all, but it was evenly divided across all three major parties.

Today, a minority of Canadians are wary of social change in general and immigration in particular. Currently, most of these voters are parked with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. To be clear: Conservatives are not necessarily xenophobic, but Canadians who are xenophobic have been gravitating to the Conservative Party.

In a recent speech, Mr. Scheer forcefully denounced bigotry, saying to voters seeking channels for such sentiments, “There’s the door.” Mr. Scheer seems to calculate that his prospects are better if he opens the door to right-ish Liberals and immigrants disappointed with Justin Trudeau than if he tries to coax back hard-right, anti-immigration Conservatives who have decamped to the People’s Party, whose leader, Maxime Bernier, has claimed to be a defender of “Western civilization values.”

Will moderate Conservatives and disappointed Liberals be attracted to Mr. Scheer’s vision of a right-of-centre party that eschews xenophobia? How many protest votes will coalesce around Mr. Bernier? In this October’s federal election, Canadians will find out whether the authoritarian reflex will manifest in national politics here as it has in other countries and, if it does, whether it will be a passing spasm or a more significant seizure.

Source: The authoritarian reflex: Will it manifest in Canada? Michael Adams, Ron Inglehart and David Jamieson

Canadian public’s opinion of US at unprecedented low: Adams

Not surprising but revealing:

It’s rare for pollsters to be able to use the word “unprecedented” to describe survey results unless they’re releasing their first poll – or giving in to the temptation to use hyperbole to get attention. But a recent Environics Institute survey has indeed revealed some unprecedented results. We’ve been fielding our Focus Canada tracking survey since November 1976, and one of the trends we’ve kept an eye on for much of that time has been Canadian attitudes toward America and its president. We first measured these attitudes after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

When our measurements began, a substantial majority of Canadians – more than 7 in 10 – admired our southern neighbour. This feeling reached its apex in 1983, when 83 percent of Canadians expressed admiration for America. Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) admired President Reagan.

Notably, admiration for the country at large cut across party lines. In the 1983 Focus Canada survey, Conservatives felt the most positive (87 percent), but solid majorities of Liberals (82 percent) and New Democrats (71 percent) also admired the US. America in 1983 gave the world “Billie Jean” and TheReturn of the Jedi. It also declared a national holiday to recognize the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, just 37 percent of Canadians admire the United States (figure 1). Not coincidentally, only 13 percent of us approve of President Donald Trump (figure 2). These are lows we’ve never seen before. (Unfortunately, we don’t have polling going back to the War of 1812; the proportions admiring the US and its leaders might have been lower then.)

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https://e.infogram.com/9c20f3d7-13f8-44df-be9d-e525e4452c41?src=embed#async_embed

Historian Jack Granatstein has often argued that anti-Americanism is bred in the bone of people north of the 49th parallel. If so, the intensity of that sentiment has waxed and waned. It certainly softened in the period starting with the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt and running through that of John F. Kennedy. Canadians admired FDR’s leadership during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Feelings of loyalty and solidarity remained strong through the Cold War.

For many of us baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1966), John F. Kennedy represented a far more dashing figure than the dour John Diefenbaker, our prime minister in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kennedy and his brother Bobby seemed to embody the vitality and idealism of America while Diefenbaker was the lumbering avatar of our relatively drab dominion.

In this exceptional period, America was much more than the leader of the free world. It offered many of the things average Canadians aspired to (partly because they’d been told to aspire to them by American advertisers): a house in the suburbs, a new car every few years, modern appliances, a martini after a hard day’s work. When Americans moved on to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, Canadians wanted those things, too. America’s status as the materialistic and hedonistic capital of the world is durable; millions of would-be migrants around the globe still long for a piece of the rags-to-riches, log-cabin-to-the-White-House American Dream.

America has given us a lot since “Billie Jean.” Its cultural and technology leaders continue to shape our worlds. We snap up Apple products, binge on Netflix and use “Uber” as a verb for getting from A to B. But even with our admiration for things American and our dependence on America’s power and its huge market for our exports, Canadians’ attitudes toward the country indicate that they are troubled by the face their neighbours are now showing to the world.

