By Anthony Furey, Postmedia Network
There’s a change happening in the Western political landscape. And the Canadian establishment needs to stop misleading themselves about what it means for this country.
Last month data confirmed what many of us suspected: that Canada is actually ripe for some version of a populist uprising.
An authoritative report by Edelman revealed that “80% of [Canadians] think the elites who run institutions are out of touch with regular people” and “69% say we need to prioritize Canadian interests over the rest of the world.”
This emerging paradigm shift threatens the power of Canada’s political class and they’re doing everything they can to deny it and mock it. Yet their efforts will only backfire because they’re misdiagnosing the problem.
The latest issue of the The Economist observes that “the old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed.” This open vs. closed argument has become a popular talking point. The basic idea is that the establishment is tolerant, cultured and welcoming (open) in contrast to common sentiment that is fearful, ignorant and hateful of the other (closed).
Surface level data initially supports this conclusion. The Edelman report points out 52% of Canadians are concerned about immigration. Other surveys yield similar results. But what no major survey has done is dig deeper to get to the bottom of what specific element of immigration concerns people.
My impression is that immigration in itself isn’t a big issue for most Canadians. What they’re actually troubled by is the plague of moral relativism, even if they don’t use that exact term.
Moral relativism is the philosophy that says all of our values are subjective and always changing. Who are we to believe our perspective is better than someone else’s? Who are we to denounce, say, female genital mutilation? And who are we to speak out against Saudi Arabia joining the United Nations’ human rights council? It’s all relative!
A key piece of evidence that proves this recent sweep of populist sentiment isn’t as closed-minded as the elites would have you believe is the pivot away from multilateralism.
Both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump signalled a rejection of multilateral deal-making. This is the process in which many countries sit together and cobble out a deal that covers all of them.
The UK and US are backing away from this approach. But they’re not backing away into themselves, never to do deals with other countries again. Quite the contrary. They’ll engage in bilateral deal-making – where they deal one-on-one with countries. There’s nothing closed-minded about that at all. And depending on how it’s done it can bring them closer than ever before to the country in question.
Think of it like group assignments in high school. The only people who ever liked them were the slackers, who could get others to do their work and were rarely challenged for their shoddy ideas. Everyone knows it’s better to pick a partner you can work with than be stuck with someone who drags everyone down to the lowest common denominator.
It’s the same with the current conversation we’re having about Canadian values. For the most part, people from all walks of life are just reacting with concern to events like Justin Trudeau’s call to the world that Canada could be the first ever “post-national state” with “no core identity”.
If we deny that we have our own values and then get dragged into some group effort, does it mean other values we don’t necessarily share end up calling the shots for everyone else? This isn’t closed-minded populism. It’s a legitimate problem.
If anything, today’s populism is just a backlash to the one the Liberals rode in on. Trudeau’s razzle-dazzle electoral campaign about using deficit spending to shine sunny ways upon the middle-class certainly fits the definition. The progressive agenda’s been singing a populist tune for years.
This is something the eminent historian John Lukacs railed against in his book Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, published in 2005, long before recent events.
A Cato Journal review sums up Lukacs’ concern as such: “Democrats and Republicans both subscribe to [populism], but with different emphases and tactics. The Democrats are more socialist than nationalist; the Republicans prefer things the other way around. Each party, however, caters to the principle of untrammeled popular sovereignty, bidding for mass public favor with government largesse.”
Yes, for decades the establishment has stayed in power by buying the people off through expanding the state. In the process, big government turned us into small citizens.
The people have decided they don’t like this one bit. Now things are changing and the poor establishment can’t figure out how to adapt.