Donald Trump howls the fears of white, working-class voters raging against the elites who ignore or belittle them. Could it happen in Canada?
Yes, if we're not careful. The good news is that, over the years, our political elites have paid attention to the needs of "the base," as many call those voters. Because Conservative and Liberal governments alike have kept a close eye on the base, those voters aren't as angry here as they are down there.
But too many pundits and academics condescend to them. If those who govern and who advise ever lose touch with the righteous grievances of Canada's white working class, then they will rise up here as well, and the political class will deserve its fate.
"We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters," David Brooks confessed in The New York Times last week. "… It's a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I'm going to report accurately on this country." That may be the most honest thing Mr. Brooks ever wrote.
Since the 1970s, when Bruce Springsteen first began writing about lost, young men driving their cars down the empty streets of dying mill towns, white, blue-collar workers have struggled to adapt to America's globalizing economy.
While Republican and Democratic politicians both chased after these swing voters, many of whom live in declining industrial states near the Great Lakes, they never did much for them, other than explain why the latest trade agreement is such a great idea.
Those trade agreements are good for the United States. But their impact on semi-skilled manufacturing workers is real. Illegal immigration is real, too, and those illegal immigrants compete for jobs, which contributes to the racism that infects white, working-class anger. It's no coincidence that the Republican Party, which has quietly tolerated and even stoked racist resentment for decades, spawned the rough beast that now slouches toward the GOP nomination.
But although America is unique, it's not alone. The anti-immigrant, anti-Europe voters in Britain, the millions propping up extreme right-wing parties in France and elsewhere, the dangerously illiberal governments that have taken root in Poland and Hungary, all share elements of the populist, nativist, disenfranchised anger that Donald Trump is surfing. The Democrats' Bernie Sanders and Labour's Jeremy Corbyn are surfing some of it, too, from the left.
So why is no one surfing it here?
Although cynics will sneer, one reason is that government works better in Canada than in many other places. Ottawa is not gridlocked the way Washington is gridlocked; partisanship isn't as intense.
Another reason is that Canada's immigration patterns are unique. The oceans that protect us from illegal migrants, the points system in the 1960s that ensured a diverse intake, and the immigration floodgates that Brian Mulroney opened and that Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper kept open, produced a rich, diverse, successful and politically powerful immigrant community that has adapted and integrated far more successfully than their counterparts in many other countries.
A third reason is that most prime ministers and their advisers have kept their ear to the ground. Jean Chrétien, le petit gars de Shawinigan, never forgot where he came from. Stephen Harper placed the suburban values he grew up with at the heart of his government.
And on the whole, Justin Trudeau's obsession with "the middle class and those working hard to join them" is healthy, if the goal is to prevent class-based polarization.
But Canada is becoming more politically polarized nonetheless, between Harper conservatives and Trudeau progressives. That polarization is likely to increase, if only because of the radicalizing tendency of social media.
The same globalizing forces that threaten to leave American workers behind threaten Canadian workers as well. The economically weakest regions – the Maritimes, rural Quebec, Northern Ontario and parts of the Prairies and British Columbia interior – are also the places with large numbers of white, poorly educated workers. They are Trump voters waiting to happen.
And elites of both the left and the right too often share a contemptuous disregard for the values and concerns of the suburbs, the small towns, the farms.
The day Canada's political elites cease respecting the voters – all of them, from every background, whatever their values or attitudes or beliefs – the voters will lose respect for them. And then Trump (Canada) will only be a matter of time.