The US president with his bullyish style and America-first policies is one factor. The nightmarish mixing of guns and bigotry (Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh) is another. (Canada has had its own recent hate-fuelled mass murders with the Quebec City mosque shooting and the Toronto van attack.) Some Canadians would still like to see their country be more, not less, like the United States. Some might even argue that gun violence, inequality vastly greater than our own and other obvious negatives are simply the price of a society that is on the whole richer, freer and more dynamic. But a majority of Canadians seem to feel that America’s advertisements for itself are not what they used to be.

Source: Canadian public’s opinion of US at unprecedented low

Ahead of a federal election, what road will Conservatives take on immigration?

The latest by Michael Adams. See my earlier take on Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel on her positioning (Conservative immigration critique of the levels plan):

On the surface, the contrast between Canada and the United States on immigration is sharp. U.S. President Donald Trump was recently warning of an “invasion” by a group of migrants crossing Mexico on foot, even going so far as to send troops to the border in a theatrical flourish just ahead of the mid-term elections.

Around the same time, Canada’s Prime Minister was apologizing for this country’s refusal to accept the 907 German Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis who sought safety in Canada in 1939. Justin Trudeau drew parallels to our own time – noting refugees are still on the move around the globe and the resurgent anti-Semitism evidenced by the recent mass shooting in Pittsburgh.

But despite the Prime Minister’s humanitarian gestures – and the fact that the Immigration Minister is touring the country making the case for higher immigration levels and a compassionate asylum policy – there is certainly an appetite in Canada for a thicker border and a more hard-line approach to immigrants and refugees. Responding to that appetite is something politicians who wish to court those voters will need to do carefully.

There was a time when those who question the fundamentals of Canada’s approach to immigration, multiculturalism and refugees were spread across all political parties. Over the past 20 years, research indicates that this constituency has become concentrated in the Conservative Party. These voters are not the majority of the Conservative Party, but they’ve been gravitating in that direction for a number of years.

For most of his time in government, former prime minster Stephen Harper resisted the temptation to court xenophobic feeling on the political right; instead, he built a Conservative majority in part by courting the newcomers and settled immigrant communities in Canadian suburbs. He also cultivated an increasingly diverse caucus and cabinet. In 2015, a pivot to more xenophobic messaging, including the introduction of the “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line promoted by ministers Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander, proved the wisdom of his earlier approach: The divisive gambit backfired and helped fuel a Liberal majority.

As the Conservatives prepare for the next federal election, they are in a tight spot. They can’t win government – and certainly not a majority – without appealing to new Canadians who are the key to winning ridings in the suburbs of large Canadian cities. At the same time, they need to appear in touch with voters who are having second thoughts about Canada’s current policies and practices on immigration, refugees and multiculturalism. Our data indicate that Canadians who are most likely to question the status quo on migration-related issues are concentrated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where Conservatives rely on racking up plenty of seats. Attracting these two groups simultaneously will be a tricky task.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer will probably remember the lessons of 2015 – but he’ll also feel Maxime Bernier breathing down his neck. The platform of Mr. Bernier’s breakaway People’s Party proposes immigration levels substantially lower than those currently in place and opposes the use of immigration “as a tool to forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” Virtually every vote Mr. Bernier wins with these policy ideas will be a vote that’s siphoned away from Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives – a threat that is especially acute in the Quebec City area and in rural Quebec, where the CAQ did so well in the recent provincial election.

Many commentators have wondered whether the blatant racism and xenophobia advanced by far-right candidates in Europe and now the United States will take hold in Canada, where no major political party in recent decades has adopted strongly anti-immigrant policies or rhetoric. Could it happen here?

With the emergence of Mr. Bernier’s party and the success of the CAQ, some variation is here today. The question is whether Canada’s case of xenophobic populism will be a mild one that inoculates us against a more virulent strain, or whether it will take hold and change the norms of our political culture in a deeper way.

To some extent, this will be up to Mr. Scheer himself: Will he compete with Mr. Bernier for anti-immigration votes and expand the issue’s place in our political discourse? Or will he follow the model of the early Harper years, when the Conservatives used pocketbook issues and selected socially conservative messages to connect with new Canadians?

His answer will affect his party’s fortunes – and likely have a powerful effect on Canadian political culture for years to come.

Source: Ahead of a federal election, what road will Conservatives take on immigration?: Michael Adams