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Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders. RANDY QUAN FOR THE GlOBE AND MAIL (Randy Quan/Randy Quan/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders. RANDY QUAN FOR THE GlOBE AND MAIL (Randy Quan/Randy Quan/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

DOUG SAUNDERS

How Americans came to believe in 'Canadian values' Add to ...

You might think that the Yanks had been hosed down with maple syrup and issued ceremonial tuques. Almost overnight, majorities in the United States have shifted to acceptance of gay marriage, tolerance of legal pot (in many states) and amnesties for illegal immigrants, while voting for liberal Democrats in traditionally right-wing states. They seem to be on a crash program to mass-Canadianize themselves.

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And to look at the current face of Canada – where a very conservative government holds a majority, drug laws have toughened, prison populations are expanding and values surveys show a measurable shift toward self-sufficient individualism – you might think that Canucks had hoisted a few tallboys of Coors and joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Are Canadians and Americans converging? Not quite – but not far off. The two peoples remain very different in many core beliefs. But there has been a dramatic change over the past few years, one that has brought many Americans closer to the moral comfort zone north of the border. Canadians have shifted too, though less dramatically.

That’s the conclusion of a new large-scale survey, to be released Monday, that examines the beliefs, values and personal priorities of people living in Canada and the United States. It’s the latest big analysis from Canada’s Michael Adams (of Environics) and his U.S. counterpart Celinda Lake (of Lake Research Partners), who have been conducting detailed interviews with thousands of Americans and Canadians about their beliefs since 1992.

A decade ago, when Mr. Adams conducted his last big comparison (published as the bestseller Fire and Ice), it seemed that the two countries were moving apart.

“I anticipated that America, even if it elected a Democratic president in 2008, would continue along its trajectory toward greater emphasis on duty, order, authority, and traditional social mores,” he says in a forthcoming report. “I anticipated that Canada, even having elected a Conservative government, would continue along its trajectory toward tolerant, exploratory postmaterialism.”

He was half right. “Canada has unfolded as predicted,” he says, while noting that there has been a slight shift toward greater individualism and self-sufficiency. But America “has surprised me, and many of its own citizens.”

America, he writes, is “now moving away from some of the shifts toward authority and order that characterized the first 10 years of the 21st century.” The change in American thinking over the past few years has been likened by many observers to the shift after the 1960s, when equality of women and racial minorities moved from a fringe to a majority view. Something similar is happening now, and while it’s partly caused by the dying-off of older generations, a large part of it is simply the changing of minds. Almost 30 per cent of Americans who support same-sex marriage started out opposing it. And diversity is increasingly seen “as an admirable capability, not a betrayal of one’s heritage or identity group.”

There remain profound differences in values, but they’re narrowing – and it’s the Americans who are closing the gap. In 2000, half of Americans agreed with the statement, “The father must be master in his own house” – surely an important indicator of core beliefs about equality, power and tradition. Only 18 per cent of Canadians believed the same, and the most conservative province, Alberta, still expressed less support for it than the most liberal state, Vermont. But between 2004 and 2012, the number of Americans supporting that view plummeted to four in 10, while in Canada, it remained about the same.

Canada is also divided – but the divide is nowhere near even. “Whereas in the United States,” Mr. Adams says, “the politically engaged population is fairly evenly split … in Canada, the split is closer to two to one.” Between 60 and 70 per cent of Canadians have consistently voted for a liberal or social-democratic party in every federal election for decades. Their core beliefs continue to reflect this, regardless who ends up in power.

Americans and Canadians are indeed growing closer in world view – but we’re not becoming Americanized, and they’re sure not learning from us. Rather, Mr. Adams says, “what seems to be happening is that some groups of Americans are moving toward some of the postmaterial values that characterize other rich, Western societies (both in Canada and in Western Europe) and eroding some of the sensibilities associated with American exceptionalism.”

Now that our neighbours are no longer kings of the world, they’ve started to resemble the rest of it.

Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

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