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jeffrey simpson

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson.The Globe and Mail

Could a Donald Trump insurrection happen in Canada? No!

Canada has had people with money, outsized egos and unrestrained ambitions who think they could straighten out the country's problems better than those who are elected. Canada also has people who feel politically dispossessed and look to conservative populists to voice their plight.

Donald Trump is Donald Trump. Beyond his persona, there are at least nine reasons why a Trump could not happen here:

1. The United States is a superpower; Canada is something much less. When Mr. Trump says, "Make America great again!" his supporters believe in the superpower destiny of their country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declares that "Canada is back!" Most people around the world never knew Canada went anywhere, because Canada is of marginal consequence in world events.

U.S. leaders think in terms of power. Canadian leaders, knowing their country has no power, think in terms of influence.

When Mr. Trump proclaims that he will impose solutions, from fencing the U.S.-Mexican border (and getting Mexico to pay for it) to renegotiating trade deals, he is undoubtedly being foolish, but he is thinking of U.S. power. No Canadian politician would think of imposing anything on anyone, for the obvious reason that Canada could not.

2. Americans have a celebrity culture rooted in their own country; Canadians have a celebrity culture rooted in the United States. Canadians read, watch and otherwise absorb most of their popular culture directly from the United States.

Mr. Trump is a product of his country's celebrity culture. A Canadian would-be Trump couldn't find enough celebrity-culture outlets in Canada to become outrageous and well-known. Even Kevin O'Leary, whose outsized ego has apparently tempted him to think of running for the Conservative leadership, has taken his minor celebrity-culture persona, born of sounding off on Canadian television, to U.S. television.

3. Anyone familiar with U.S. history knows the role of race in that society. You cannot pick up a newspaper or spend time on a university campus or follow politics without being struck by the black-white dynamics of U.S. society.

Nothing remotely resembles this dynamic in Canada. Canada has aboriginal people, but they represent fewer than 4 per cent of the total population, compared with 13 per cent for blacks in the United States.

Black frustrations and accomplishments (including a black president) are the stuff of daily life and media coverage in many parts of the country. Whether the perceptions are exaggerated or otherwise, some white Americans believe that blacks have received too much attention and federal money.

Beyond race, the Trump supporters seem resentful at the attention they feel is heaped on gays, transgenders, feminists and other special-interest pleaders. Far from seeing policies designed to help make society more "inclusive" (a favourite Canadian political and judicial word), they view these policies as discriminatory – that is, against them.

Canadians are not pure on race. But no fault line along racial grounds has yet emerged across Canadian public discourse. A Trump-like candidate in Canada, using his kind of code words, would be ostracized.

4. The United States was built on immigration. So was Canada, or at least the non-French-speaking parts. Today, opinion polls show Canadians to be the most positive people in the world toward immigration. U.S. attitudes are decidedly different.

Canadian policy has been tilted toward immigrants' skills, although this is changing under the Liberals, who are reducing the share of economic newcomers. Canada has a small number of illegal immigrants. In the United States, illegal immigration in the recent past was reckoned to equal legal immigration. The reality of so much illegal immigration infuriates Trump supporters, and other Americans.

If Canada faced considerable illegal immigration, attitudes here would probably be more like those in the United States.

5. Except for NDP supporters, free trade has enjoyed political support in Canada since the Canada-U.S. free trade deal. Perhaps this support exists because a much higher share of Canada's economy depends on trade than does that of the United States.

Trade-or-wither might be an appropriate mantra in Canada with its small domestic market. Not so for the United States. Beating up on trade is easier in a country with a smaller share of its total economy dependent on trade.

6. Social issues rile Americans much more than Canadians, especially guns and abortion. Every U.S. candidate, especially Republican, has to talk incessantly about abortion. The fact that Mr. Trump reversed some of his comments about abortion on the same day does not obscure the fact that he has been continuously asked about it. In the last Canadian election, abortion never arose.

The long-gun registry adopted by the Jean Chrétien Liberals was abolished by the Conservatives and is not coming back. The gun issue is dead in Canada, but alive in the United States.

7. Religion counts in U.S. politics, especially among Republicans. Mr. Trump, thrice-married, has trouble with issues surrounding religion, not being overly religious himself. But he has to court evangelical Republicans because they form a formidable bloc of voters in party primaries. In Canada, evangelicals were part of the Stephen Harper coalition, but not nearly as prominently as in the Republican Party.

8. U.S. politics swims in money. That a candidate could spend huge amounts of his own money, as Mr. Trump is doing (more than $20-million U.S. so far), would not be legal in Canada. U.S. law has decreed that restrictions abridge freedom of speech. Canadian law imposes limits on spending and fundraising.

9. The Canadian system of parties choosing a leader makes it almost impossible for an outsider to win. Mass mobilization through primaries does not exist in Canada, and it is through mass mobilization that Mr. Trump has built his insurgency. That could not happen here, in part because there are limits set by parties on how much candidates can spend.